Frank and Ann Hoover own a classic, pre-Civil War brick farmhouse near Hamburg, Virginia. Their farmhouse is a wonderful example of the better houses built in Shenandoah County during the second quarter of the 19th Century. The Hoovers’ residence is only about a mile away from the farmhouse and they spend a lot of time and energy repairing, restoring and loving their vintage farmhouse. The farmhouse is part of an active farm, so they see their old house almost every day.
Built on a limestone foundation, the house features Flemish bond brickwork in the front with five-course American bond on its other faces. The Flemish bond pattern is considered more difficult to construct and pleasing in appearance and marks the house as a distinctive statement of its owner’s success. The front face has a center door with two windows on each side. This symmetrical five-bay pattern with an original, off-center extension to the rear of the house is an arrangement often seen in large farmhouses of the period. The front porch appears to date from the last quarter of the 19th century.
Other features that are found in better Shenandoah County farmhouses of the period include a curved central stairway which goes all the way to the attic level, pierced brackets decorating the staircase, six-over-six double sash windows, large and simple moldings around windows and doors, original wood mantle with bold columns and bold, simple baseboard moldings. Rooms are large with high ceilings and much original hardware remains. A quick search of the 1990s survey of Shenandoah County houses came up empty, but it is the author’s opinion that the house dates from the 1840s give or take a few years.
The house occupies land originally granted to Adam Raider in 1754. A nearby log house removed several decades ago was probably the original residence on the farm. Lake’s Atlas of 1885 shows the house as the residence of S. Tisinger. Later owners were Bowmans and then Hoovers. Frank and Ann purchased the house from a family estate in 2011 and have been improving it ever since. It is very encouraging to see a house as fine as this one receive the care that Frank and Ann give.
Harpine House near Hamburg
At the close of the Civil War, Shenandoah County was suffering from a great deal of destruction to its most important industry, agriculture. However, by the late 1870s, recovery was in progress. Farm houses built during that era reflect the popular national styles of the day. The 1881 Harpine house on Conicville Road near Hamburg is a wonderful example of the Italianate style. Italianate style became popular in America immediately following the war, but it came to Shenandoah County about ten years later. The slow adoption of national architectural styles in Shenandoah County is typical of rural communities in America.
Features of Italianate architecture include arched windows, decorative brackets at the eaves and one story porches with decorative trim. Italianate houses may or may not have symmetrical facades and they frequently feature decorative brick chimneys. The more ornate versions of this style have fancy hooded windows and may feature a tower or cupola. But our Shenandoah County example is restrained in its details as Shenandoah County
Victorian era houses usually are.
Jonathan J. Harpine built his farmhouse in 1881. Don Albright, current owner, purchased the house in 1992 as his retirement home after a career with the State Department. Don was able to assemble the story of the Harpine house thanks to a surprise visit from Geneva Harpine Kinsey who was born in the house in 1909 and grew up there. Geneva showed up at his door about ten years after Don bought the property and told him of her memories of living there. After that visit, Geneva sent copies of Harpine family records which helped document the early ownership and occupation of the house. Best of all, she included an 1891 photograph of the house with family on the porch. Other than the removal of the front balcony railing, the facade still looks very much like it did 125 years ago.
The plan of the Harpine house is like many other Shenandoah County farmhouses; the front portion consisting of a two over two room layout with a prominent center staircase. As originally constructed, there was a rear extension containing a first floor kitchen with additional bedrooms above. The rear extension had an open porch on both the first and second floors. The frame house is built on a cut limestone foundation with useable headroom under the rear portion and only a crawl space in front. Really nice features of the house include sculpted brackets along the eaves and a patterned, slate roof which still looks attractive 135 years later. Talk about “built to last!”
J. J. Harpine died in 1897 and the house passed to his son, J. William Harpine. The Harpine family gave up the house during the difficult economy of the Great Depression. Always a working farm, the house had a succession of owners prior to Don Albright’s purchase of the house and about 40 acres.
When Don acquired the house, he appreciated its original fine features. Fortunately, previous owners had done very little to alter or remove them. He learned that, until 1964, the house had no interior plumbing other than a hand pump in the kitchen. Don added a very large one story addition to the rear of the house and expanded the kitchen to suit his taste and to make the house graceful for 21st century living.
