The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

March 10, 2013

The legend of Ravens Court

They just don’t build houses like this anymore.

No.

Nevermore.

When Wyoming County native Mark D’Antoni and his family bought their current home in St. Albans 10 years ago, they not only got a magnificent 5,500-square-foot home originally constructed in 1833, but they also got a quick lesson in history.

And literature.

Raven’s Court, the D’Antonis’ home, has been linked to world-renowned poet Edgar Allan Poe, who, as legend has it, may have written his famous “The Raven” inside his temporary chambers while visiting friends who owned the home.

Or at least, Poe may have been inspired to pen his lament to lost love Lenore because of a stay here.

The cable television network HGTV (Home & Gardens TV) even aired an episode of its “If Walls Could Talk” show at Raven’s Court in 2002, just before the D’Antonis purchased the home.

“It’s really neat, especially for the kids, to live in a home that Edgar Allan Poe may have either visited and where he may have been inspired to write ‘The Raven,’” said Mark.

“And it has even more of a history after that, with the Civil War. It’s my understanding that the North took control of the house and used it as a headquarters after the owners of the property at that time, the Hansfords, fled.

“The people that built this house, the Thompson family, had an original house built here in 1823,” Mark continued. “It was a wooden house that burned down. One member of the Thompson family was a member of the legislature in Virginia. In 1833, they built this house when it was still part of the state of Virginia.

“It’s my understanding that Edgar Allan Poe’s adoptive father was also a member of the Virginia legislature. And they knew each other and became friends. From that, at least the legend goes, that Poe visited the Thompsons here. There was some correspondence where he wrote to the Thompson family and referred to them as cousins. That was probably a term of endearment, because I don’t think he was an actual cousin.

“So the local people here for years were very strong in their beliefs that Poe did come to this area and did stay here. This property, a plantation, was originally called Raven’s Wood, back before it was subdivided. The house originally sat on about 400 acres. The thought is that when Poe wrote ‘The Raven’ (published in 1845), he was inspired by his visit here.

“The time frame fits.”

Poe died in 1849 at the age of 40.

Though the home is not a museum to Poe by any means, the D’Antonis certainly celebrate and honor the legend and stories of his passing through the then-Virginia plantation.

“We have a book of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems and short stories by the fireplace in the living room,” Mark said. “There’s an old rocking chair in there and a Poe book for anybody that would like to pick it up and sit in front of the fire.”

The D’Antonis have enjoyed researching Poe, even incorporating it into vacation time.

“We went to Baltimore during spring break a few years ago with the kids for a volleyball tournament,” Mark’s wife Chelle explained. “There are a lot of cool Poe references in the area. We went to where he is buried. It was neat for the kids to walk around and see the headstones; they love history.

“A lot of the history about Poe and the house is speculative and not proven,” she admitted. “But it’s cool. The room that Poe would have likely stayed is my oldest daughter’s room. She’s a big English buff. And it’s really cool for her. She’s read a lot of his work.

“It’s a very neat story.”

-----

Raven’s Court has had its share of unusual events.

But any “rapping on chamber doors” going on down on McQueen Street these days?

“When we first moved in, our oldest daughter Bailey came to our room a couple of times and said that she heard some things or saw some things in the mirror,” Mark shared. “Had the house not had its history, I would have probably just dismissed it, but it did get my attention.

“Her bedroom is the place that supposedly all the new babies were born in this place and possibly, since the 1800s, there have been people die in that room. With that kind of background, I couldn’t dismiss her claim that easily.”

Chelle (pronounced SHELL-y) thought about it prior to the purchase, and made inquiry.

“I’m a chicken and don’t like haunted stories and such,” she said. “But I asked the previous owners, kidding, ‘Is it haunted?’ She was a librarian and had done a lot of research.

“She told me that they had hired a physic to do a reading on the house. The physic determined that everything was positive — only happy memories. But she did say that she felt a ‘protective presence’ in the house.”

But there’s nothing like personal experience, right?

“The first night I stayed here, I awoke and, I swear, I saw the apparition of an older man, maybe an officer, standing beside the bed,” said Chelle. “Bailey has told me that she had seen the same figure.

“But the protective spirit, I don’t know if it’s true ... but that was really strange.”

Undeterred, the D’Antonis plan on occupying Raven’s Court for many years to come.

“The house is our home and it’s been a great place to live for 10 years,” said Chelle. “It needed a little TLC, but we felt that it needed preserved. We hope to own it for a long time.”

-----

Decorating a home like Raven’s Court might have been a bit intimidating for most.

But Chelle was more than up to the task.

“I’ve always been attracted to older homes,” she said. “They have a lot of character. They have so much to offer with woodwork, wooden floors and crown molding. You can’t build homes like that now.”

Chelle has a degree in interior design from the University of South Carolina and worked for about five years with Dondale Furniture and Design.

“A friend of mine knew that I loved old houses and told me about this one,” she explained. “We had just watched the (‘If Walls Could Talk’) episode on HGTV. I remember watching that and thinking, ‘Wow, that’s right here in West Virginia.’ About six months later, we were making an appointment to see it.

“There was no question — we wanted it. It was structurally sound. It had a good sized yard on a good street. It was what we were looking for.”

“I think we would have bought it anyway,” Mark said. “We fell in love with it. But obviously the history makes it really nice. It was an added selling point.”

Chelle currently teaches planning and design at Carver Career Center.

“I had a blank canvas to work with,” she shared. “It was so enticing to me. It was a beautiful challenge. With a background in design, I was able to go a little crazy. I love the eclectic feel. I like a mix of styles — contemporary and traditional. I’m somewhere in between.

“I like working with a budget and the art of the deal. I got a lot of furnishings through yard sales, discount stores. I was constantly refinishing things that people were throwing out. There was a lot found in consignment shops. I guess I have an eye for dressing older things up and using them in different ways.

“We hired a wonderful painter; the only original colors left is in the front entrance. We updated all the light fixtures and plumbing. We upgraded the kitchen counter tops and appliances.

“We put a metal roof on it. And repainted the exterior. We wanted it to have a more colonial feel — with more white, black and taupe.”

“The house is unique — even though it looks very large from the outside, I didn’t want it to feel stuffy,” Chelle said. “We can live in every room. When you come in, it’s warm and has a family feel.”

-----

Mark is the youngest son of Lewis D’Antoni, a West Virginia Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame member, and is a brother to Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni and Lakers assistant coach Dan D’Antoni. His sister Kathy D’Antoni is assistant superintendent for the state Department of Education.

“I didn’t have the basketball talent that my dad and brothers had, so I had to go to law school, which made my mom happy,” Mark said with a laugh, though the youngest D’Antoni did play college hoops from 1980 to 1984 at Coastal Carolina.

“Dad just turned 99 and he’s doing great, still living in Mullens,” Mark said. “We’re already planning his 100th birthday party. Somebody is going to have to contact (NBC’s) Willard Scott at ‘The Today Show’ for that.”

Mark, a lawyer with Bowles Rice Law Firm in Charleston, and wife Chelle have three children — daughter Bailey, a sophomore at Marshall University, son Parker, a freshman at Teays Valley Christian School, and youngest daughter Kennedy, a sixth-grader at McKinley Middle.

“We’re real proud of their grades,” said Mark, who added that all three children carry 4.0 grade point averages. “Hopefully they’ll all keep that up,” he added.

— E-mail: jworkman@register-herald.com

 

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