This seems just nuts on so many levels.
By John Crane
Published: April 3, 2009
The historic home at Coles Hill, where Virginia Uranium Inc. seeks to mine and mill a uranium deposit, will be featured in the Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week Tour this month.
The home made the cover of the Garden Club of Virginia’s tour guidebook this year, Staci Wall, co-chair of Chatham’s Historic Garden Week Tour, said. VUI Chairman Walter Coles Sr. owns the Georgian-designed, three-story home that was built in 1817 and sits among more than 1,000 acres on Coles Road. His ancestors settled in Pittsylvania County in 1790 and several generations of the Coles family have lived in the house since it was constructed.
The Chatham Garden Club, a chapter of the state’s club, decided to include the Coles Hill property before VUI proposed to mine and mill uranium there, Wall said.
“Their home was selected to be in this tour three to five years ago,” Wall said.
The Garden Club has no ties to uranium or to VUI.
The tour will showcase two homes and a lecture hall in Chatham built respectively in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. The other structures include the Heitzler home, a bungalow built in 1916 and located at 69 N. Main St. in Chatham, and Chatham Hall’s Van Voorhis Lecture Hall at 800 Chatham Hall Circle.
The tour will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. April 19 during Historic Garden Week. Tickets can be purchased at the sites and people can tour the buildings in any order, Wall said. Tickets are $10 for the entire tour or $4 to tour an individual structure. Guidebooks featuring every garden tour site across Virginia will be handed out on the tour.
Last year’s Chatham Garden Week Tour attracted about 400 people, Wall said. This year is the 76th anniversary of the state’s garden week, Wall said.
Historic Garden Week in Virginia lasts from April 18 through April 25.The state garden club uses the ticket proceeds to restore historic gardens and landscaping. For more information, visit http://www.vagardenweek.org.
At least one uranium mining opponent said the Coles Hill home tour is ironic. Gregg Vickrey, founder and chairman of the Alliance, praised the statewide tradition the garden club represents, but said Coles should consider having docents show visitors the uranium mining operation.
“They can tour the home and see the open pits,” view where uranium cores are held and where milling will take place, Vickrey said. They could also talk about what the property would look like after mining, Vickrey said.
Coles, who said he will continue to live in the house if mining and milling occur, said the lease agreement requires that the land be returned to its original contour after mining is complete and put into a conservation easement in perpetuity. The home was featured in one of the first Chatham garden tours in the early 1930s, and Coles said he is pleased his home is on the guidebook’s cover.
“We were happy that it happened,” Coles said of making the highly coveted and competitive cover of this year’s guidebook. He lives in the house with his wife, Alice Clement Coles.
Six hundred acres surrounding the home is a protected area, including the house, a family graveyard dating to the 1800s, an old, renovated schoolhouse and stables, Coles said. The Coles Hill property totals about 1,000 acres jointly owned by Coles and his sister Sarah Coles McBrayer. No uranium-related activity will take place on the 600-acre portion.
The Coles Hill home features furniture dating from the early 1800s, documents signed by prominent figures from the time, an old library and one room devoted to Teddy Roosevelt. Coles’ great uncle used to fish with the man who was the nation’s youngest president, Coles said.
The Heitzler home has Craftsman and Neo-Federal architecture and includes a summer house and goldfish pond.
The Van Voorhis Lecture Hall opened this year and is named after Jerry Van Voorhis, a former rector of Chatham Hall. The lecture hall was built using “green construction,” including geothermal heating with underground wells providing warmth and cooling using minimal energy. The hall can seat 320.