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Back to Brewer Avenue
With new life and luster, a downtown Suffolk neighorhood opens its doors for annual holiday tour

BY PHYLLIS SPEIDELL
THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

Stephen Carves Jr. remembers when oak trees spread their branches over Brewer Avenue in Suffolk, and when passersby waved to folks sitting in front porch rockers.
Mary George Jones remembers when lawyers and businessmen settled their families in large homes along the avenue, and when neighborhood children trick-or-treated and Christmas-caroled together.
Jones, 86, and Carnes, 78, both grew up on Brewer Avenue.

Jones left the neighborhood when she was in her early 20s, but Carnes continues to live on the street he has seen prosper, decline and, in recent years, prosper again.
On Saturday and Sunday, hundreds of guests are expected to visit Brewer Avenue and see for themselves the rebirth of a neighborhood in an area that still faces hurdles because of crime and drugs.
The Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society's annual Candlelight Christmas Tour focuses on seven houses along the street.
The Brewer name will be familiar to longtime Suffolk residents.
Richard L. Brewer Sr., a businessman, was also, at different times, according to Woodward, the first mayor of Suffolk, from 1858-1859, and the first school superintendent of Nansemond County.
Brewer bought a Suffolk jewelry store in 1875 and gave it his name.
Even after his son, Richard L. Brewer Jr., sold the business in 1923, the business kept the Brewer name until it closed in the 1990s.
Richard Brewer Jr., 'was Suffolk mayor from 1891 to 1903, and served in the Virginia House of Delegates for 22 years.
His sister, Jennie Huffman, and her husband, were the Brewer Place developers.
The historical society chose Brewer Avenue for this year's tour because it is, said Sue Woodward, executive director of the historic society, indicative of the positive changes in downtown Suffolk.
"We've never before had so many houses being renovated in one area at one time so this is a true walking tour," she said.
"Before, we used to have to drive from place to place to find houses we could feature as being more or less in their original form."
Previous Candlelight Christmas tours have included Riverview, College Court and the Bank Street area.
Brewer Avenue was developed in 1909 as Brewer Place -12 acres of upscale property divided into building lots that sold for $600 each.
Brewer Place targeted upscale buyers and required that all homes built there cost at least $2,000 - a handsome price in the days when the Wright Brothers had just patented their airplane and Commander Robert E. Peary made news as the first person to reach the North Pole.
Twenty-five lots were sold in 1909 and construction in Brewer Place continued into the 1930s.
After World War II, many of the grand old homes were divided into apartments, and over the years an influx of transient renters weakened the neighborhood's solidarity and appeal.
That has all changed again in the past few years.
The most recognized house on the tour may be the Holland House, now also known to Suffolkians as the Hefferon home.

 

