Built in 1925 by Planters Peanuts founder Amedeo Obici


Italian immigrant Amedeo Obici founded the Planters Peanuts Company in 1906 in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He opened up a peanut processing plant in Suffolk, Virginia in 1913. Also a great philanthropist, built a local hospital and donated much of his wealth to his adopted community of Suffolk. At one time Suffolk was the heart of peanut farming in the United States and known as the "Peanut Capitol of the World." now celebrates this distinction at the Planters Peanut Center and at their annual Suffolk Peanut Festival.

Suffolk's claim to fame, however, may never have occurred if not for Amadeo Obici. At age 11, Obici emigrated from Italy to Pennsylvania and later to Suffolk.

In Pennsylvania, Obici built his own peanut roaster and, calling himself "The Peanut Specialist" he began selling peanuts by horse cart. With hard work and a gift for marketing, Obici founded the Planters Peanut Company with another Italian immigrant Mario Perruzzi.

Mr. Peanut was "born" in 1916 when a fourteen year-old Virginia schoolboy entered a drawing of the peanut man, won a contest to create a company logo who became "Mr. Peanut."

In 1924, Obici and his wife Louise and built their grand two-story home overlooking the Nansemond River.

Obici died in 1947, and eventually his 1925 house fell into disrepair, much to the displeasure of Oderzo, Italy, his home town and Suffolk's sister city. As a side note, Obici not only left the legacy of Planters Peanuts to his adopted city of Suffolk but also established the Louise Obici Memorial Hospital in Suffolk in the 1940's.

Located on the Sleepy Hole Golf Course, the 7,000 - square foot house was constructed in an Italian Art-Nouveau style. Preservation Virginia had placed the Obici House on its list of the state's most endangered historic places in 2009.


Obici: Suffolk builder Ronnie Rountree, who leases Sleepy Hole Golf Course and the Obici House,
has been directing a renovation and restoration project at the historic structure, above,
for the past year. He expects work to be completed this year.

A big project
Published 9:16pm Saturday, April 23, 2011

Obici House renovations continue

After more than a year of work, a renovation and expansion at the historic Obici House continues.

Lessee James R. “Ronnie” Rountree hopes the work will be done by the end of this year, he said. On Thursday, contractors were working on the front of the building, while others were surveying for the addition of the back porch and kitchen areas, which had to be removed because they were in poor condition, Rountree said.

“I’ll be tickled when I finish it,” Rountree said. “We’ve really taken a love to this project. It’s just taking time.”

Restoring the circa-1920s Italianate home built by Suffolk benefactor and Planters Peanut founder Amedeo Obici and his wife Louise has become a monumental task. The mansion is located by the 18th-green’s prime Nansemond River waterfront at Sleepy Hole Golf Course. For many years, it was subjected to the ravishments of time and weather.

The historic house was caught in the middle of an emotional battle last year to save the historic site, with several groups — Rountree included — submitting proposals to restore and reuse the building.

In the end, the home was leased to Rountree in January 2010, with the understanding that he would renovate it and use it for a special events venue, pro shop and golfers’ lounge. The city owns the golf course and the home.

Rountree estimated about 85 percent of the renovation to the front of the home, including the porch, has been completed. A new roof, similar in appearance and material to the old one, was specially ordered and installed. Contractors, he said, took about three months to remove 11 coats of paint from the front porch columns, repaint and reinstall them, along with the caps on the columns.

New siding boards were specially milled to get the same width of those that were on the house originally, Rountree said.

Inside the home, some rooms are in better shape than others. The dining room sustained “probably the least amount of damage,” during its neglect, Rountree said. The back wall of the parlor area had to go, because it was rotted.

The kitchen and back porch, Rountree said, were so badly damaged, they had to be demolished completely, but other rooms only need fresh wood where badly-rotted sections had to be cut out. New molding has been painstakingly matched to its surrounding pieces and much of the old molding lies in a stack of numbered pieces waiting to be put back on the walls from which it had been taken down.

The interior fixtures, including several stained-glass windows and distinctive chandeliers, have been removed for refurbishing and safekeeping, Rountree said. They’ll be restored to their original spots once all other renovations are complete.

Upstairs, contractors removed the wall between two bedrooms.

“Now we can utilize this as one big room,” Rountree said.

Likewise, the wall between the master bedroom and Mrs. Obici’s breakfast nook has been removed. Both changes are intended to make the home more user-friendly for event hosts and guests, Rountree said.

But there are some touches left because they were always that way. The sash weights in the windows remain, as do the bathtubs.

“We’re not going to use the bathtub in here, but I wanted to keep it here because it was here,” Rountree said.

Because it will be used by the public, the house must be accessible, so Rountree will be required to install an elevator and wheelchair ramp. The elevator will go on the back of the house, and the wheelchair ramp will begin on the side and wrap around to the back.

The new back porch will become the golfers’ lounge, and the pro shop will be located in the basement.

Rountree said it has been difficult, time-consuming and expensive to match all new materials to the old ones.

“It’s been actually more expensive than what I thought for,” he said. “This is not my cup of tea.”

However, Rountree said, he ultimately agreed to do the project because City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn insisted upon saving the house.

“She was so adamant she wanted to keep it,” Rountree said. “They just didn’t have the money to spend on it. She went probably the extra mile to save this thing.”


Restoration/Renovation work in progress as of October, 2010


Pleas and comments came from far and wide to the Suffolk City Council to save the Obici House. In January, 2010, the City Council answered them with unanimous approval to give the restoration/renovation project to James R. Rountree, who has overseen the Sleepy Hole Golf Course for years and recently decided to include the Obici House in his business plans. The council agreed to amend to amend the lease that Rountree already has on the golf course to include the house. The home will remain in place and will be open to the public.

A National Trust for Historic Preservation field representative said that "The Obici House is not only important to Suffolk but to Virginia and Virginia's agricultural roots."

Jolyne Dalzell, Obici's great-niece said "my goal is not only to save it from the wrecking ball but to restore it." Amedeo Obici's favorite place was on the 18th hole of the golf course, overlooking the Nansemond River. It has inlaid floors, crystal chandeliers and unique banisters.


Architect's Rendering of the Obici Restoration/Renovation