The changes that Don made respected the best elements created by the builder in 1881. Remaining today are original mantels, the fine staircase with it fancy turned walnut newel, bold baseboards, original window and door moldings, original doors, yellow pine floors and, to top it all off, the original roof. Don was careful to maintain the front view of the house, right down to the choice of color. For any fine, old house to survive, it has to be changed in ways that make modern living possible. Owners of historic homes like Don, who carefully update their houses while retaining the best from the past, are preserving our local history. I especially appreciate modernization that leaves the front view intact.
Way to go Don!
Ridgely Schoolhouse - Ridgely Road, Maurertown
Back in 2008, I was driving on Ridgely Road just south of Maurertown when I passed a small frame building on the left side of the road. Looking unused and a bit unloved, I knew at a glance that it was a Shenandoah County one room schoolhouse. With its door centered on the gable end and three evenly spaced windows on each side, this little building looked very much like the early pictures of my own house, which began its life as the Sandy Hook School in 1896. I have seen more than a few examples of these once common buildings in the photographs of the Shenandoah County Historical Society’s Morrison photographic collection.
Unfortunately, very few of these historic buildings survive today. Improvements in transportation during the 1930s and 1940s allowed the consolidation of county schools and the one room school house was no longer needed. Several of these small buildings were expanded for residential use or other purposes, but most were recycled for their materials or simply torn down. But I have learned that their simple construction was typically very stout and with a little care and luck, these buildings can be made to last a long time.
Ridgely School is shown in its current location on the 1885 Lake’s Atlas. Captain John Grabill, an early Superintendent of Shenandoah County schools, mentioned visiting Ridgely School in his diary in December, 1879. I have no reason to believe the school was ever rebuilt so that makes it at least 135 years old. Oddly, it was not purchased by the county until 1908, suggesting a lease or some other arrangement prior to that date. In the 1908 deed, L. R. and Annie Burner sold the school building and about one half acre to Shenandoah County for $1.00. The deed provided that if no school session was held for two consecutive years, the property reverted to the original owners, but the county would have twelve months to remove the school building if they so desired. Obviously the building was never removed. Eventually, the property, including the school house was acquired by the French family.
A phone call to Doug French resulted in a friendly invitation to come look at the building. Now, six years after I first noticed it, the little school house has been nicely restored. The building is about 29 ft. x 24.5 ft. The schoolhouse portion of my own house is 30 ft. x 20 ft. so I conclude that schoolhouse dimensions varied based upon the perceived needs, or possibly materials available, at the time of construction. The French restoration of the building has been very simple, new siding, a drop ceiling, new roof and electrical service, but no plumbing. The floor was sound, so it was not replaced and you can still see the footprint of the original woodstove centered about ten feet from the front door. A look at the foundation stones indicates that no changes to the original foundation were needed. The interior remains as before, one large room. There is a blackboard on one wall, but to me, it looks like a pretty recent addition, not original equipment. Doug did not remember specifically about the blackboard, but he agreed that it did not look old. The French restoration did add a small closet in one corner, but all of the restoration is easily reversible if ever desired. The French restoration left the nearby outhouse untouched! Now the little schoolhouse is used as a kind of family clubhouse. I am thankful that at least one of our county’s one room schoolhouses survives in its original configuration. If you know of any others, please let me know through the contact information provided in the SCHS website.
You can find the location of many rural schoolhouses in Shenandoah County by looking carefully at the maps in Lakes Atlas of Shenandoah and Page Counties, Virginia, published by D. J. Lake and Company, Philadelphia Pennsylvania, 1885 and reprinted by SCHS in 2009. Reflections, Early Schools of Shenandoah County, Virginia, published in 1995 by the Shenandoah County Historical Society, is a fascinating source of information about our schools. Both Reflections and Lake’s Atlas - 1885 are available for purchase from the Historical Society. You can find them in our printed book list, at the County Historic Courthouse Visitor Center, or on-line elsewhere in this website.
A Most Unusual Barn in Maurertown
To me, the barns of Shenandoah County are one of the most enjoyable aspects of our historic culture. Barns are simple and constructed for very practical purposes, yet they are graceful. Often located in beautiful settings, barns evoke a sense of serenity displaying rich colors, and a wide variety of sizes and features. Shenandoah County barns are almost all old and remind us how important agriculture is to our local heritage. One day I want to write a serious book about our barns, but for now I will just say a little about one special barn.
