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Graves Cottage Renovation: Parsonage by the People

Bluffton’s century-old landmark home undergoes a facelift and welcomes a family of seven along with a new role … courtesy of Bluffton United Methodist Church, its generous parishioners and the local community.

Story By Paula Magrini + Photos By Mark Staff

Thanks to intuitive floor plans and 12 months of 24/7 renovation, the previous Graves Cottage is now turning heads as Bluffton United Methodist Church’s new parsonage on Calhoun Street.
© Provided by Simpson Construction

When construction administrator Andy Harper first arrived at his new post at Court Atkins Group six years ago, the Graves Cottage project was the topic of many local conversations. Would the 110-year-old landmark structure become a community outreach center, historical preservation priority or…relocated to an alternate address? Harper, who was on hand often to steer the architectural vision of the project, said his ongoing commitment to the project was ultimately shaped by municipal discretion and the generosity of members of the Bluffton United Methodist Church.

“After the church’s attempt to create a new community center didn’t materialize, the cottage remained on the original property. Bluffton leaders would not allow it to be demolished, though very few elements of the structure could be redeemed or restored to modern standards,” he said.

The kitchen island features the cottage’s original door panels with countertop inspired by the Bluffton Oyster Company, once owned by the Graves family.

Harper explained that it was the vision and tenacity of project benefactors Shirley and Bud Mingledorff that led to the Graves Cottage being designated as BUMC’s new parsonage. The Mingledorffs made the historical cottage a priority in their estate planning, offering to cover the cost of a full exterior and interior renovation.

“In biblical terms, it was a ‘Saul to Paul’ transformation that took place at this cottage,” Harper added, (referring to one of Jesus’ apostles whose name changed following his historical leap of faith). Perhaps divine intervention was involved, as the Mingledorffs share significant history with the Calhoun Street parish. Bud’s grandparents, Walter and Elizabeth, built the church’s existing sanctuary, using funds in a trust set aside for this purpose in Mr. Mingledorff’s will.

“The family didn’t want to call more attention to themselves after building the Sunday school building and original parsonage, so the contribution was placed in a trust fund,” Shirley Mingledorff said. She mentioned she still has the program from the dedication of the BUMC sanctuary. She and Bud met earlier in Atlanta and once married, raised their family there.

The existing framework required extensive repairs after more than a century of wear and tear.
© Provided by Simpson Construction

“When we relocated to the Lowcountry and built our new home on Myrtle Island, we became church members,” Mingledorff shared. “With the arrival of Pastor Joey McDonald, we watched the congregation grow. He’s one of the reasons so many new and younger parishioners have joined BUMC. His passion, dedication and weekly message are a major part of our decision to support this project,” she said. “It’s an honor for us and dozens of community donors to provide a welcoming new home that will accommodate Pastor Joey, his wife Mickaylla and their five sons.”

While en route to a missionary trip to Republic of Congo (Africa), Pastor Joey shared an emotional phone call to express his gratitude. “My family and I are so appreciative of this amazing gift and God’s grace. Our family doubled after my marriage to Mickaylla and our current home has just one bathroom,” he noted. “For the first time in my life I’m moving into a home where I’ve had a say in choices. Shirley Mingledorff called me about so many of the design decisions.” McDonald admits he and his family are overwhelmed by the attention they’ve received throughout the renovation process. “But we keep telling ourselves, this is our time to live.” And for the first time, the whole family will fit at the same dining room table for meals and celebrations.

The construction team persevered through Tropical Storm Irma and a major snow storm.
© Provided by Simpson Construction

Originally built by US Navy ship carpenter George Guilford over 100 years ago for daughter Cora Jane and her new husband John Graves, the ambitious renovation project got underway last July with Court Atkins Group and Simpson Construction at the helm. Both companies agreed to guide the unique legacy project due to their personal commitments to BUMC as well as a strong sense of community pride and respect for Bluffton’s historical integrity.

Partner William Court pointed out that he and partner James Atkins “wore dual hats throughout the effort” since in addition to designing floorplans and managing municipal requirements, they were members of BUMC’s long range planning committee. “We believe our roles in the project were fulfilled by designing a pastoral home that was worthy of the church’s current campus. We also demonstrated for the town of Bluffton the caliber of restoration that is possible for many of its historical homes and structures in need of attention,” he said.

The existing cottage was moved forward 16 feet at its Calhoun Street address so a new kitchen and master bathroom could be added at the rear of the home,” Court said. “In addition to numerous enhancements to the second story, a carriage house was included in the new floor plans.” Court and Atkins donated much of their time and expertise to BUMC on behalf of the new parsonage.

Josh Simpson, owner of Simpson Construction, delivered a renovation strategy far beyond even his own expectations. Like Court and Atkins, he has a personal stake in BUMC since both of his sons were baptized there and he’s served as a trustee in recent years. He assigned long-time colleague and project manager, Kelly Walsh, to supervise the onsite work daily. The cost of Walsh’s time was the only charge Simpson submitted to BUMC. “I’m honored and humbled to be attached to this project and the inspiring final outcome of the Graves Cottage renovation,” Simpson said.

Both Simpson and Walsh encountered the unexpected in the walls and foundation of the cottage and repeatedly revised solutions. “The roof system was lightweight and needed to be replaced. We installed a completely new floor system and replaced the exterior wall envelope,” Simpson explained. “The previous structure lacked proper insulation.” Simpson acknowledged that in days gone by, May River breezes were the air conditioning that is now state-of-the-art at the Graves Cottage.

Because she was onsite at the renovation project daily with Shirley Mingledorff and Lowcountry interior design maven Ruthie Edwards, Walsh witnessed more progress than most involved with the ambitious undertaking. She channeled her SCAD network and historical preservation expertise to identify and enlist resources that kept construction details authentic yet fully-functional.

Walsh stayed calm and cool when Hurricane Irma struck just after the interior plaster had been completed. The Lowcountry’s biggest snow storm in decades didn’t rattle her either, though it happened just as the plumbing was being tested. Walsh is grateful for the support of the Mingledorffs’ heating and air professionals who came to the rescue with a better installation plan when the cottage’s primary engineering component – the HVAC system – was compromised by bulky ducts and venting.

“I’m still amazed by the sheer generosity of the Mingledorff family and all of our community partners in making this renovation happen for Pastor Joey’s family,” Walsh said. “The momentum was contagious.”

“The parsonage is entwined in our family and community roots,” Shirley added. “Bud’s grandfather’s chair is now in the parsonage hallway and his grandmother’s desk and chair are tucked in the master bedroom. Throughout the home there are precious contributions from community friends and vendors.” Shirley said she’s glad church members were able to see the rewards of collaboration when they toured the home following the dedication ceremony earlier this summer.