Man's Will Calls For Destruction Of Home
A Matthews millionaire named Frank Renfrow died in December. He was part of the family that ran a 110-year-old landmark business in downtown Matthews called Renfrow Hardware and General Merchandise. He was generous in his will. For example, his church is getting $1 million. But it's what he isn't leaving behind that's attracting attention. Mr. Renfrow directed that his house, which his father built in 1926, be destroyed - either by fire or demolition. It's one of those picturesque colonial houses that help frame the character of downtown Matthews. Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor says Renfrow's death is now a "double-loss" for the community. He spoke to WFAE's Marshall Terry. Photo courtesy of Matthews-Mint Hill Weekly Marshall: Mayor Taylor, did you know Frank Renfrow? What was he like? Taylor: I didn't know him very well. I knew of him more than I knew him personally. Marshall: Well, what do people in the community say about him? Taylor: Well, he was a nice gentleman. His family had some long roots and some substantial history within the town, and his family has left a lasting impact on the town; and it would have been very nice to save the house. So we have Renfrow's Hardware, which is a fixture in downtown Matthews which bears his family's name, and it would have been very nice to have some other things associated with the family to pass on to generations. Marshall: Any idea why he wanted his house destroyed? Taylor: That's the million-dollar question in this case. To be honest with you, I don't know and the historical society in town does not really know either. It came as a surprise to everybody, quite frankly, when the will was made public that that was his wish. My understanding is that that is not only his wish, but his father's wish; my understanding is that it is a promise that he had made to his father that when he had passed away, since there were no living heirs, that the house would be destroyed. Marshall: Are people maybe wondering that the house is, I don't know, haunted; or maybe there's some bad memories associated with it? Anything like that? Taylor: Well I've heard comments similar to that, but to be perfectly honest, I don't believe them. Whenever there is something unusual like this that pops up, people will start - the rumor mill will start up. I don't think there's anything hidden in the walls, or ghosts, or anything like that. I've never been in the house; the outside of the house is very well maintained and looks very lovely. I can only imagine that the inside is similar, but I don't know. Marshall: Has the city tried to challenge the part of Renfroe's will? Taylor: Well, we did not try to challenge it. We explored our options once we were made aware of what Mr. Renfrow's Last Will and Testament contained. We have had a conversation with our legal counsel, with the Historic Landmarks Commission, the local Matthews Historical Society, and we've also made contact with the executor, and it's really not in the best interest of all those involved to challenge the will. We really don't have much recourse in this. I believe the executor's hands are tied as well. Marshall: You said your hands were tied. Is it because, does Matthews have a town preservation plan? Taylor: We don't have a town-wide preservation plan. The only thing that we probably could do, from a legal standpoint, would be to use imminent domain to basically take the house, and I don't think anybody has the appetite to do that, especially since the explicit will of the former owner was for it to be destroyed, but we don't have a comprehensive, town-wide plan in place. Marshall: Are there plans to change that now? Taylor: Well, I'm sure that there will be talk on what would be needed in order to do that. I'm sure it'll be a topic of conversation at our 2011 planning conference. Marshall: How will the house be destroyed, and when will that happen? Taylor: The will directed it to be offered to the Matthews volunteer fire department, which is now a combination department with the town, to be used and destroyed and burned in a training event. Two things, we don't think it's situated in a safe environment, with the surrounding structures, to burn it safely. We would not want to do any other damage, and quite frankly, I think for the town to be part of the deconstruction of that building I think would not be in the best interest. So I think the executor is probably going to go about having it demolished, and that's on their timeline. I believe that the timeline involved with the fire department of 180 days, but I'm not a hundred percent positive on that. Marshall: Mayor Taylor, thank you so much for joining us this morning. Taylor: You're very welcome. Have a good day.