Almost without exception, Shenandoah County barns are primarily wooden structures. Yes, barns may have limestone foundations and most have metal roofs but the structural framing and siding is invariably wooden. There is a remarkable exception to this rule near Maurertown. Just off Zion Church Road as you approach the river there is a pretty barn whose four sides are made entirely of brick.
Today, this beautiful barn and the nearby brick house are owned by John and Elizabeth Cottrell. Their daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Cottrell, created a nice history of the property which includes the barn for her AP history class in 1996. The story of the property is fascinating, including Beydlers and Hockmans and a tragic Civil War death. But the purpose of this article is to talk about the barn, not Shenandoah County history.
County tax records and architectural evidence suggest this barn was built just before 1830. The decision to use brick construction surely meant a long construction period, but also suggested that the owner wanted an enduring structure. Today, the barn looks to be sound and square, with no evidence of serious settling or structural failure, so the choice of brick on limestone did, indeed, create a long-lasting barn.
The barn is a large, three bay, bank barn oriented with the bank entrance facing southwest . The exterior dimensions of the limestone foundation are 66 feet by 27 feet. The limestone foundation is about 8 feet high with the structure changing to brick at the level of the main floor. The interior framing is composed of massive hand hewn pine members fitted with pegged mortise and tenon joinery typical of the period. The lintels over the doors and window frames in the foundation appear to be oak. The floor boards of the main bay are oak and exhibit sash sawmarks, consistent with an 1830 construction date.
The most outstanding feature of the barn is its brick walls. The brick pattern is five course American bond, a pattern one might expect in 1830. A barn built in 1830 would be used to store hay and it was vital that good ventilation be provided. In the traditional wood-sided barn this was accomplished by leaving space between the siding boards and constructing various types of vents along the eaves, gable ends and sometimes on the roof. To ventilate this brick barn, vertical vents were created in all four walls as you can see in the photographs. In the interior, these vents widen considerably allowing direct sunlight for many hours as the angle of the sun on the barn changes during the day. This system of lighting and ventilation was well known in 1830, and if you travel in Pennsylvania, where many stone barns can still be found, you will find the same ventilation system. Incorporated in the Cottrells barn is a decorative checkerboard pattern of openings in the brickwork at both gable peaks providing additional ventilation.
The barn has only had a few changes since it was built almost two hundred years ago. It has been electrified and has a 20th century roof. A shed structure has been added or possibly modified along the northeast facing wall and two concrete silos have been built very close by. However, the original brickwork is intact and the barn is remarkably original, right down to the tool marks of the builders long ago.
I want to thank John and Elizabeth Cottrell for an enjoyable afternoon visit and for agreeing to share their lovely barn with me. Their preservation and care of this unique symbol of Shenandoah County agriculture is a great example stewardship.
If I do ever get around to writing that book about our barns, this one might surely be the centerfold.
The Wilkins Farmhouse on Swover Creek
SCHS members Delmar and Joan Hooley own the Wilkins Farm on Swover Creek Road. At a quarterly SCHS program meeting, Delmar mentioned to me that he had a pretty interesting old house. As the deadline for the next newsletter approached, I hoped their house could be the subject of my next article. A phone call to Delmar and Joan produced an invitation for Barbara and me to visit. I was thrilled at what I found. The Hooleys acquired the property in 2007, and, like many old houses it has been owned by multiple families starting with George Moyer from 1782 until 1824. It is called the Wilkins Farm because the Wilkins Family owned it the longest, from 1824 until 2003.
The house and several interesting old outbuildings sit on a 3.5 acre tract, part of a 188.5 acre grant of 1775. Delmar researched the public record for his property and concludes that the original 16 ft. by 14 ft. log structure (now the dining room) dates from 1776. The larger two story log structure which forms the front block of the house dates from 1789. To this writer’s eyes, all the visible details of the house confirm these dates. The house is a rare surviving example of the transition from Germanic architectural style to English form which I consider to be the first generation of truly American architecture. With the help of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, the Wilkins Farm has been added to the registry of Virginia Historic Landmarks - a proper and fitting designation for this well preserved local treasure.
