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That old house on Zion: Step back in Cornelius history at Susan Irvin’s new office

By Dave Yochum. New-attorney-in-town Susan Irvin and her husband Bob have transformed a 113-year-old Queen Anne style house on Zion Avenue into an eminently practical law office.

But the old Sherrill-Robbins House retains all its charm, wide wood trim, wooden floors and a distinctive wooden cross design in the front gable.

The left front room is now a good-looking conference room with period-correct architectural details and contemporary chairs. The right front room is the administrative office. A kitchen worthy of “Fixer Upper” is a break room.

The balustrade and newel post on the stairway to the second story retain their original elegance. Irvin’s office has the original fireplace opposite her desk.

“This is an excellent example of what preservationists call adaptive reuse,” said Dan Morrill, director of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission.

The commission has voted to recommend the house, which first belonged to Frank Sherrill, be designated a historic landmark. He was one-third owner of the Stough Cornelius Co. which operated a general store that sold all sorts of supplies to farmers and shipped ginned cotton by rail to distant markets. He went on to become president of the Bank of Cornelius and head of the Gem Yarn Mill.  In 1927, Sherrill sold his home to Walter Robert Robbins.

Top restoration challenges 

  • Leveling the floors. This very delicate job involved lifting parts of the house that had settled. It took weeks to accomplish, Irvin said.
  • Handicap requirements meant installing a ramp in an aesthetically pleasing way.
  • Gutting and redoing areas that had been added over the years.
  • Getting the necessary permits is a long process and can get complicated.

Mecklenburg County was overwhelmingly rural back then; agriculture was the driving force of the local economy. While the economy has changed, the Irvins did their best to put the house back the way it was when cotton was king in Cornelius.

It almost didn’t happen.

Susan was looking for new office space in Davidson for her growing law office which she operated out of her home. A lease on new Class A office space in Davidson fell through, but a chance meeting with Cam Finlay, the developer of Antiquity, resulted in the sale of the house to Susan. “When I came over and looked at it, I said “I have to have it.”

The Irvins paid $200,000 for the house early in 2016, and since then have spent well into the six figures on renovations. They live in Davidson and have three grown sons.

An attorney for 32 years, Susan Irvin, went to Duke University and got her law degree at the University of Texas Law School in 1983.

Susan has mostly done commercial real estate law since then and went out on her own in 2005. She was in the news recently when she was retained to advise a developer who has applied to build a hotel on property on West Catawba across from the Robbins Park development.

Irvin’s new offices are a beautiful step back in time. Irvin credits architect John Burgess and Davidson-based Flat Creek Construction.

The house is already a neighborhood magnet. The Irvin’s have had an open house and a neighborhood Christmas party.