Through a series of articles, we show the journey of how we came to Heart Ridge.
We started searching again. This time we found a place closer to home that looked very promising. It was about 30 minutes from Keith's place of work, meaning we could move here, and he could easily continue working. The place was also reasonably priced on 75 acres!
It was a former conference center used initially for corporate retreats--in particular by a large textile company called, Miliken. It had also been used most recently for retreats and as a wedding venue. The current owners were using as a vacation home were they could retreat to the woods and mountain bike.
The 75 acres were mostly wooded with a nice creek running the whole way through with a couple of ponds. The main structure was a 7000 sq. ft. modern-type cedar building with 10 bedrooms. At the end of the property was the ruins of an old mill. I loved this part. All that remained was a wall that damned the creek and created a small waterfall that flowed into a swimming hole. I'm just sorry I don't have a picture of it.
The property also consisted of a duplex, another small dwelling, (all three of these spaces currently being rented) and a barn. Besides woods, the property had several acres of pasture. Campobello is in the heart of horse country. So after many visits. (We had to shed a tear and say good bye to our North Carolina realtor since she wasn't certified in South Carolina.) We hired Susan, a friend from Greenville, to be a realtor. We also planned out the many options to make this place work. And we called in our friends and family for their help, too. We showed them all the place.
Ultimately, besides the main conference center that just needed a good power washing, we were going to get some more lodging options by turning the barn into a boutique-like motel, and starting a tiny home village. We consulted with McMillan Pazdan Smith Architect of Greenville, SC for help in designing and wading our way through some of the code issues.
We made an offer with a 30 day contingency plan, meaning that we could get out of the offer for any reason. To further inspect the buildings, we needed to be in a contract with the sellers and pay some earnest money.
The lengthy inspection came back better than we expected. There were some weird quirks with how it was built. We also knew we would be replacing all of the decking and railing on the main house. We also figured out a way to make it handicap accessible.
Next, we planned a meeting with the zoning board in Spartanburg county--where Campobello was located. A representative from the Architect company came with us as we sat across the table from the zoning board explaining our vision.
Long story short--they could not figure out a way to zone us. (They had never even heard of a retreat center.) They kept trying to put us in the category of a campground, or a hotel, or a housing development --and all of these options had different "zoning hoops" to jump through. All of them very costly. For example, we would need the driveway throughout the place to be 20 ft. wide! Maybe a sprinkler system put in the main place. These items, on top of what we were already going to fix seemed unfeasible.
We were so discouraged. Maybe this place wasn't the place.
Chapter 7 of "Finding Heart Ridge" : The Place with the Glass Chapel and the Anatomically Correct Wooden Boy Statue
We were not through with the Rutherfordton area. It had so many other possibilities. It is beautiful farmland in the foothills of the mountains. Within a short drive you are at Chimney Rock and other mountainous parks as well as whitewater rafting and zip lining. The next place we found shortly after we decided against the last place, we truly thought "was it." This place had it all and for a very, very reasonable price.
It was 60 acres of mostly wooded, gently sloping land, with a small creek, small pond, and open pasture. It not only had this beautiful glass chapel, and a couple of other outdoor chapels (which we thought could make some cool shrines) but a large house, a sharecropper's house, and 4 log cabins. In fact, the 4 log cabins were all authentic log cabins from before the 1800's. Two of them were on the property originally. The other two were bought and moved there.
Everything seemed in relatively good shape. The log cabins had been recently renovated and used on AirBnB. The larger white house, actually started out as a log cabin itself, but had been added on, and added on, and added on.
We brought some of our friends here. They loved the place. We made plans and tried to figure out if this place could support what we envisioned for our retreat place.
One of the most important aspects we wanted for our retreat place was to be able to host Family Camps over the summer. We had attended different meaningful versions of family camp with our own family, mainly the Marianist Family Camp, but also the CL Vacations, and to a certain extent, the annual Home school Camporees at Devil's Fork. With this property we figured that we could get almost 10 families there at a time. We also were thinking about starting a Catholic Artist in residency program, where a small group of artist could come and live together and work on their respective arts. Finally, we wanted a performance venue or event space. We figured a way to make all of this work here.
