WHERE WE LIVE
Name: Max and Pat Merriman
Occupation: Max — Retired corporate attorney and GTE executive; Patricia — retired clinical psychologist; founding member of Hillsborough Gallery of Arts.
Ages: 76 and 74
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Address: 144 N. Wake St.
Neighborhood: Hillsborough’s Historic District
Square Footage: about 2,800
Details: Two-story Federalist-style house with wide front porch. First floor: Foyer with staircase opens to original rooms (parlor room and bedroom with fireplaces; bedroom has added-on full bath). Hallway leads to dining room with large gathering room to left and large kitchen with island, coat closet, laundry closet and back door entry to right. Ahead of dining room is additional storage space for closet and refrigerator set off by French door. Second floor: Original rooms with fireplaces (one used as office with added-on full bathroom; other used as art studio). Addition over dining room includes full bath, foyer area and bedroom with large storage room.
Move-in Date: 1995
Nearby Landmarks: Near downtown Hillsborough and old Hillsborough cemetery
Max: This was a true historic house. But as with most historic houses, they take on a different aspect as you come on in time. This house before had an outdoor kitchen. When they got into the kitchen aspect, it was just a little add-on; and that wasn’t done until the 1900s. This house was built in 1838 or ‘39, but we think it was earlier than that.
Pat: The house was already on the National Register when Max [and his late wife, Norma] bought it. The previous owner had it put on the National Register. The house was a four-by-four — two [rooms] down, two up. We really think the east side did not have a staircase. It probably had an outdoor staircase.
Max: Porches were not built into houses at that time. It’s a Federalist type of house. The porch
Pat: is more Victorian. We do still have the original windows, many of them. This was not a fancy house. This house was probably built by middle-class, educated people.
Max: The records indicate that the governor’s son built the house. In the process of construction, he died. It later became called the Widow Ashe house. She was the daughter-in-law of the governor.
This house has historic supports in it. When we cut into a wall in a bedroom for the bathroom, in the interior of these walls were these big beams and they had the bark still on the wood. This is the kind of thing that you find.
Pat: The lot line goes right down the middle of the garage. Those are the oddities of history and neighborliness.
Why We Chose Our House
Pat: Max and I have only been together five years. We were both widowed. He retired in North Carolina in Ashe County and built a retirement home up there and lived there for several years.
Max: It was not a retirement home, but it appeared it was too remote for [Norma]. Hillsborough sort of answered all the questions for us. We knew this was a historic house, and there weren’t many historic houses available at that time. It was downtown, and that was something my deceased wife was interested in. The Historic District was not that large, but it had all these houses that were more real than Williamsburg. These were actually original houses.
Pat: The real draw was that the grandchildren were here. I think that was significant.
Max: Norma knew this was a historic town, and she was very deep into genealogy. I think we would probably have come here [despite grandchildren]. The history of the town was largely what she liked, and this house had a history. It was a simple house, but it had features that you could see you could manage to make a house even more comfortable but still keep it within the historic frame.
Pat: Before I married Max, I lived on the edge of Duke Forest and Bella [dog] and I had tick disease. Since I’ve lived here, I’ve only had one tick on me. I have sidewalks now, and I can walk the dog in long and large areas. And I think it’s a safe town and a welcoming town.
Max: For someone who wants to get involved, they can. We’re also about the right distance from the street where we can sit on the porch and say hi.Pat: We’ve seen people walking on the street and invited them to come in and see the house.
Max: [One advantage is] just sitting here looking at those little boxes [in the large gathering room].
Pat: They have the artifacts.
Max: They are filled with things we dug up in this garden — two arrowheads, a pig’s tooth ... Those were found when they scraped the back patio to put the brick down. That’s one of the fascinating things.
Pat: I like that it’s so diverse. We can be sitting in a restaurant and end up talking to someone who was born here. Our two neighbors lived here all their lives, and they know the history of the people, Ayr Mount. It’s not just the writers, the authors, the artists; it’s the other people. The old-timers can tell such good stories, and so can the newcomers. Not everyone is watching “As the World Turns” and reading the obituary columns.
Pat: Well, yes. Although Walmart does a moderate job, if you really want office supplies, printer ink in the middle of the night ... I think Weaver Street [Market] does a good enough job; they just don’t have enough. I do most of our own cooking aside from some salad dressings, so I really want a variety of fresh vegetables. I think the distance [is a disadvantage].
Max: I would say no. In terms of the major kinds of things you need, you can order them. There are stores in our circle around — the Durhams, the Chapel Hills, the Raleighs. This is sort of centrally located close to these larger towns. I don’t find that really that inconvenient. In the mountains, I couldn’t just jump in the car and go somewhere. That was inconvenient.
Max: The close neighborhood? Terrific. Absolutely. There are so many people. Nearly every afternoon we sit with our neighbors and talk with them. We have a lady who is a classical pianist, and she’s volunteered whenever we have a gathering to play. I do a marionette show, and I need a lot of help; and I’ve never had anybody turn me down. It is a special town. It’s gone through a lot of difficult time periods, like after the Civil War and after the mills closed, but it’s always picked itself up.
Making Our House a Home
Max: It was actually pretty easy. We put what we wanted in it. But all this time we had visitors. What is a home? A home is where you feel comfortable. This [gathering] room right here can hold 60 to 80 people, but we sit here in the evening and watch the news and I don’t think about the size.
Pat: I think all my life I have not had a large income, so I decorated what used to be “early Goodwill.” I think the idea for me is to create spaces that I want to be in. We have a meditation area out there; we have the patio out there and the porch. I think it has to do with color and comfort.