Virginia Colonial Vernacular Architecture

In Historic Chatham, Virginia

By Henry, Patricia, Sarah, David, and Jonathan Mitchell

Pittsylvania County was a newly-settled frontier in the mid-1700's, and its earliest buildings reflect the simplicity and practicality one might expect under those circumstances. No ostentatious Georgian houses were built in Pittsylvania prior to the American Revolution, and the few large-scale houses built in the years soon after the war were of the more reserved Federal style.

For a generation after the Revolution, both public and private structures in Pittsylvania tended to be of the type referred to here on this website as "Virginia Colonial Vernacular." They are modest rather than massive, and more functional than fashionable.

(See also architecture and furniture pattern books from the period; however, they do not include the specific vernacular variations seen in Pittsylvania County.)



The back (west) section of Mansfield is probably Chatham's oldest building still remaining. It is of log construction, now weatherboarded. Its typical colonial configuration is quite apparent.

Mansfield is now a faculty residence on the Chatham Hall campus, located just off Hurt Street at the Chatham Hall campus.

Dependencies at Morea

Morea Dependency Morea Smokehouse

Although now associated with Morea, an 1800's house (see Hell-and-High-Water Hill and Reminders of Early Chatham), these two structures are remnants of a 1700's plantation. They are clapboard-sided frame buildings with wood shingle roofs. The larger may have been the original plantation residence (it was later Civil War hero and physician Rawley Martin's office); the smaller was a smokehouse.

Morea, at 42 Franklin Place in south Chatham, is the private home of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Wall and family.

1813 Clerk's Office

1813 Clerk's Office

The style of this building has strong similarities to that of the court buildings at Callands, which were built over 40 years earlier. It features a wood-shingled roof. The brick walls are laid in Flemish bond, and include a corbel cornice.

By 1980, only the north end of the building remained. The rest has been reconstructed similarly to the original. (See Competition's Legacy and Reminders of Early Chatham.)

The building, behind Town Hall in the center of town, serves as the meeting place and museum of the Pittsylvania Historical Society, and is open for meetings and special events. It is owned by Pittsylvania County, and the surrounding park by the Town of Chatham. The 1813 Clerk's Office is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

Related Examples Outside Chatham

Philip Craft House

Philip Craft House

The Philip Craft House at Red Eye, seven miles northwest of Chatham, was built as a plantation home in the early 1800's, probably 1810-1820. It boasts many fine details including corbel cornice, and rounded bricks in the water table and in the chimney haunches. It has been fully and carefully restored by Mr. and Mrs. Henry Hurt, and in 2001 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.

See also:

Yates Tavern

Yates Tavern

Called the only building of its kind in Virginia by the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission, Yates Tavern is unique for its jetties. These are second-floor protrusions of some 10 inches giving a bit more space in the upper floor. Restored by the Pittsylvania Bicentennial Commission during 1976, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.

This little building, constructed in the mid-1700's, was home to several generations of the Yates family, who also from time to time took out licenses to operate an "ordinary," a sort of frontier bed-and-breakfast. It was strategically located along the old Pigg River Road and only a few miles from Hickey's Road, the first major road penetrating this part of western Virginia from the east.

The building is a frame structure. Its basement, which housed the kitchen, has rock walls two feet thick.

Yates Tavern is owned by Pittsylvania County, and is utilized under the auspices of the Pittsylvania Historical Society. It is located on U. S. 29 Business (Main Street) South, in Gretna, approximately ten miles north of Chatham (see map and further description at Whispers of the 1700's in Central Pittsylvania County).

Callands Court Buildings

After Pittsylvania County was cut off from Halifax in 1767, and before Henry County was cut off from Pittsylvania in 1777, present-day Callands was the location for Pittsylvania's first county seat. Evidence of the Revolutionary-era village has largely disappeared except for the old courthouse and clerk's office. (See also Whispers of the 1700's in Central Pittsylvania County.)

