Rock Hill's Book House Deemed A Historic Structure

Michelle Barron, proprietor of The Book House in Rock Hill, holds the plaque designating the house a Historic Structure. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
December 04, 2009
"So many books, so little time."

Michelle Barron, proprietor of The Book House, 9719 Manchester Road in Rock Hill, needs that sign. When she leased the house 23 years ago, she planned to keep it only until she had raised her two small children.

Now, with her children out of the house, Michelle has Blake, the black cat who moves silently among the book racks, and over 400,000 books, some rare and first editions worth thousands of dollars.

As the recipient of the first Historic Buildings Designation plaque from the Rock Hill Historic Preservation Commission, Barron just wishes she owned the Book House instead of leasing it.

"This building is one of the most endangered in the county," she said. "It could be torn down at any time."

Standing in the sun outside in the front of the old home, she waved her arm around the property.

"I don't own this building. The Estate of Elizabeth (Betty) Stahl, my former landlord, does and they have been trying to sell it for years. Elizabeth would be turning in her grave!

"I've been trying to buy it for years, but they won't break up the parcels," Barron said, adding that the estate has been wanting to sell the entire plat to a redeveloper.

"And that almost happened four years ago," she said.

Blake lay in the sun on the Book House porch, and twitched his tail as if to punctuate Barron's comments.

Barron said many people have stopped in and offered to buy the house.

"We had some people from Chicago here and they said this is one of the oldest examples of Gothic Victorian architecture in this area. We think it's because a ship boat captain had the property and built the house."

Even with the designation, the exact beginnings of The Book House are nebulous at best, and it has worn many hats in its storied history.

Donia Hunter, chairman of the commission, said the exact beginnings are not known, although it is thought to have been built in 1863.

"We know for a fact that this building was here in 1890," Barron said. "But there were existing structures predating 1863."

While Hunter has put together a history of the house, rumors of its past abound.

"I heard that it might have been a brothel at one point," Barron said. "Two guys owned it. It could have been an inn. A Dr. Thomas lived here in the 20s. He was the grandfather of Betty Stahl and someone told me he had a morgue in the front room, along with his office."

That probably helped the ghost rumors that have enhanced the old house's mystique.

"There were apparently twin girls who died in the house and were buried on the property," Barron said.

One particular little red-headed girl is said to haunt the book stacks. She liked to play in the little dormered room in the front of the house on the second floor.

"She either drowned in the creek that used to run behind the house, or she fell from the roof which was accessible from the window in her playroom," Barron said.

Either way, she has made her presence known throughout the years.

The same room which was a morgue served as a wedding chapel in later years - at least that was the rumor, Barron said.

"Then it was 'Craft Manor' when four women owned it," she said. "They decoupaged the bathroom in sheet music, the walls upstairs, and the electrical outlets. Then it became a flower shop and antique store called 'The Posey Store.'"

Sure enough, sheet music covers the little bathroom downstairs giving occupants an opportunity to sing a little song.

Barron would like to remodel the House and have a coffee shop, but that takes money and probably will not happen, at least not soon.

When she thought she would have to move, she started a non-profit called Second Chapter Center.

"We couldn't find a collector, and when we'd have a sale, we'd end up with more books than when we started. So we've restructured and part of everything we make goes to Second Chance. Since we don't know what will happen to the building, we're in a holding pattern."

In the meantime, Blake guards the thousands of old and new tomes in the old house.

If these walls could talk...

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