by Ann Brooke Raynal
photographs by Mark Petko
There’s a house in North Raleigh that is haunted by happiness. Haunted by ghosts, possibly, but certainly haunted by the happiness of its owners. Built in 1890, the Lassiter Farm House has seen births and deaths and scores of children grow up under the limbs of its ancient oak trees. A neighborhood developer saved the house from demolition in the late 1990s, and in 2005 Sherry and Kyle Corkum purchased the historic property, beginning their own journey of preservation and delight.
The couple, who live with son Grant, 6, and niece Kristen, 17, learned early on that their house was no stranger to children of all ages. Built by C.J. Lassiter, founder of Lassiter Mill, it was home to his 13 children before the family moved to “the big house” next to the Lassiter Lumber Mill at Crabtree Falls. Built in 1910 and now owned by Saint David’s School, that lovely clapboard home graces the corner of Lassiter Mill and White Oak, anchoring the campus.
The Lassiter Farm House, for its part, is a classic “H” shaped Victorian farmhouse, consisting of twin A-roofed wings connected at the center. Now, as then, the house features clapboard siding, a tin roof, and Victorian gingerbread detail. A wide staircase rises up from the center hallway, and light streams in from rear windows. Most of the original woodwork and molding has been preserved: visitors immediately notice lovely keystone archways on the main floor, original tongue-and-groove wainscoting, and substantial chair rails. The house was built entirely of yellow pine, a material that resists termites and made it possible for the house to be so completely salvaged.
That salvaging was done by Henry McNair of Creedmoor Partners, who developed the Traemoor Manor neighborhood around the house in the late 1990s. He decided to preserve and update the structure instead of tearing it down to make way for something new. Amber and Roger Allison bought it in 1999, and being history buffs, painstakingly collected articles, pictures and information about the house.
They also corresponded with Lassiter’s descendants. One of his granddaughters, Jane Lassiter Freeman, wrote to them: “Ours was a very large and close family. I am what I am today because of their influence on me. Hard work was expected and given by every single member, and family loyalty and devotion was ever present.” After visiting the remodeled house, Freeman remarked on the skill of the preservation effort. “It was a great thrill for us to walk through your beautiful home and to see how much of the original house and footprint remain. It means a lot to us that someone really cares deeply for the old home place.”
The Corkums felt that way from the start. Before they found it, the couple was living in a rental house in Cary. Kyle, 55, had recently moved his business to North Carolina, and they were hoping to find a house they loved. “We wanted something charming, something unique. I love stonework. I love fireplaces,” says Sherry Corkum, 45. One glance at photos of the Lassiter Farm House online and Kyle knew it was the one: “I’ve found our dream house!” he called out to Sherry, who raced up the stairs as fast as her pregnant body would allow. “He had found it. I agreed instantly.” Within 24 hours they had seen the house and made an offer.
A real estate developer, Kyle Corkum knew what he was looking for. “The architectural integrity is what caught my eye. The many gables, angles, and the proportions – they were authentic; new homes so rarely get those details right in the way that older homes can,” he explains. “When we walked through the front door and saw the large foyer with the turned stairs, enormous fireplace and cathedral ceiling, we knew we had found our dream home.”
Dreams keep past alive
Whether it is the knowledge of the many generations that have gone before, or whether a ghostly presence actually exists, living in a house as old as the Lassiter Farm House can certainly influence the subconscious. “I’ve had dreams about a certain man walking down the hall to talk to me,” Sherry says, “and when I described this person to a friend in the neighborhood, she said it sounded just like a relative of hers who used to live in this house.”
Amber Allison, who lived in the house before the Corkums, also describes a house full of mystery and ambiance. “Mostly I just had dreams,” she says, “but the front bedroom above the living room always had a wonderful feeling to it when I lived there, and this room was also a draw for a dear friend of mine when she visited.” That friend says she had a supernatural encounter with an elderly female apparition in the room: The ghost of Mary Lassiter, perhaps?
Sherry Corkum appears completely at ease about sharing her house with ghosts, 6-year-old-boys, teenage girls, and the rest of Mother Nature’s creatures. Her favorite spot in the house is the front porch, the better to hear the birds. “I love going out there with a cup of tea to sit in the rocking chair and listen to the birds. It’s their home, too, and every year we get so many birds’ nests! Even in my wreath on the front door. So I make the whole family go in the house a different way so they can raise their babies.”
The house continues to evolve in ways both planned and improvised. When a large tree had to be removed from the front yard, the Corkums’ son asked if they could turn it in to a playing field. Now, “he and my husband play ball out there almost nightly. Kids in the neighborhood will wander up to play soccer. I love having a yard kids want to play in!”
The late 1990s remodel added a two-car garage and bonus room above. The exterior color was changed from white to a creamy buff color, and dark green shutters were added as well. A stone patio behind the house connects the space between the two wings and provides a sheltered nook for an outdoor living room. Off to the side, a hot tub beckons.
The Corkums have plans to make additional changes to the outdoor space this summer. Justin Ballard, a friend who was a lead carpenter on the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition television show, is helping to design a screened porch off the downstairs master bedroom, a covered outdoor seating area for extra shade, and a fire pit for roasting marshmallows.
The loss of two large oak trees is the reason for the new, shaded family space. One of the downed oak trees still had had a wooden ladder nailed into it by the Lassiter children. “Of course the tree had grown so much since then, the steps were halfway up the tree, high overhead,” Sherry says. Kyle brought in a remarkable tree house from one of his other properties to help make up for the loss. A narrow ladder leads up to a child’s paradise, where stripped tree branches crisscross to form the walls of a fort. A long, wavy slide offers a quick exit, and a hammock is suspended underneath.
After a tour of the tree house, Sherry slithers down the slide into the dappled shade of giant magnolias. “It’s the easiest way to get down, she laughs. “And also the most fun.”