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This house is actually famous because this was one of the last stops Lincoln made [at the end of the Civil War]. Grant took over this house as his headquarters right at the end of the Siege of Petersburg, and Lincoln had just come down the Potomac on his yacht to Hopewell and he came right into Petersburg and they met at this house. The way I see it, this is where the war ended. Grant went to Appomattox and Lincoln was shot about a week later, so it's an important house to the town. In the 1970s, it was put on the National Register of Historic Places, and that saved it from becoming a parking lot for the church next door. There is a plaque outside that says "Home of Grant." I think it was supposed to say "Headquarters of Grant," because he just stopped here but never actually lived in the house.
They didn't really spare any expense to build this house, but it just hadn't been maintained. It was such a fine house -- even in this state you can see how grand it was, but no matter what shape this house is in, it is interesting. This has turned into a giant project; it really is bigger than I had realized. It's 7,000 square feet, and everything has to be redone in one way or another, even if it's just scraping paint, many coats of paint.
I do have the [hat making] studio in the house and I spend a lot of time in the studio. I got started making hats in the old Richmond dairy building. I had a studio there and the hallways were always full of junk and there were a lot of studio artists' spaces. There were two boxes of felt and they had been long abandoned, so I used to reach into the box and pull out felt and made a hat every day, and I realized no one is making hats anymore. There was a theater [Empire] next door, so I went to the costume designer and started making hats for the shows. As told to Tracey Love; photographed by Scott Elmquist