When Shelley McPhatter and Dave White bought the Cullom House in 2013, they had big dreams of renovating the 124-year-old home and settling in as a new family.
The couple got engaged in the home and planned to host their wedding there.
But their plans were crushed on March 25 when the home caught fire and burned to the ground. The family hadn’t yet moved in, and no one was there at the time of the blaze.
“You have to put it all in perspective,” said McPhatter, 42, who lives in North Raleigh. “We had a place to go home, and none of our stuff was in there. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s not devastating to your life.”
The Wake County Fire Services Department and the Wake Forest Fire Department are investigating to determine the cause of the fire.
Wake County Deputy Fire Marshal Lee Gupton said the house is a “total loss.” The fire burned so hot that it melted the vinyl siding of a neighboring home.
The Cullom House was rich with local history. It was named for Willis R. Cullom, a student at Wake Forest College in the 1880s.
Cullom became a professor who taught Bible classes, making the college the first to offer courses on the Old and New Testament, according to the Wake Forest Historical Museum.
Cullom bought the home in 1903 and raised his daughters, Virginia and Nancy, there. Nancy inherited the home and was the town’s first female postmaster. She also named and edited the town’s first community newspaper, The Wake Weekly.
The house suffered damage in a fire in the 1970s.
In May 2013, White and McPhatter bought the Cullom House for $120,000 from BB&T Bank.
At first, the asking price seemed too high considering how much work had to be done to the house, White said. It needed to be completely gutted and required foundation work along with electrical and plumbing repairs.
But McPhatter was drawn to the home’s grand details, like the 11-foot ceilings and large staircase.
“The very first time we walked through it, I hugged the door frame and said, ‘You just need someone to love you,’” McPhatter said.
McPhatter, who owns her own construction company, Bridgepoint Construction Services, figured it would cost about $500,000 to make the home livable again.
An uncertain future
The couple immediately got to work after they bought the house, planning the renovation and securing a construction loan.
The whole family, including McPhatter’s 10-year-old son and 14-year-old twin girls, were excited. They planned to build desks and bookshelves from salvaged wood in the house.
White said he was looking forward to the couple’s master suite.
“The whole half of the bottom floor was going to be our master suite,” he said. “It was going to be an awesome getaway.”
A subcontractor was restoring the windows, and McPhatter and White were preparing for the early stages of electrical work when the fire occurred.
McPhatter is dealing with her insurance company before she makes any decisions about the future of her home.
“I never thought we needed a Plan B, because that was just the plan,” McPhatter said. “I was already living in it in my head.”