My first impression on seeing the house was of a second quarter 19th century farmhouse. But I jumped to that conclusion too quickly. 19th century exterior trim, a long covered front porch and the brick topped chimneys are all later additions and I should have withheld my judgment until I went inside. Fortunately, Delmar knows the details of period construction techniques, interior layout and hardware and he quickly and gently corrected my mistaken date impression. As Delmar and Joan led us through their house we saw details that confirmed the Germanic roots of the house design and construction including:
• Asymmetrical room arrangement
• Cooking sized fireplace on the main living floor
• Single board thickness interior walls
• Enclosed corner staircases
• Exposed, decorated floor joists
• Hand tool marks on most wooden surfaces
• Hillside house site
• Limestone foundation, log structure and the extensive use of local materials throughout
The most apparent English influences are the (almost) centered front door, symmetrical window spacing and the gable end chimney, all features of Georgian architecture which was becoming popular in the Shenandoah Valley in the late 18th century.
Like many old Shenandoah County houses, the Wilkins Farm has changed over time. A one-room log house with a large cooking fireplace and, probably, a sleeping loft above composed the original 1776 house. In 1789, George Moyer constructed a much larger, two story log house just in front of the 1776 structure. It is likely that the original house then became the cooking kitchen, but the two sections were not yet connected. About 1842, the two sections were connected and it is likely that the full height second story was added to the 1776 portion of the house at this time. Also about 1842, a one story addition was added at the rear of the original structure and became the new kitchen, still serving that function today.
The Wilkins Farm has interesting outbuildings which are contemporary with the 1789 log portion of the house, or possibly older. One of these is a simple log granary, probably built about 1789. Another interesting two story outbuilding measures 14 ft. by 25 ft. and is composed of a limestone foundation with a log 2nd story. On the lower level, this building has a cooking fireplace and brick-lined, hand dug well with storage or possibly living space above. The large limestone chimney appears as sound today as when it was built more than 200 years ago - in fact all the stone masonry at the Wilkins Farm reveals skillful work performed with an ethic to build a lasting structure. The second floor has graffiti visible on the chinking between logs which indicates counting bushels of various types of grain as well as hard to read names and dates.
An interesting Shenandoah County history note is that this farm was the boyhood home of noted Shenandoah County fraktur artist, Emanuel Wilkins (d. 1906). Also, Delmar told me that the name “Swover Creek” is probably a distorted version of “Schwaben Deitz” (Swabian ditch), a reference to Swabia, an area of southwestern Germany bordering Switzerland near the Rhine River.
Delmar and Joan have worked hard to maintain and repair their historic home with Delmar doing much hands-on work to expose original surfaces and features throughout the house. The large living room fireplace that was totally closed with rock and cement has been painstakingly opened to reveal limestone masonry by a skillful artisan. Delmar has also removed wallboard to reveal original floor joists above as well other original surfaces. Where 20th century floors could be removed to reveal original floors, he has done so. He scraped through painted areas to see original or very old colors and has repainted to match extensively. Where grain-painted surfaces have survived, Delmar and Joan have kept them. The result of their care and effort creates a very special example of an 18th century Shenandoah County farmhouse interior.
When inside the Hooley house, I felt a sense of form and function in a warm and efficient space. Wooden surfaces everywhere and old hardware and hand tool marks speak of generations of Shenandoah County farmers who knew how to care for themselves - as do the Hooleys today. For us, it was a delight to be invited, and we are encouraged to know that such sensitivity to Shenandoah County traditions is alive and well on Swover Creek. I know this property will always be among my personal top ten.
Hidden Springs Farm - Clanahan House
This joyful Queen Anne Victorian House, is pictured in the book of Morrison photographs, “Fifty Years through the Lens of Hugh Morrison, Jr.” It is located on South Middle Road, 3+ miles south of Bowman’s Crossing. It was built by D. Green Clanahan, who was a farmer from the Fort Valley. He and his family left the Fort Valley around 1880 and moved to the heart of Shenandoah County where he became a full-time builder. This beautiful house was built for his home. In the Morrison photo, Mr. Clanahan and members of the family are pictured standing on the large porch. When Green Clanahan built this house, he clearly intended to make a statement that he was a skillful master builder. He started in 1902 and did not complete his work until 1905.
Nothing about this house is understated. Filled with exception woodwork, including beautiful oak paneling, pocket doors and bold door, window and baseboard moldings, the house is a showplace of high-end Victorian styling. Interior doors and other surfaces show artistic grain painting by Green Clanahan’s own hand. Exterior features include the original slate roof, decorative chimneys and the outstanding “gingerbread” fretwork which defines the wraparound porches on two levels.
The current owners, John and Barbara Bodanske, purchased the house from Green Clanahan’s son, Buddy in 1990. They found much to be done to return the house to its present state of good repair and preservation. Barbara did much of the work herself, but said that she knew it would be very rewarding.
