Open house features historic home

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By John Barnhart

    Bedford Lutheran Church will hold an open house on Sunday at its parish house of Burks Hill Road. Their parish house is an historic home that came into the congregation’s possession by accident.
    Bedford Lutheran is a new Evangelical Lutheran Church of America congregation that currently worships at the Bower Center. This works out well, while the church financially positions itself to build its own sanctuary.
     Currently the congregation worships in the room that had originally served as the sanctuary for St. John’s Episcopal Church before St. John’s built its current church building 80 years ago.
    The new Lutheran congregation has already acquired the land for its sanctuary and when they purchased the property, a few years ago, all members knew is that the land had a badly dilapidated old house on it. Once they bought the land, they discovered that the old house is “Woodford,” the home that Judge Edward Burks built in 1845. They also discovered that it’s structurally sound and set about restoring it.
    Burks practiced law in Liberty, now Bedford, and later served as a judge. He was elected president of Virginia Bar Association and founded the The Virginia Law Journal.
    When General David Hunter and his federal soldiers paid Liberty a visit in the summer of 1864,  a number of the women and children from the south side of the town fled to Woodford to take refuge from the approaching federal army. It wasn’t a good refuge. Federal troops came there and, after driving the women and children out of the house, made off with all the food in the house.
    They left the house, itself, alone and it still stands on the top of the hill where Burks built it. It was part of a 500 acre farm and the location gave Burks a panoramic view of his fields, the town and the Peaks of Otter.
    The house has a basement that isn’t totally underground. It’s accessible from the outside and is surrounded by a moat on three sides that directs rain water runoff away from the house. The Rev. Stephen Schulz, the church’s pastor, said he has heard the water goes into a cistern, but the congregation has not found the cistern. Otterburn, which stands on a hill near Liberty High School, also has the same type of basement, and partial moat for drainage. These appear to be the only two houses in Bedford County that have this arrangement. Otterburn was originally built around 1820 and rebuilt after being gutted by fire in the 1840s.
    Woodford has six large rooms — two on each of its three levels — and wide, tall windows that allow wind to blow through the house in the summer. Some of these windows still have their original 1845 glass panes. The two rooms on the main floor and top floor connect to a short hall that runs from front to back. These halls originally had an outside door on each end that allowed air to flow through in the summer. Heat, in winter, came from a fireplace in each room. The floors are made of heart of pine.
    Each room has a pair of closets that cover one entire wall. Each closet is closed by a large double door.
    Renovation included rebuilding the front porch and removing a mid-20th century addition from the back, replacing it with a porch, as the original house had. To build this porch, they duplicated the porch they had found on the front.
    The Bedford Lutheran open house will take place from 2-4 p.m. To get there, go south from Bedford on Burks’ Hill Road. The house is the big white house on the right, the fourth house before you reach the entrance to the National D-Day Memorial.