|The E. B. Talley House on Mt. Lebanon Road|
The beautiful, whitewashed stone house sits on the north side of Mt. Lebanon Road just off of Concord Pike (Rt. 202) in Talleyville. Mt. Lebanon Road is the one heading west near the Talleyville Fire Comany, the post office, and the big Taco Bell. The house is on the right, just past the Boston Market, the Brandywine YMCA, and the Brandywine Valley Baptist Church. The three-bay, two story home, of course, long predates any of these, having reportedly been built in 1814.
The early history of the house doesn't seem to be too clear, as far as I can tell. The 1849 map shows it as McGalley, but I think that probably should be McCaulley. Just south of there, on the east side of Concord Pike in the present-day area of McDaniel Crest, there's an A. McCaulley, who I think is Alexander McCaulley. He actually died in 1841 and is buried at Mt. Lebanon Methodist Church, but his family may have still owned the properties. There's also an older Alexander McCaulley still living in Christiana Hundred in 1850, listed as a "Manufacturer". I'm not sure exactly where he is although the large number of Irish artisans listed around him make me think he may have been in the Hagley area.
|Talley House (highlighted) in 1849|
In any case the house soon came into the ownership of Eli Baldwin Talley, who also owned several other properties in the area (including the other McCaulley house) that would soon bear his family's (and maybe specifically his own) name. Talley also owned a house on Naamans Road just east of Concord Pike, where I think he actually resided. More importantly to our story, though, in about 1920 the house was purchased by Woodlawn Trustees, a foundation established by Wilmington philanthropist William P. Bancroft. Woodlawn had (and still has) the dual mandate of preserving open spaces along the Brandywine corridor, while occasionally selling off some of that land for development to finance their operations. The land for the developments of Edenridge and Tavistock on Mt. Lebanon Road were purchased from Woodlawn.
For a time, Woodlawn rented the house out, but in 1975 they sold the property. However, in keeping with trust's interest in the house's historic nature, they attached several restrictions to the deed which go with the land. Most importantly, Woodlawn reserved the right to approve any additions or exterior alterations to the house. Needless to say, demolishing the home would probably count as an "exterior alteration".
|Talleyville area, 1868|
In 1982, the house was purchased by Charles and Eiko Downing, the deed restrictions still intact. The Downings later divorced, and in 1997 Mrs. Downing became the sole owner of the nearly one acre property. She lived there for a while, but has since moved out and the house has been vacant for the past seven years. It seems that even when Downing was living in house, it was not very well cared for. Windows are missing and there are several holes in the roof. As a result, water damage is extensive throughout the home, as is mold. Reportedly there are even raccoons and squirrels living in it. On top of all that, quite literally, Downing seems to have been a bit of a hoarder and there is three feet of soaked, waterlogged, personal belongings cluttered throughout the house.
Because of this, Downing has never placed the house on the market. Although she wants to be rid of it, she has been too embarrassed to have anyone come and look at the house, and for safety reasons doesn't want anyone inside of it. All this comes to us from the one person who has been through the house, real estate agent John Laursen. Depending on your point of view, in this story Laursen is either the hero, the villain, or just a guy looking to make a buck. I honestly don't know which one he is, although I'd lean towards the latter.
Several years ago, Laursen came in and contacted Mrs. Downing, offering to buy the house from her. He even lent her money to pay off the back taxes on the property, and some extra to help get her by. The catch, though, is that Laursen doesn't want to buy the house to live in, or even to resell -- his plan is to demolish it and build two new homes on the property. According his statements at the Historic Review Board meeting last May, he has offered her $330,000 for the property, above what he says she could get from anyone else.
The Historic Review Board questioned him extensively at the hearing, trying to determine if there was any other option that might save the two century old home. Laursen stated several times that for the owner, the financials just didn't work doing anything other than tearing down the house. It was at the HRB meeting that the deed restrictions were first raised, Woodlawn having been notified of the situation by members of the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred (CCOBH), an umbrella group led by Bob Valihura, himself a practicing lawyer.
Not long after that, Woodlawn transferred the enforcement rights for the restrictions to CCOBH, whose board voted to withhold approval of the demolition permit. More recently, CCOBH filed suit against Laursen, Downing, and New Castle County to stop the demolition. One of the issues, they state, is that Laursen does not have standing to file for the permit. The problem is, no one, not even Laursen himself, can get a hold of Downing.
According to a recent News Journal article, it looks like Laursen might be reaching the end of his fight. He states that he will withdraw the application for the demolition permit and walk away, frustrated at what he sees as "a historic group of people who are hellbent on stopping this." On the one hand, this seems like good news for the old house, in that it's safe from the wrecking ball for now. Unfortunately, this still does nothing to address the underlying problem -- the dilapidated state of the house and an owner who is unwilling and unable to do anything with it. Luckily, there are good people looking out for the property, and I certainly hope it can be saved if at all possible. It's definitely worth keeping an eye on.