The Boss Handy House
By Beverly Belcher Woody
This week, we are traveling southwest of Stuart, to the Boss Handy house. The Abram Ernest “Boss” Handy house sits in the center of a five-pronged intersection known as Five Forks. Boss grew up in this area just beyond Carter’s Mountain, but it was known as Consent, rather than Five Forks, when Boss’s father ran the post office there. Boss was the son of Beverage Abram Handy and Rebecca Ann McGhee. In 1902, he married Miss Lelia Watkins of the Peters Creek section of Stokes County, North Carolina. The couple hired Andy Martin to begin construction of their dream home right away.
In 1904, the Handy house was completed and became the busy hub of the Five Forks community. Boss ran a dry goods general store/post office beside the house where he sold everything from farm machinery to shoes; meanwhile, Lelia ran the community switchboard inside the house. The Handys also owned 40 acres of land on Carter’s Mountain where they grew peaches and apples, and had two smaller orchards beside their home.
The Handys raised nine children, seven sons and two daughters. Their son, Edgar, remained close by, but all the other children moved away and never lived in Patrick County again. Stafford Odell was a physician in Lynchburg, Kenneth Early was a pharmacist in Raleigh, Douglas Quentin was a dentist in Bedford, Abram Ernest Jr. was a physician in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, Ralph Waldo was a pharmacist in Memphis, TN, and Phillip Watkins Handy was a dentist in Lynchburg, VA. The Handy’s daughter, Wilbour, moved to Abingdon, and daughter Ann moved to Akron, Ohio.
An interesting side note is that Boss and Lelia’s granddaughter, Mary, who was the daughter of Stafford, married J. Sargeant Reynolds, the youngest Lt. Governor in Virginia history. Sargeant was the grandson of Richard Samuel Reynolds, the founder of Reynolds Metals (Reynolds Wrap) and the great-great nephew of R. J. Reynolds.
Boss and Lelia’s son Edgar married Vergie Harris and they lived with his parents for the earliest years of their marriage. In 1939, their daughter Neville was born, and the young couple built a home across the road.
Boss passed away in 1951 and Lelia passed away in 1964. The Handy house and its’ fifteen rooms fell silent. Shortly before her death, Lelia had told her son Edgar that it was her dream that someone would purchase the family home and restore it to its’ original grandeur. Enter the Simmons family.
Gilmer and Mattie Joyce Simmons both grew up in nearby Stokes County, North Carolina. The couple had been raising their family in Jamestown, North Carolina and wanted to return to a more rural setting. They had four children, Cheryl, Phil, Teresa, and Susan. By the time the family purchased the property in 1969 and began the restoration, Cheryl was grown, and Phil was serving our country in Vietnam. Teresa and Sue were much younger and would spend the majority of their childhood in the stately home.
The first order of business was converting the back of the house into Mattie’s Beauty Shop, where she would serve customers for 18 years. Many cosmetic changes were made, an intercom system was installed, plus wall to wall carpeting and electric heat to supplement the fireplaces in each room. My personal favorite was the sunroom, which was in the front, on the second floor of the house. Everything was decorated in greens and yellows, and the furniture was covered in a tropical print.
In June of 1970, the Simmons family hosted an Open House and Get-Acquainted Tea to celebrate the restoration of the home. Mrs. Guy (Emogene) Owens, Mrs. Edgar (Vergie) Handy, Mrs. Odell (Frances) Morse, Miss Alma Carter, Mrs. George (Charlene) Lawson, Mrs. Cecil (Frances) Simmons, Mrs. Junior (Betty Lou) Martin, and Mrs. Gilmer (Neville) Roberson served as hostesses.
Gilmer and Mattie’s daughter Sue and I have been friends since first grade and have remained in touch ever since. Sue’s favorite memories of growing up in the magnificent home are running up and down both staircases, sliding down the grand banister, playing with the intercom, having a 75th birthday party for her Grandma Simmons, singing around the piano, sledding, Easter egg hunts, and riding her horses. Sue told me last week “that I felt like a princess living in a castle.” She has such fond memories of hanging out in her Mama Mattie’s Beauty Shop, climbing on each patron’s lap while they were under the hair dryers.
Our classmate, Mark Dalton, said that his mother, Mary walked the half mile to Mattie’s Beauty Shop every Wednesday to get her hair done. Mark stated that his mother said, “It was the most fascinating home I have ever been in. It is just like stepping back in time when you walk through the door into the great entry hall.”
Sadly, in January of 1973, less than two years after the Simmons family moved in, Gilmer, a World War II veteran died of cancer at the age of 48. I remember it like it was yesterday. Sue and I were in Mrs. Crystal Roberson’s class at Stuart Elementary and I could not understand how you could lose your Daddy when you were only seven years old. Mattie managed to care for the beautiful home until 1988, when it came up for sale again. The home went through some rough times and fell into a sad state of disrepair.
Flash forward to today. Beverly and Mitchell Smith have purchased the home and begun the restoration. Beverly said they were looking for a fixer upper to restore and knew the house had amazing potential. The couple has created a YouTube channel called “My Crazy Coffee Life” where you can watch videos of the restoration. I look forward to the day where, like the Phoenix, the house will rise again, stronger and more beautiful than ever.
Thank you to Lydia Roberson, Sue Simmons Bradley, Beverly Smith, and Mark Dalton for their contributions to this article.