Federal Architecture

In Historic Chatham, Virginia

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

Pittsylvania County's first “stylish” buildings were of the Federal period. At the turn of the 19th century the second and third generations of local planters were prospering, and the area was attracting more professionals and merchants. These three well-to-do groups of citizenry built examples of Federal design, some in brick and others in wood.

Noticeable Federal features include fanlights over the front doors, and, in brick examples, pediments over the windows.

(See also architecture and furniture pattern books from the period.)

Wier-Mauger House

Wier-Willis House

The Wier-Mauger House was built by Hugh Wier around 1830. The house has had very few external changes. It stands two stories tall with an English basement and attic (the round windows in the attic are not original). The brick walls are eighteen inches thick, and there are four chimneys.

Much of the interior paneling and mantels were installed in the 1930's and came from other area homes. The fanlight over the front door gives the finishing touch to make the Wier-Mauger house the best "textbook example" of Federal architecture in town (see Chatham's Classic and Reminders of Early Chatham).

It is the private home of Mr. and Mrs. Phil Mauger and family.



Morea was built around 1837 by James Poindexter, and is believed to have been designed by him. The house is wood-framed with four chimneys. There is a dentil cornice, and a fanlight over the front door, both features customary in Federal houses.

The house has had several extensive make-overs during its lifetime, the most recent of which was accomplished by the Arey family in the late 1960's. At that time large verandas were removed in an attempt to approach the simplicity of Morea's first design. The house originally had a two-story portico, but the Areys chose a similar one-story structure with Ionic columns.

Morea is located at 42 Franklin Place. Among its owners was Lt. Col. Rawley W. Martin, C. S. A., of Gettysburg fame (see Hell-and-High-Water Hill and Reminders of Early Chatham). It is now the private residence of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis E. Wall, Jr.

The Oaks

The Oaks

The Oaks presents a typical Federal form, with two frame-structured and clapboard-faced stories above an English basement (the Neo-Colonial front porch was added in the 1900's). It was built by Dr. Robert Coles around 1832 (see Move-the-Road Manor and Reminders of Early Chatham).

The Oaks is the private home of Mr. and Mrs. Henry C. Hurt.

Just Outside Chatham

Belle Grove

Belle Grove (rear view)

This strongly symmetrical Federal house, located at 1241 Fairview Road, was built in the 1790's by William Tunstall, Jr. It has two stories, plus a full attic and English basement. The brickwork is Flemish bond; there are four half-in, half-out chimneys. Over the windows are flat lintels, and both inside and out there are dentil cornices in the Wall-of-Troy design. The Cross-and-Bible doors still have their H-and-L hinges and old locks. One room has its original dark-green paint and marbelized wainscoting.

A large brick kitchen sits near the main house at the rear. That side, toward the Banister River, was originally the front of the house, but early in its existence the entrance road was shifted to the opposite side of the house, an exterior porch added there, and an interior room altered to create a central entrance hallway.

After the Tunstalls, Belle Grove has been owned by the Saunders, Crews, and Cothran families. For further information and a photograph from the front side, see Belle of the County.

Little Cherrystone

Little Cherrystone

Thomas H. Wooding built this Federal-style portion of Little Cherrystone in the early 1800's as an addition to the original 1700's structure. Although the exterior of this house has been altered by additions, the interior remains one of the most elaborate Federal houses in the region. The mantles boast amazing hand-carved artwork, including sunbursts, fans, and columns. Other types of woodwork such as guillache moldings, reedings, scrollwork, cables, and cutouts are found throughout the house.

Outside, scrolled pediments are visible above the windows. Unfortunately, the magnificent entrance with an Adam-style fanlight has been obscured by a utility addition.

Wooding, Fitzgerald, Moses, and Saunders families have owned Little Cherrystone. 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.

Other Notable Examples Not Far Away

Dan's Hill

Dan's Hill

Dan's Hill was built around 1833 for Robert and Catherine Ann Pannill Wilson. Mrs. Wilson grew up at Green Hill (below), which has a remarkably similar appearance to Dan's Hill.

It is thought that Dan's Hill may have been designed and built by James Dejarnett, an area master builder. Pillared porticos grace the front and rear of the home. The interior features Federal woodwork, marble mantels, ornamental plasterwork ceilings, arched doorways between the two drawing rooms, and an elliptical arch in the entrance hall.

Dan's Hill is listed on the Virginia Historical Register and National Register of Historic Places. It has been owned by two families, the Wilsons and the Boatwrights/Updikes, both of whom have taken extraordinary care of the house and grounds. The property is located along the north bank of the Dan River on the west side of Danville, in the Birnam Wood area.

Green Hill

Green Hill

Green Hill Plantation once included large land areas in northeast Pittsylvania County and across the Staunton River in adjacent Campbell County, near the town of Long Island. The house was built by Samuel Pannill, on the Campbell County side of the river, in 1799.

The exterior of Green Hill is an unadorned Federal brick structure, somewhat unique in its building techniques, apparently because of the fact that stonemasons provided much of the labor. The interior contains elaborate woodwork.

Samuel Pannill was widely known for his “high-tech” training of his slave work force (and inventory), and as a result Green Hill's dependencies are among the most extensive of any of Virginia's plantations. The grounds include an original slave block, site of many auctions of Pannill's highly-regarded “graduates.”

After the Pannills, Green Hill has been owned by the Franklin, Hale, and Holland families. It is currently owned by Stewart Smith.

Green Hill is listed on the Virginia Historical Register and National Register of Historic Places.

This website is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House, Chatham, Virginia.