Today, when you drive on this section of South Middle Road, your eyes probably are enjoying the scenic view to the east and you can almost miss the house because it is surrounded by large shade trees.
Take a moment to enjoy this outstanding structure and appreciate the work of a Shenandoah County master builder whose work remains a reflection of his skill and creativity more than 100 years later.
The Clanahan House is known today as Hidden Springs Farm.
The Daniel Munch House in Fort Valley
SCSH board member Meg Trott and her husband Jim have been preservationists ever since they moved to Fort Valley in the 1970s. They were probably preservationists at heart before that, but surely the Daniel Munch house they purchased in the Fort inspired them to be active in learning about and preserving the material culture of the Shenandoah Valley.
Daniel Munch was a successful Fort Valley farmer with deep Germanic roots. In 1833, he completed a substantial brick house built in the very popular Federal style of that time. Situated on a prominent hill, Munch’s house was the only brick house built in Fort Valley until after World War II. Munch’s choice of the Federal style for the exterior of his house was probably inspired by a desire to demonstrate both his success and his acceptance of popular American style.
The interior decoration is much more in keeping with the Munch family’s German heritage. It features spectacular multi-colored woodwork painted in styles popular in the Germanic areas of Europe and Pennsylvania. Found on doors, cupboards, the main stairway, and fireplace woodwork, the bright hues of reds, blues, greens, yellow and rose are probably the work of an unknown, but gifted itinerant artist. That this flamboyant paint survives in wonderfully original condition is a tribute to both its artistic qualities and the sensitivity of the house’s owners through time. Certainly, Meg and Jim have always appreciated the wonderful interior of their home. It inspired their project to research and photograph interior finishes in Shenandoah County, documented in a binder at the Historical Society’s office.
Meg and Jim have been instrumental in preserving Fort Valley material culture and history. Meg was an active member of the Shenandoah Preservation League when it was active and is helping to revive that group’s ethic of preservation awards by leading a new Preservation Award Committee at SCHS. She also is a founder and past president of the very active Fort Valley Museum. Meg and Jim, with coauthor Jeanette Ritenour, recently published, Welcome to Fort Valley a comprehensive history of Fort Valley (available from SCHS).
Daniel Munch did not know who would be the 21st Century stewards of his 1833 house, but he would have been comforted to know it would be Meg and Jim Trott. What a Shenandoah County treasure they call home!
Preservation Award Winner - Pennybacker/Fansler House
The historic building for this edition of our newsletter is a house owned by Kenna Fansler, and is often referred to as the “Pennybacker House.” It could just as easily be called the “Miller House” (1796), or the “Moore House” (1805), or the “Doyle House” (1812) or the “Triplett House” (1878) or the “Wolfe House” (1914) or even the “ Burke House” (1972) for these are some of the past owners of the big house in Mount Jackson that sits on the east side of the Valley Pike across from the Orkney Grade (Rt. 263) intersection. I am often amused by the title a house is given, when there are so many previous owners. Samuel H. Pennybacker, a prominent citizen, owned this house from 1846 until 1870. Pennybacker made significant upgrades including extensive Greek Revival elements and perhaps this explains why his name is still associated with the house.
The exact date of construction of this house is unknown, but probably dates from 1796 to 1805 when Joseph Miller owned the property. Long time citizens of the Mount Jackson area will remember it as the home and office of Dr. L. C. Haynes who maintained his residence and medical practice here in the 1930s and 1940s.
Built when the Federal architectural style was popular, the house is of timber frame construction. That construction technique employs large framing timbers with the space between the timbers filled with brick rubble or similar material. Often, the exterior is covered with stucco or weatherboard making the timber framing hard to see. Timber frame construction is relatively rare for this period in Shenandoah County, most local dwellings at this time were log or stone.
Even before Pennybacker enlarged and updated the house in the 1840s, this house was very large by local standards, almost 70 feet long and located right on what became the Valley Pike. Today the house measures 70 feet by 45 feet and contains over 4300 square feet of interior space. With its prominent location and large size, the house has attracted owners who have been capable of maintaining, expanding and modernizing it periodically. As mentioned, Pennybacker’s 1840s upgrades added Greek Revival touches which remain intact today. These touches include the front stairway, much of the wood trim around doors and windows and some of the fireplace mantels. Interestingly, at least one of the Federal style fireplace mantels was not changed during this renovation.
