7/18/2015 3:46:00 AM Gibson Cottage Receives Some Much-Needed Attention
Bucky Mottern, left, and Howard Hammond have been sprucing up the grounds surrounding the Gibson Cottage in Bath County. Their cleanup efforts have included grass cutting, trimming weeds and removing invasive vines from the property. The Gibson Cottage was built in 1840 and was recently included on Preservation Virginia’s list of Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places. (Photo Courtesy Howard Hammond)
Thanks to the volunteer efforts of Howard Hammond and Bucky Mottern, weeds and vines have been removed from the Gibson Cottage and the grass has been cut. (Photo Courtesy Michael Wildasin)
BY LARRY O’ROURKE
WARM SPRINGS — A Bath County landmark is getting some much-needed attention, thanks to the volunteer efforts of two local men.
Bucky Mottern and Howard Hammond, a local historian and genealogist, are working to spruce up the Gibson Cottage, a Bath County home that was built around 1840 and originally used as the Warm Springs Hotel manager’s residence.
Preservation Virginia recently included the Gibson Cottage on its list of Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Places. The non-profit organization is dedicated to ensuring that historic sites are integral parts of the lives of present and future generations of Virginians.
Natural Retreats, the current owner of the Gibson Cottage, has stated that it plans to restore the property in the future, but Hammond and Mottern are giving it a face lift before a more extensive makeover begins.
Hammond said he first stopped at the cottage in late April after visiting cousins Clay and Patsy Hamilton in Hightown, located just west of Monterey in Highland County.
“I was shocked,” he said, recalling the general disrepair of the property on that initial visit. “The grass was chest-high, and you couldn’t see the front of the home because it was covered in vines. The porch was falling in, and in the back, the roof had caved in.”
Hammond took his lawnmower up the next day and started cutting the grass.
As Hammond continued the tedious work of clearing brush and removing invasive vines from the property, he encountered some lawnmower troubles that slowed his progress. It was while he was getting his mower repaired that he bumped into Mottern, who started volunteering his services when work resumed.
Hammond said he didn’t know who owned the property, but his cousins, Lucille Bonner, her sister Montague and brother Walter had rented the cottage at one time. He recalled staying there two nights while he was conducting genealogical research back in the 1980s.
“It shocked me to see the condition of the property,” Hammond said. “Being a family genealogist and having those wonderful memories of staying there, I was determined to clean the place up.
“I didn’t know if I would be arrested, but I told people that at least I’d get three meals a day,” he added with a smile.
As Hammond and Mottern continued their cleanup efforts, they met John Airgood with Alexander Nicholson, who is in charge of the renovation work at the cottage but is still waiting on word from Natural Retreats to begin the project.
“He told us to keep on working,” Hammond said.
Hammond said he gained his love of family heritage and genealogy from his parents and other relatives. His twin brother, the late Charles Hammond, was a long-time teacher at Covington High School.
The Gibson Cottage is one of the last remaining original buildings from the Warm Springs Hotel’s mid-19th century expansion that transformed the county seat of Bath Court House into a welcoming stop on the Virginia springs summer circuit.
The cottage survived the razing of the hotel in 1925 and served as a residence for the next 67 years.
Natural Retreat purchased the Gibson Cottage property in 2013.
Hammond said he and Mottern have cleaned from the road up to the house and around parts of the home. He estimates that they have probably finished about half of their work.
“It has been a distinct pleasure to work with Bucky,” he said. “He is one of the finest people I have ever met in my life. He is such a humble servant.”
After all the work is completed, Hammond said he has visions of a restored Gibson Cottage that he remembers from years past.
“It’s a showplace,” he said. “You would never know that by looking at it now, but it’s such a gem.”