Some people view an old, ramshackle house as an eyesore in need of the wrecking ball, but John Kidwell often sees possibilities for restoring the beauty of such a structure to its heyday.
The local resident has dedicated his professional life to the preservation of older homes, and those efforts will be rewarded Friday when he is presented with a state honor.
Kidwell, 80, will receive the Gertrude S. Carraway Award of Merit from Preservation North Carolina, an organization that promotes and protects the buildings and landscapes of the state’s diverse heritage.
He will be among a handful of award recipients from across North Carolina recognized with Carraway Awards at an event in Greensboro. These are given each year to people and organizations demonstrating a genuine commitment to historic preservation through extraordinary leadership, research, philanthropy, promotion and/or personal participation, according to an announcement for the award.
Kidwell will receive the honor during a Friday awards presentation and luncheon at the Carolina Theater in Greensboro, as part of the annual conference of Preservation North Carolina based in Raleigh.
Examples of Kidwell’s work in Mount Airy include the restoration of the Dr. Campbell A. Baird House at 311 Cherry St. near Reeves Community Center. It was built in 1913, but had fallen into major disrepair and sat vacant for decades before his construction crew brought it back to life through a project completed 100 years later.
After buying it as a fixer-upper, Kidwell also renovated the Hale and Nina Yokley House as his personal residence, which was long home to a legendary industrialist who owned Mount Airy Furniture Co.
Another local structure graced by Kidwell’s talents is the historic Merritt House, which after being vacant for five years underwent a major renovation that allowed it to become a successful bed and breakfast establishment in the downtown area.
He also has been involved in work on the Moore House, the oldest in Mount Airy; the 1799 Edwards-Franklin House on Haystack Road; and the city Masonic Lodge on Franklin Street, among other projects.
Kidwell was nominated for the state award in May by Mount Airy resident Carol Burke in recognition of his professional restoration efforts in Surry County.
However, it was an honor Kidwell did not expect to receive.
“I was really surprised that I would be selected out of all the people in North Carolina who do this kind of work,” he said Tuesday afternoon while standing outside the Baird House, now owned by Gordon and Lesa Reeves.
Kidwell added that he considers the state award to largely be a reflection of the strong preservation program in place in the Mount Airy area as a whole, which speaks well for this community.
“It’s about me, but by the same token it’s about the city.”
Kidwell grew up in White Plains, but his family moved away in the 1950s when he was in the eighth grade.
He later would embark on a career in construction management specializing in restoration/preservation projects in Northern Virginia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., including its historic Georgetown district.
Among his more notable efforts in that region was the restoration of “The Big Chair,” a famous landmark in the southeastern section of the nation’s capital. Another was his remodeling of an 1862 Episcopal church in Forestville, Maryland.
Kidwell has restored numerous residential and commercial structures during his career.
He moved back to his native Surry County in 2007, but his work was far from over as evidenced by the completion of various projects since his return.
The Baird House on Cherry Street, for one, is now known as one of the best-preserved examples of neoclassical revival architecture in this area.
Yet Kidwell was quick to point out Tuesday that there is more to such efforts than brick and mortar — a human element also is involved, on the part of both the restorer and the new occupants of homes. That was the case with Lesa Reeves, who had desired to acquire the Baird House since she was a child.
“It’s passion,” Kidwell said of the most important ingredient required for such preservation endeavors.
“If you don’t have the passion for it, you can’t do this kind of work.”
And the sense of accomplishment one receives from seeing an old house returned to its former glory is unmatched, Kidwell indicated.
“It is rewarding — I get a lot of satisfaction out of it,” he said of seeing a restoration project reach fruition.
“It is a tremendous reward for me personally to be able to work with people and realize their dream, as it was in this (Lesa Reeves’) case.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.