Can houses celebrate birthdays? There is an historic house in Pleasant Hill that will be celebrating its 75th birthday. The house itself was known as “Yonside." It is situated on a hill on Yonside Drive. The term “Yonside” was derived from “Yonder side of the Lake." Yonside house had been built by Dr. May Cravath Wharton, one of the founders of the Uplands community in 1935 as her personal residence. It was a gift of her brother Paul Cravath of New York City. Dr. May selected the site and drew the plans herself. The house climbs the hillside with the living room atop the garage and various floor levels rising with the land. Unusual for most houses of that time, Yonside contained a bathroom with a tub on the top floor. Most of the stone and lumber used was taken from the site and dressed locally. The floors, paneled walls, ceilings and hand-hewn rafters are of chestnut. Hinges and iron chandeliers throughout the house were crafted by local ironsmith Will Rankhorn.
The present keepers of “Dr. May’s house," Mardelle and Larry Pond are planning a birthday party on Saturday, July 10, with a rain date on July 24. Tours of the home will be conducted from 1 to 3 p.m. with music, food, drinks and lively stories. A program at 3 p.m. will take place where Dr. May often entertained at picnics around the stone table and benches in the front yard. It will include a dedication of a special sign. Rumor has it that Dr. May herself may attend — look for her to come riding out of the woods on her horse, “Billy." The Ponds and daughter Susan have been owners of Yonside for 2 1/2 years. Susan lives in the attractive three-room apartment above the adjacent garage.
Dr. May could follow the stone-edged path from the front door down the Pine Trail right to the door of Uplands Hospital on old Route 70, now Main Street in Pleasant Hill. In 1951, Dr. Wharton and co-founder Alice Adshead left Yonside and moved to the Homestead on Main Street so Alice could more easily care for her dear friend. The house was left to Uplands at Dr. May’s death in 1959. Yonside was occupied by a succession of renters and later administrators of the Uplands Retirement Village. There are stories that one family kept a horse in the basement, pigs in the living room and chickens in the kitchen.
When former Uplands Director Edward Dahmer and wife Bernice purchased their own home in 1977, Yonside was bought by Elisabeth Mitchell in July 1978 with the understanding that it would revert to Uplands upon her death. She remodeled it extensively and had the separate garage with upstairs apartment built. “Mitch,” as she was called by her friends, had been the owner and director of Camp Nakanawa in Mayland, TN, since 1947. She retired from the camp in 1980 relinquishing control to niece Ann Mitchell Perrone and her husband, Pepe. Mitch was on the Uplands board and a generous benefactor of the Cumberland County Playhouse from its inception. At her death in 2000, Yonside’s ownership reverted to Uplands Retirement Village.
Recent owners Ginny and George Nixon, Mardelle and Larry Pond have continued the loving refurbishing and upgrading of the home. The Nixons added a bedroom, bath, closets and installed an elevator on the living room level. They built an accessible boardwalk to the upper entrance. The Ponds have replaced the windows and built a retaining wall on the west side. When they moved in they were perturbed to find that the mountain had been sliding down against the house so that the door on that side could not open. They bulldozed the mountain back, installed a French drain, and had a lovely deck built so they could enjoy that side of the woods.
When asked about ghosts, Mardelle said that even though she did not believe in such things, there is definitely a living presence exhibited by sounds in various parts of the house. The public is invited to come to the birthday party at 229 Yonside Dr. Parking will be available in the meadow below the house along Yonside or above the house on Edwards Drive off of Yonside. The setting continues to reflect the charm of the hillside, plantings from the various owners, the surrounding woods and the view of Lake Laura even as other houses have grown up below it.