Penchant for Preservation
By Lena Basha
Volume 141, Number 4, July/August 2007, Page 5

In 1992, Dr. Anne Tyler Netick took early retirement from teaching Russian at the College of William and Mary. But it wasn’t so that she could get a jump-start on living the easy life. She needed to start directing her attention full-time to a project that had been on the back burner since the 1970s—restoring Woodbourne, the 1815 home near Charles City, Va., that her great-grandfather, President John Tyler, built for his first wife, Letitia Christian.

“It was really in deteriorating condition,” says Dr. Netick, who purchased the house from the Christian family, who had not lived there for more than 20 years. “But I believe that any old house of architectural or historic significance should be saved if possible.”

The good news was that the owners never tried to reinvent the house by repurposing or adding rooms. “When we bought it, it was very much the same structure that Tyler would have known,” she says. “A lot of the old moldings, woodwork, fireplaces—things that oftentimes are stolen from abandoned houses—were still there. Our job was to fill in the gaps and clean it up.”

The bad news was that restoring Woodbourne would require a new foundation, roof, siding, windows, doors and extensive inside repairs. Five outbuildings original to the house, including a kitchen and dairy, also needed repairs.

Dr. Netick and her husband, Dr. Joe Netick, a retired dermatologist, did much of the restoration work, while subcontractors handled the more complex jobs.

“Looking back, I’m really pleased with what we did,” she says. “The house looks beautiful.”

The major work was finished in 1995, but Dr. Netick admits that, as with all old houses, there’s always more work to do. She learned this growing up at Sherwood Forest, another home of President Tyler where he lived from 1842 until his death in 1862. The circa 1720 home, Dr. Netick says, was an enchanting place for a child to grow up, but it was often in need of small repairs. “The plaster would crack, the floors creaked and, in winter, water pipes were often frozen,” she recalls. “But the house was fun and had real personality.”

Dr. Netick graduated from Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Lynchburg, Va., with a degree in Latin and then moved to New York to study Russian at Columbia University. “In college I took a class in Russian literature, and I was intrigued, so I decided I wanted to learn Russian,” she explains. “I finished at Columbia during the space race, so there was a great demand for people who could speak the language.”

Dr. Netick taught a few years at the College of William and Mary before moving to Nashville, Tenn., to pursue her Ph.D. at Vanderbilt University. Later, she returned to William and Mary to teach Russian language and literature until retiring 15 years ago.

With Woodbourne now serving as her weekend retreat and where she keeps the seven horses that she rides and trains, Dr. Netick has moved on to other endeavors, including working at local museums and joining the DAR as a member of the Commonwealth Chapter, Richmond, Va. “I’ve always known the DAR did a lot of good,” she says. “But the more I get involved, the more I realize what a positive impact this organization has on our communities.”

Dr. Netick also recently finished a two-year term as governor of the Jamestowne Society, an organization whose members are descendants of the Jamestown colonists. Under her leadership, four new companies (comparable to DAR chapters) were inaugurated, and the society purchased a new headquarters building in Richmond. Dr. Netick expects that the society will grow even bigger as a result of the 400th anniversary celebration of the settlement at Jamestown.

Although the celebration will come to an end this year, it’s a good bet Dr. Netick will soon find another piece of history to preserve.

Credit: Photo by Joe Mahoney

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