When Kenna Fansler bought the house in 2011, he planned to accomplish a sensitive restoration that would highlight its architectural features and preserve its historic fabric. Historic renovation qualifies for tax credits in Virginia and Kenna engaged the experienced firm of Massey/Maxwell, Strasburg, to help administer the process. Kenna selected Michael Watkinson, Shenandoah Restorations, as his general contractor and went to work. As Kenna showed me what was accomplished during the renovation, it became obvious that Kenna and his contractor made a good team, successfully upgrading the house while preserving its history and charm. Old floors, stairways, fireplaces and moldings were all retained while structure and function were enhanced. This successful house renovation was chosen by the Shenandoah County Historical Society to be honored as one of three projects to win its Historic Preservation Award for 2013.
By selecting Kenna’s renovation for its preservation award, the Society hopes to encourage others. It is particularly noteworthy that Kenna successfully took advantage of Virginia’s historic renovation tax credits to actually reduce his overall construction expenditures. Way to go Kenna! Perhaps future generations will call this fine historic house in Mount Jackson “the Fansler House.”
Mabel Lee Walton House - Sigma Sigma Sigma
The very large and impressive house on N. Muhlenberg Street in Woodstock, with the prominent rounded portico, is the national headquarters for Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority. I have driven past it many times wondering why the sorority came to have their headquarters in this grand house in Woodstock while also wondering if the house was as impressive inside as it is outside. Recently, the sorority began work rehabilitating the large house next door, and I decided now was the time to find out more, and perhaps feature the house in one of my Historical Society newsletter articles. I called upon Marcia Cutter, Executive Director of the Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority and received a gracious invitation to come see the house, learn about it and take a few pictures for a newsletter article.
The house was built in 1914 by Clyde and Maude Walton. Clyde was a druggist and co-owner of Walton & Smoot Drug Store in Woodstock which opened in 1906. The couple lived in the house and after Clyde’s death, Mrs. Walton operated the house as a boarding house. In 1946, Dr. Roy Clyde Fravel and his wife purchased the house from Mrs. Walton’s estate. For the next five years, Dr. Fravel managed a hospital and his medical offices there. The hospital closed after Dr. Fravel’s illness in 1951 and the Fravel family sold the house in 1961. In 1963, Sigma Sigma Sigma purchased the house for their national headquarters and named it in honor of Mabel Lee Walton, National President of the sorority from 1913 until 1947 and sister of druggist Clyde Walton. Because the sorority was founded at Longwood University in Virginia, and because of Mabel Lee Walton’s long association with Woodstock, the leaders of the sorority recommended the purchase of the Walton house to serve as their national headquarters when it became available. Prior to serving as Sigma Sigma Sigma headquarters, the house was known as Muhlenberg Hall. Upon becoming the sorority’s national home the name was changed to honor the long service of Mable Lee Walton to the sorority.
The house was built in the Colonial Revival style of architecture which was popular in the early part of the 20th century. However, this house is earlier than many local examples of the Colonial Revival style suggesting that Clyde and Maude were architectural trend setters of their day in Woodstock. Inside, there is a very large entrance foyer that leads to the graceful central staircase. The parlors on either side of the entryway are only divided from the entrance by interior columns. The left hand parlor leads to a spacious dining room with a very large opening between the rooms which can be closed off with oversized pocket doors. The openness between the entry hall, the two parlors and the dining room creates a sense of great space which is further enhanced by the very large size of the house. The galley kitchen in the center rear of the house is surprisingly small, but perhaps seemed large enough 100 years ago.
Upstairs are 4 very large bedrooms arrayed around the open central hallway, echoing the spaciousness of the first floor public areas. The third floor has smaller bedrooms and a laundry. The hipped roof and central entrance with fanlight and sidelights are typical of the Colonial Revival style. The house is currently configured to allow 28 overnight guests. These overnight accommodations serve Sigma Sigma Sigma sisters and alumna for meetings, conferences and social events. In addition, the sorority’s archives and a small museum are located here. The rear of the house, including an addition and enclosed porches house the sorority’s administrative offices.
The Mabel Lee Walton house in Woodstock has been the site of the national headquarters for Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority for fifty years. The sorority has been an active part of the Woodstock community during all that time and, importantly, maintained a grand historic house in the Historic District of Woodstock. Recently, the sorority purchased the house and property immediately next door to the Mabel Lee Walton house. Plans are to renovate this house and use it for the sorority’s business office and administrative needs. This, in turn, will allow for greater accommodation of visitors, activities, archives and the sorority museum in the Mabel Lee Walton house.