The sunny, yellow Queen Anne faces West Washington Street at the corner of Brewer Avenue.
The house, part of the original Brewer Place development, was built soon after A.T. Holland, inventor of the peanut sorting machine, bought the property in 1909.
Ernest Hefferon, Suffolk developer and businessman, was one of the first homeowners to restore a Brewer Place home to its early charm.
Guests on the "Come Back to Brewer Avenue" tour will enjoy a glimpse of the home's interior from the wide, wraparound porch in the tour's only "Peep In" showing.
A half-dozen other historic homes along Brewer Avenue will be open for tours.
Two of the homes are under renovation by Mickey Garcia of Garcia Development LLC.
Garcia, a Suffolk resident, has renovated four other homes on Brewer Avenue and is building two homes on the street.
The new homes will be designed to blend with the early 1900s style of the neighborhood.
Garcia plans to build one of the new homes, a Second Empire, or Victorian-style, design, as his own residence.
When he first looked at Brewer Avenue several years ago he saw a street that was, he said, "in its day the best street in downtown Suffolk and it will be again."
He was captivated by the street's eclectic charm and the unique features of each house.
"All of the houses are similar in character, but are 100 percent different," Garcia said.
"It's hard to pick a favorite. I like 104 Brewer's exterior, 121 Brewer's floor plan and 106 Brewer's third floor."
Tour guests may feel the same as they wander along the avenue.
Garcia, who takes pride in using Suffolk suppliers, has redone the insulation as well as the electrical and heating and cooling systems, while painstakingly restoring the houses' original exteriors.
Many of the other renovators/home owners have done the same.
The Gay House, 104 Brewer Ave., is a Classical Revivalstyle built about 1909 by lumberman M.E. Gay.
Three generations of the Gay family enjoyed the spacious home and gardens that occupied two building lots. Then the family sold the property.
An apartment building was constructed on one lot and the elegant old mansion was divided into apartments.
The house, restored as a single-family home, is decorated in dramatic colors the current owners chose to showcase their art collection.
A Smithfield native, S.E. Delk built a Queen Anne-style home at 106 Brewer Ave. about 1909. His family lived there for many years.
Another Queen Anne, at 110 Brewer Ave., is one of the original Brewer Place homes and one of Garcia's current renovation projects.
The large house with a wraparound porch, also at one time a duplex, is being restored as a single-family home.
The historical society has
dubbed this home, the Morrison House, as "Holiday Central."

 

For the tour the home will host the Sugar Plum Kitchen, packed with Christmas goodies, a collection of Christmas trees decorated by local artists and a gift shop where guests can shop to the harp music of local musician Mary Margaret Jones.
Yet another Queen Annestyle home at 121 Brewer Ave. was built by the same man, Burwell Riddick, who built the West Washington Street house that is the R.W. Baker Funeral Home.
Riddick's son, an architect and builder, designed, among other Suffolk structures, the bungalows of College Court on North Main Street.
The three-story house on Brewer Avenue had fallen into disrepair in recent years when it was a rental property.
Garcia renovated the house that is home to local lawyer, David Arnold and his family.
One of the tour's newer show homes is a Tudor Revival-style house at 122 Brewer Ave., with sharply angled roof lines and multi-paned windows.
Woodward, of the historic society, believes that the house was built some time in the 1930s.
When John and Sherri Pelletier, both history buffs and re-enactors moved in on July 4, 2004, the house was in good repair but needed decorating.
"We were charmed by the artistry of the wood crafters who created the woodwork, simulated pegged flooring and pairs of double swing doors," Sherry Pelletier said.
Their decor is still evolving, Sherry Pelletier said, but they are aiming for a later 1800s/ early 1900s ambiance.
The couple chose a deep burgundy color for the parlor to set off the room's intricate white woodwork, crown molding and fireplace surround.
Throughout the house, visitors will see reminders of the 1860s period - John Pelletier's Confederate infantry uniform and Sherri Pelletier's red, iridescent, taffeta Civil Warera ball gown, a collection of antique medical instruments, hand-tatted handkerchiefs and antique jewelry.
Another newer, and formerly neglected, home on the tour is at 113 Brewer Ave. Garcia is renovating the brick house he describes as a Craftsmanstyle house that wants to be a Victorian.
The house, probably built sometime in the 1920s, has had a long list of owners, but longtime Suffolk residents know the place as the "Little House."
The Little family owned the property from 1911 into the 1930s.
During the tour, Suffolk artist Sugar Barrow will exhibit her work in the house along with a vintage linen display and sale by Fine Threads and Fine Linens.
Cider and cookies will be served at the Constantia House, a 1920s reproduction of a 1720s house that originally overlooked the Nansemond River from what is now Cedar Hill Cemetery.
The house sits behind the R.W. Baker Funeral Home on West Washington Street.
On Sunday, the historic West End Baptist Church, on the corner of West Washington and St. James Avenue, will be open from 3 to 7 p.m.
At 3:30 p.m., church organist Dean Kershaw will present a program of Advent and Christmas music on the pipe organ.