At the North Carolina-Virginia border, a family makes its home in both states

Peggy Lefler makes dinner in Virginia. When she’s tired, she walks across the hall to North Carolina.

She travels between the states every day without leaving her white, two-story farmhouse on Highway 13 – a 300-year-old family home bisected by the state line.

Lefler’s mother, Edith Freeman Seiling, was born on a snowy night in 1919 in what they call the Virginia bedroom. It’s tucked away upstairs, right across from the North Carolina room, where 99-year-old Seiling said she took her first vacation.

“I was born in Virginia, and the first place I went was North Carolina,” she joked.

“Somebody carried you across the hall,” her daughter said.

The house was built in the late 1700s – or part of it was – and has been added onto since. With its black shutters and a chimney pointing toward the sky, the house is hidden behind a small cluster of trees and a short, wooden fence just off Whaleyville Boulevard.

It has been in the family for more than 100 years. Lefler said her great-grandfather Edmund James Freeman bought it in 1876 from a New Yorker after the Civil War. He got a good deal on the property because the owner wasn’t able to farm wheat on it like he planned.

Officials came to the house to resurvey the state line in 1887. A marker inscribed with the year “1887” sits in front of the house, where Suffolk and Gates County meet.

Seiling remembers her younger brother and his best friend celebrating birthdays in the house. They were born on the same day, so they had a party on the state line, she said.

“One was born in Virginia and one was born in North Carolina,” Seiling said. “They sat in the hall there and celebrated with cake and ice cream.”

Lefler and her husband, Michael, moved there in 1974. Because of the house’s unique location, they had decisions to make, starting with where to be citizens. They had to choose between the states.

“We both worked in North Carolina, so we chose North Carolina driver’s licenses,” said Lefler, a retired librarian.

She said living on the state line has had its perks over the years.

“My husband went to undergraduate school at Old Dominion and he went to graduate school at East Carolina,” she said. “He was able to pay in-state tuition in both situations because we paid taxes in both states.”

All they had to do was get a Virginia address. Now, she has an address in each state and gets mail to both of them.

“They use the same mailbox,” she said.

Lefler said she has seen people do all kinds of things near the border in front of her house. She said the American Red Cross stops to transfer blood between trucks. She has seen inmates get out of trucks, too.

“They might be bringing them from Virginia to North Carolina,” she said. “Security will transfer them to the other vehicle.”

She has also helped people who’ve stopped in front of her house.

“Before cellphones, we had a lot of people who would stop and need help,” she said. “We’d let them use our phone or we’d let them spend the night here.”

Lefler said what started as a small kitchen eventually turned into a two-story house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a brightly-lit living room and a sun porch. Today, the rooms are full of handmade furniture, antique clocks and photos of loved ones who once called the house their home.

An old smokehouse sits on the property along with an outdoor kitchen and an abandoned general store run by Lefler’s family in the early 1900s. Other family have lived on the land over the years, including Lefler’s aunts, uncles and her brother.

Lefler hopes more family members will move into the house after her.

“My mama was born here,” she said. “It’s my family history and my family heritage.”

_____________________________

This story was written during my internship at The Virginian-Pilot. The story was also picked up by The Associated Press.

Publication: The Virginian-Pilot / June 21st, 2018
Photo Credit: Steve Earley

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