The two brick buildings are owned by Pittsylvania County. Both public and private funds have been used in the restoration of the two structures, the smaller building under the auspices of the Chatham Garden Club and the larger by the Pittsylvania Historical Society. The property surrounding the two buildings is utilized for the Callands Festival, held the first weekend of every October under the sponsorship of the Callands Volunteer Fire Department and the Pittsylvania Historical Society.

Callands Courthouse

The larger building is the courthouse, built in 1772. By 1777 the court had been moved to present-day Chatham, and by 1788 the large brick building had come into the ownership of James Smith and Samuel Calland. By 1792 Calland was sole owner, and in subsequent years his store and post office in this building gave the community the name used to this day.

Callands Clerk's Office

The smaller building, the office of the clerk of court, was built about 1771. Especially noteworthy is the brick corbel cornice at the edge of the roof which matches that of the courthouse across the road.

Giles Rock House

The Giles Rock House

The date of construction of this building is unknown, but it was in use by the late 1790's. It is twenty by twenty feet, built of field stone, and with some slabs as long as 30 inches. Originally there was a shingle roof, poplar weather boarding on the gables, and a wooden floor. It has double stone walls, a total of eighteen inches thick, and ceiling beams twenty feet long and about thirteen inches square.

It was home to John Giles before his death in 1799. Later it was the kitchen for a newer main house, a classroom, then a family pool room.

The Giles Rock House has been continuously occupied by the Motley/Echols/Moore family since 1839. (See also "Old Rock House on Moore Farm Over 200 Years Old".) It is located on the front lawn of the private farm residence of Caleb Moore, Jr., and George Moore at 2138 Weal Road, about three miles west of Chatham.

Cedar Hill

Cedar Hill

Cedar Hill was built ca. 1770's by Edmond Fitzgerald along the Banister River five miles east of Chatham. It is now the residence of Mollie Holmes and Warren Price.

The frame structure boasts its original four rock chimneys, beaded clapboard, Cross and Bible doors, H and L hinges, mantels, and wainscoting. Many interior door facings are carved on the integral structural members, rather than applied to the frame in the typical manner.

Clement Hill

Clement Hill

Clement Hill was built by Capt. Benjamin Clement, probably in the late 1700's. Its exterior is of beaded clapboard above a rock-walled basement. The galleries were added long after the initial construction.

The house is located on a hill west of U.S. 29 Business in Hurt (about twenty miles north of Chatham) behind the Staunton Plaza Shopping Center. It is a private residence owned by English Construction Company. (See also further documentation and photographs, and the associated Virginia Historical Marker.)

Lost Examples

Little Cherrystone

Little Cherrystone

It is thought that the original clapboarded story-and-a-half section of Little Cherrystone may have been built prior to 1766. One of its two chimneys measured nearly ten feet in width and bore the family name.

Thomas Hill Wooding added the connected brick section, in Federal style, after 1800. Moses, Fitzgerald, and Saunders families owned it after the Woodings. In 1999 the entire frame colonial-era part of the house collapsed, leaving only the brick Federal-style portion. The house, listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places, is a private residence and located near the intersection of Halifax Road and Fairview Road, about two miles east of Chatham.

The Rachel Donelson Jackson Birthplace

Rachel Donelson Birthplace

Col. John Donelson's home, birthplace of his daughter Rachel (wife of President Andrew Jackson) in 1767, was located at Markham, about twelve miles east of Chatham.

The house burned soon after 1900, and the only known photograph of it is shown at right (from the collection of the late Louise McCormick Johnson, provided by her son and daughter-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. W. P. "Billy" Johnson).

In 1940, the Thomas Carter Chapter of the D. A. R. dedicated a small commemorative rock chimney on the site. It can still be seen in a field not far from the Banister River, just off Va. 686 at Markham (see map and further description at Whispers of the 1700's in Central Pittsylvania County). The site is owned by John Geyer, and is part of a tract actively maintained for livestock grazing (and therefore not open to the public for safety reasons).

This website is sponsored by Mitchells Publications, Chatham, Virginia.