County codes may force woman out of historic home

WAVY/Lauren Compton

ISLE OF WIGHT, Va. (WAVY) — An 83-year-old Smithfield woman has lived in her historic Isle of Wight County home all her life, but is afraid she might be forced to leave.

Time and storms like Hurricane Isabel have damaged Mary Cocker’s home, and she hasn’t been able to make repairs. To some, the old home is an eye sore. There are broken window panes, peeling paint, and damaged sections of the roof. But, to Crocker her home holds all her precious memories, memories she doesn’t want to let go of.

Photos: Historic Isle of Wight home

“When I was a kid there was a little circus that used to go right out there in my front yard,” said Crocker. “It had one elephant but it was as great as the Ringling Brothers.”

WAVY/Lauren Compton
WAVY/Lauren Compton

The tall part of Crocker’s home was built in the 1730’s. Her family moved in on New Years eve, 1918.

“Well, I’ve been living in it all these years, I was born here so I might as well die here,” said Crocker.

Crocker lives in a newer built on addition of the home, but the way it stands now it is in violation of several Isle of Wight County maintenance codes. The structure needs to be weatherized, frames need to be repaired, it’s in dire need of repainting, and that’s only a portion of the long list of needed repairs — repairs Crocker says she can’t afford.

The town of Smithfield first cited Crocker for maintenance code violations in 2011. On Wednesday, Crocker’s case all came to a head at an appeals meeting where the Board of Building Appeals heard from residents and Crocker’s attorney on why her home should be allowed to stay the way it is.

“She finds the place acceptable to her needs and desires and wants,” said Al Jones, Crocker’s attorney.

County officials also heard from the Isle of Wight Director of Inspections Arthur Berkley, who said Crocker’s home is unsafe, and needs to be brought up to code.

WAVY/Lauren Compton
WAVY/Lauren Compton

“We do address the exterior issues that are affecting the building,” Berkley said.

For almost two hours, both sides debated, and at times the debate got emotional. In the end, the County is giving Crocker six months to come up to code. Her family says she simply doesn’t have the money to do it. They will have to put her home on the market and sell everything she holds dear.

“It’s going to break her heart because she wants to stay there,” said Crocker’s relative Marty Delk. “She would like to be there the rest of her life.”

Berkley said he will try to work with Crocker’s family to help them bring the house to code. Since the board did not vote on Crocker’s appeal of the violations, they will revisit this issue again in six months.

If you’d like to help Crocker bring her home up to code, you can join others in Hampton Roads who have set up a fund for the repairs — just click here.

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