We attended the local parish mass and met with the priest. It was a stunning, recently built church, and we found the priest very supportive. We also noticed some nuns at the mass and tracked them down. It ends up that these Benedictine nuns recently moved to the area, too. We visited their small community just a hop, skip, and jump away from the property we were considering. We loved these nuns and small farm they were beginning. They also held days of recollection at their place and retreats for small groups. We couldn't have asked for better neighbors. They told us about finding their current place after a long search and encouraged us with these words, "You'll know the place when you see it," meaning that once we find the right retreat place, we'll know it.
Although we loved many aspects of this property in Rutherfordton, we were a little unsettled about a few things--first of all, the history of the place. It's former owner who had passed bequeathed the place on to his niece. She was doing a great job keeping the place clean and in order, but was very ready to sell it. The former owner was an Episcopalian priest. He was responsible for bringing the Episcopal church to the area and also responsible for supporting the arts and culture in the area. This was why the place was filled will all kinds of art--there must have been over 100 hand-thrown pottery goblets, among many other kinds of collections. Tons of religious items. Antiques galore. Unfortunately, this priest had been accused of molestation. We can't find if he actually went to trial for this, but he was dismissed by the diocese. Evidently, he returned to his family farm and built his own church. He had many supporters and continued providing places for people to come to visit.
There were many other weird things about the place. We found some random graves, for example. Some of the art, like the wooden carved naked boy, freaked everyone out when we were showing them the property. Could these things be overlooked?
We thought so. This is why we were going to pay such a reasonable price.
The priest had trails, even a Stations of the Cross, set up winding through the woods and babbling brook. It was a beautiful piece of property and one we could afford.
We decided to pray super hard over the weekend and make an offer on Monday.
At church on Sunday, we ran into my good friend, Paula. We think she is a living saint. We shared with her our recent discovery of a potential retreat place. We also told her we were really spending the weekend discerning and were planning to make an offer on Monday, unless we got some kind of sign or something. She immediately said to us, "Let's pray." She prayed very specifically that if this were not meant to be that we would hear the word "no."
Later that evening, when we were at home, we got a phone call from our son, Seth. He said he was calling to beg us not to buy this place in Rutherfordton. Seth had not been in contact with us for a couple of weeks and did not know that we were getting ready to make the decision. His motive was simply because it would mean that we were further away from him. He and his wife were looking to buy a home somewhere near Clemson University where he works. He was hoping we'd find something closer to him. He just wanted us to try harder to find something closer to his family.
To us, with it's timing, it seemed like a definite "no," or at least let's wait and look some more.
I know we've said this a few times before, but this place has to be it! Look at it. We were still saying many, many prayers, discerning like we should. In particular, this time we were praying to St. Therese. And like I mentioned in the last post, looking for roses. Not too far up the road from Tryon, NC, is another area that had a few potential retreat sites and in a great price range.
While we were looking online--and still praying to Therese, we found this place. It sits in the foothills, near the town of Rutherfordton, NC. This giant mansion in Victorian style was built in 1993--not too old--but it also is on 163 acres and is on the edge of a beautiful river. (And in our price range!)
Not only did the house of rose wallpaper all over the place (remember St. Therese answers prayers with showers of roses) but look. St. Therese is on the wall, too. And here's JPII in the house library.
While we're scrolling through these pictures online, we were jumping out of our seats. This is too good to be true! What an answered prayer!
I did some research online and found out about the owners. They are indeed a large Catholic family. They even had a lovely little chapel in their home. To respect their privacy, I won't say more.
We immediately called our realtor to schedule a viewing. We really thought that this was the one.
We visited here only once. They had a door to go up to the roof on this three story house with a deck (without a railing) for viewing stars.
We loved the property and the river. And although the house was large, with a lot of rooms, we didn't really love it. The family had moved out at least a year before and the place was in disrepair.
It's not that we couldn't look past cosmetic repairs to fix it up, we just didn't think it would fit our mission. There was a lot of land and lots of potential, but if we were going to sink that much money into a piece of property to build cabins, and meeting spaces, we thought we might as well just start from scratch. This place would have provided a nice place for our family to live, but not really much for those coming on a retreat.
Perhaps this wasn't an answer to prayer, even though it seemed like it obviously was. (What was with the St. Therese? And a Catholic family needing to sell their property?)
With each property we looked it, we were challenged to think about our mission and what we wanted to transpire at our retreat place.
Sometimes, we'd try to fit our mission and plans to the property we were looking at-- but with this one especially, we couldn't make it work.