I wish to thank Executive Director Marcia Cutter for sharing the story of the Mabel Lee Walton house with me and thank Sigma Sigma Sigma Sorority for its successful efforts to use and preserve the grand house at 225 North Muhlenberg Street.
Their plans to renovate the property next door and expand the sorority’s national headquarters ensure that this part of Muhlenberg Street will contribute to Woodstock and Shenandoah County history for many years to come.
Lot 118 Strasburg - 187 S. Massanutten Street
A pretty Victorian House sits on the northeast corner of Queen Street and Massanutten Street in Strasburg. There are easy to find tax records for this property at the Shenandoah County courthouse and they reveal the following information: 1905 - Owner: Richard H. Lee, Lot assessment: $50, Value of improvements: $0, Total value: $50
1906 - Owner: Richard H. Lee, Lot assessment: $50, Value of improvements: $550, Total value: $600
These tax records make it almost certain that the house was completed in 1905. Records like this take the guesswork out of dating a house. Knowing the construction date for a local house provides a firm basis for estimating the age of other houses with similar features, so it is worth doing a little research to get the correct date.
Paul and JoAnn Guay purchased this neat Queen Anne Victorian house in 2012. They were drawn to it for many reasons; the most important that it had already been nicely renovated with sensitivity to its original fabric and features. The Guays have owned and rehabilitated other older homes and this time, they wanted to find one where the work had already been done.
Although often used to describe architecture, the term “Victorian” does not really define an architectural style. It is a term about dates. Queen Victoria ruled from 1837 until 1901, and so anything made between those years is Victorian. There were multiple architectural house styles during Victoria’s reign including Gothic revival, Italianate, Stick, Second Empire, Shingle and Queen Anne revival, the last of which remained popular after Queen Victoria’s passing. In the case of the Guay’s house, the style is Queen Anne revival. This style is characterized by asymmetrical rooflines, mixed exterior surfaces, wide covered porches and ornate decorative woodwork often referred to as “gingerbread.” Interior arrangements often include asymmetrical floor plans, large rooms and pleasing trim, such as tall baseboards and bold moldings around doors and windows. At its most extreme, Queen Anne revival architecture can be quite extravagant, especially in more urban areas. The Guay’s house in Strasburg is less ornate than some, but is a nice Shenandoah County example of the Queen Anne style.
Major features of the Guay house are its front door, entrance hall and stairway all on the left side of the house. This allows maximum space for three large downstairs rooms; the dining room and two parlors. Each room may be accessed from the hall, a graceful feature. The two parlors are separated by a very wide opening that can be closed by pocket doors. To this writer, pocket doors are a wonderfully useful feature and I cannot understand why they seem to have gone out of style. The kitchen and a full bathroom extend off the back of the house and appear to have replaced a smaller original kitchen in the same location. The second story of the house contains three bedrooms, two of which are very large. The generous upstairs hallway allowed for the addition of a full bathroom without crowding the floor plan.
Throughout the house, the woodwork is original and very attractive. Yellow pine floors are a popular local choice. The stairway balustrade is oak with squared double newels top and bottom, each newel featuring an attractive round finial and medallion decorations. Windows and doors are surrounded by nicely fluted trim with bull’s eyes at the corners. There are decorative mantles in most of the large rooms even though there were no fireplaces when the house was built. It is likely that the house was originally heated by wood or coal burning stoves using small brick flues. However, the builder of this house chose to install traditional mantles at the stove locations &emdash; a nice extra touch that remains.
The exterior of the Guay house displays beveled horizontal weatherboard painted offwhite. The foundation is block limestone, neatly laid. The gable ends (triangles formed by the ends of the roof) have a fish scale wooden shingle pattern painted green in contrast to the siding, as they should be. Joyful exterior wood trim around large covered porches combines with the rest to make this house the visual delight that was intended when it was completed 110 years ago.
Walking through the house with JoAnn and Paul, I could tell how much they enjoy it. The spacious rooms, decorative details, solid construction, and history of caring maintenance and thoughtful modernization all combine to make a lovely home. When you pass by this gem on Massanutten Street in Strasburg, take a careful look and appreciate what you see.
Shenandoah County Historic Buildings