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Centuries-old Lewisburg structures restored for modern use

LEWISBURG, W.Va. -- Three years ago, Minneapolis musician Russell Fallstad visited Lewisburg and fell in love with the Greenbrier Valley.

He moved into a tiny downtown apartment, formed the group Dueling Fiddlers with his friend Adam DeGraff, and started teaching music classes.

"I told friends I would love to have a place where I could hold rehearsals without bothering people, where I could teach lessons, and where I could live. They said that sounds like three buildings," Fallstad recalled.

So he does find it incredible that he's found the perfect spot for HeartStrings Academy in a three-story structure reassembled with stones and logs dating from 1806.

"It was going to be bulldozed," Margaret Schleiff said from Williamsburg, Greenbrier County, of the log cabin.

She and her husband, Florian, bought the cabin, took it apart, and carefully numbered each log to indicate where it went in the structure.

They stored the logs and stone from the old chimney behind the Mason Mansion, the pre-Civil War house the Schleiffs bought in 2004 and painstakingly restored.

In mid-August, Margaret Schleiff was painting the interior of a lift that has been installed in Mason Mansion that will provide handicap access to the second and third floors.

"Nine years later, this is the last phase," she said.

The three-story, 9,500-square-foot mansion started out in the 1820s as a small brick cottage. A separate two-story building was built about 1840 and was used as the main house. Then in the late 19th century, Silas Mason bought the house and began renovations based on architectural details he had seen in his extensive travels.

The two wings of the house have been converted to apartments and are rented. An accounting firm and the law firm of Dinsmore and Shohl occupy offices in the main house. Only a small, second-floor office is left to rent.

"I thoroughly enjoy the space," said Thomas W. White, whose law office is in what was once the front parlor with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto Court Street.

Across the hallway, the former dining room is now the firm's conference room. Its tin ceiling is original, Schleiff said. In the restoration process, the ceiling had to be taken down, cleaned and insulation added above it before being replaced. A radiator once used for heating was left in place; on top is a metal box that kept food warm.

The decorative wood trim on the staircase in the hall was taken off and the paint sanded down to the black walnut and replaced.

Elsewhere, concessions had to be made to the original structure to make Mason Madison functional in the 21st century. On the second floor, only a portion of the original brick wall is exposed because it was crumbling and had to be plastered over.

The house has radiant heating via coils of tubing carrying hot water beneath the floor boards.

To meet city and fire codes, a tower for a staircase and lift were added on the rear of the house.

With the log cabin, Schleiff said it was easier to build a two-story addition to provide a modern kitchen and bathroom than to try to plumb through the old logs. Two solar panels provide power to the cabin.

The first floor of the original cabin is large enough to accommodate 50 people for a concert. "A classical guitarist played here last month. It was a perfect room. The music reverberates with all the wood," Fallstad said.

He hopes to put on an opera in September.

Weekly yoga classes also are held in the space.

Fallstad has his living quarters on the second floor, and classes and rehearsals are held on the third floor. Classes range from violin to guitar to a weekly drumming class for 3-month-olds to 3-year-olds. "That's the age they learn everything. Music helps with brain development," he said.

Fallstad wants to install a recording studio on the third floor.

The Schleiffs hadn't intended to take on the restoration when they were in the midst of major construction at the Mason House. But Florian Schleiff said Charlie Long, who owned the cabin, wanted to see it kept intact in Greenbrier County. The logs could only be stacked on the ground.

"We finally had to put the logs up to protect them," explained Margaret Schleiff.

As for the Mason House, Florian Schleiff doubts he'll ever again take on a project on that scale -- one that stretched the family financially and physically. Still, he said, the restored mansion has been good for business.

"It's like a big billboard," he said.

Reach Rosalie Earle at earle@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5115.


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