New life comes to “old” Black Mountain

Fred McCormick

The past two years, David Bryan and Stephen Morris have learned to resist the aroma of fresh-cooked breakfast and lunch that emanates from Louise’s Kitchen. Nonetheless, the carpenters are impressed with the way the large, wooden structure that houses the popular restaurant was built.

“A lot of these older houses were built in different ways,” Bryan said. “This house was built right. And it’s solid.”

The building, known as the Stepp House after George W. Stepp, its first occupant, is one of the oldest in Black Mountain. Built in 1904, the Victorian house stood on what was then Stepp Street.

What is now known as Black Mountain Avenue has seen a revitalization of sorts in recent years. The new red tin roof atop the Stepp House feels to many like the exclamation point to the robust renovations.

“We’ve done several things here,” Bryan said of his and Morris’ work on the historic structure. “We built that deck on the north side, and we took down the original chimney to give them more room down in the kitchen. We still have quite a bit more to do here though.”

Upcoming projects for Bryan and Morris include the construction of a second-floor deck that will span two sides of the building, reminiscent of a former feature of the house. The pair will also give new life to the bricks from the house’s original chimney.

“We were able to take that chimney down brick-by-brick, so now we’re going to use it to build a patio and a pergola,” Bryan said. “A lot of times, the framing will be attached to the chimney in some of these older buildings. But that chimney was free-standing all the way up. Hats off to the mason that built it.”

The repurposing of the brick is just one example of how business partners John Pomeroy and Bud Rainey have sought to enhance the historic building by staying true to its original look since Louise’s Kitchen opened in 2011.

“When it comes to that building, we really want to maintain it and keep it the way that it has been for all these years,” Rainey said. “This community has been so supportive of us that we really just want to help preserve it.”

Preserving the historic integrity of a street that’s been active since the town was named Grey Eagle was something that also occurred to Jon Brooks when he built the building north of the Stepp House in 2005. The building, something of an anchor for the street for more than a decade, houses Red Radish and Kudzu Branding.

“We really wanted something that would be consistent with the character of the street,” said Brooks, who also owns the Junction building. “ We liked the fact that this was the ‘old town,’ as we called it. So we wanted to build something that was in line with how buildings would have looked on the street long ago.”

In 2015 Brooks decided to try the same the same formula on the McCoy building, one of the town’s oldest. Now known as the Junction Building and housing Que Sera Restaurant, it was built as a boarding house for visitors arriving by train, according to local historian Robert Goodson.

“J.M. McCoy built the building,” Goodson said. “His son, James W. McCoy was the mayor and the president of the commonwealth bank.”

Goodson was one of several contributors to “A History Of Black Mountain North Carolina And Its People,”authored by the late Joyce Justus Parris and published in 1992.

“It’s really amazing to see that street come back like that,” he said. “Cherry Street used to be deserted at one point in time, and now you can’t find a parking space. The same thing is happening with Black Mountain Avenue, and it’s a wonderful thing to behold.”

The buildings along the street were some of the few untouched by the devastating fire of 1912, Goodson said. And that’s not the street’s only historical significance - two of the town’s mayors lived on Stepp Street, he said.

Brooks, excited about returning the McCoy building to its former glory, believes it is important to maintain as much of the original look of the building as possible, even the unusually wide hallways on the second floor.

“I found out while we were working on it that the reason those hallways were so wide was so the trunks that people used when traveling by train would fit,” Brooks said.

Goodson could not recall precisely how long the building sat vacant. He said it was empty “for a good number of years.”

Brooks was impressed with work done by local architect Maury Hurt, who made some improvements about 15 years ago when it was being considered by another party.

“And while we were checking into the building to make sure that it was able to be revived, a plaster expert literally just showed up one day. He was able to help us with some of that restoration,” Brooks said. He called the workman, José Bello, “a true artisan.” Bello, whose office is in the Junction, is reponsible for Que Sera’s overall design, Brooks said.

Brooks retained the original wood floors throughout the building, with the exception of the kitchen area. The wood taken up there was used in other parts of the Junction.

The current iteration of the McCoy building is just one in a long list of history, Goodson said.

“That small rock building across the street was used a temporary morgue during the great flu epidemic of 1918,” he said. “And the McCoy building was used as a hospital during that time.”