Gothic Revival Architecture

In Historic Chatham, Virginia

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

The Gothic Revival was chronologically the second Romantic architectural style in Victorian America. It was developed as a more varied and flexible alternative to the rigidly symmetrical Greek Revival forms, and was based to a large extent on medieval European churches.

The Gothic Revival style enjoyed relatively brief popularity as a home design (both nationally and locally), but continues until the present day in church and academic architecture. More relaxed “Italian” styles became more popular for residential design. (See also The Victorian Villa Architectural Style.)

Gothic Revival structures have distinctively vertical lines, typically accentuated by steeply-pitched and high gable roofs and dormers, decorative pendentive bargeboards (or “vergeboards”) in the gables, and similar decorative hanging corbels. Pointed arches, towers, battlements, and other medieval elements are also often used.

The use of stone was favored for large and imposing Gothic Revival structures, but local examples are typically of smaller scale and frame construction (contrast with Charlotte County's Staunton Hill, seen at the bottom of this page).

(See also architectural pattern books from the period, containing Gothic Revival examples.)

Fairytale Cottage

Fairytale Cottage

Professor Griffith D. Neal built the Fairytale Cottage at 125 Reid Street for his bride in 1851. Prominent triple gables on the front, with matching gables on each end, are the house's distinctive feature. All the gables are decorated with bold scroll-sawn bargeboards. At the front are also seen Gothic pendant-and-finials at the peaks; on the ends large exterior chimneys bisect the gables.

Originally the story-and-a-half structure contained four rooms downstairs and two upstairs. Further additions have been made to the rear of the house.

After the Neals, other owners have included Hutchings, Lovelace, Hodges, Norman, Collie, Jones, Whitehead, Bennett, Glass (see 1936 photo), Webber, and Davenport families.

Tunstall-Haymes House

Tunstall-Haymes House

This home at 417 Haymes Lane was built by Samuel Tunstall and his wife Ann, presumably after their marriage in 1827, and apparently in two stages: first, a log structure (possibly around 1836), then a renovation (probably in the mid-1840's or later) into the stylish multi-gabled Gothic Revival home seen today. It was advertised for sale at $10,000 on October 27, 1859, in the Danville Register, when the Tunstalls decided to move to Mississippi. The house has three front gables, the center one lower and narrower that the others, and diamond-pane windows.

Since the Tunstalls, owners have included the Ragsdale, Minor, and Haymes families. (See also Above the City's Gate.)

Overbey-Watson House

Overbey-Watson House

The Gothic Revival cottage at 103 Whittle Street is shown on the 1878 Gray's Map of Chatham as having only its right (east) and center portions and belonging to “W. I. Overby.” (William Irvine “Buck” Overbey was sheriff of Pittsylvania County.) The matching left section of the house was constructed later, creating a symmetrical design.

Delicate scroll-sawn bargeboards decorate the gables, and there are matching pendentive corbels continuing along the horizontal edges of the roof. Decorative brackets are seen at the top of the porch columns. Cornices above the windows are relatively plain, more typical of Italianate decoration than of Gothic.

The original separate kitchen house still sits in the back yard.

The date and builder of the house are not known. After the Overbeys, the house has been owned by Tredways, Greens, and now Mr. and Mrs. John Watson.

Not Far Away

Cherbury Cottage

Cherbury Cottage

Cherbury Cottage, on VA 683 five miles east of Chatham, was built in 1854 by Dr. John M. Robertson, who named it for his ancestral home in England. The masonry structure, two stories above an English basement which once contained the kitchen and dining room, has extraordinary decorative plaster ceilings.

After the Robertsons, Cherbury Cottage has been the property of the VanDenburghs, Motleys, Friths, and several other families.



Sharswood, on VA 640 at Mount Airy, was built in the 1850's and is the only structure in Pittsylvania County designed by famed New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis. It was built for brothers Charles E. and Nathaniel Crenshaw Miller.

It is said that the house had been pre-cut for delivery to another location, but payment had not been secured. The Miller brothers purchased the "kit" and had it constructed at this location, where an earlier house had burned.

The house features diamond-paned windows, six rounded chimney pots on top of two chimneys, octagonal porch columns, and elaborate trim on the gables including fleur-de-lis-finialed Gothic pendants at the gable peaks. The house is two stories over an English basement. A service wing was added during the 1900's.

An office, also built in the Gothic style, sits in the yard.

After the Millers, Sharswood has been owned by Davises and Thompsons.

Locust Hill

Locust Hill

Locust Hill, on VA 640 about four miles from Altavista, was built c. 1859 by Enoch Johnson for Samuel Marion Stone. The house is still owned by Stone descendants, the Perrow family, and is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

The house features a single central gable on the front with bargeboards and a pendant with finial. The house once had octagonal chimneys, but they have been replaced.

The dependencies were constructed from the remains of the 1700's Ward's Tavern, which stood on the Locust Hill property.

In the Region

Staunton Hill

Staunton Hill

Staunton Hill, located near Brookneal in nearby Charlotte County, Virginia, is one of America's best remaining examples of Gothic Revival architecture. The house was designed by architect John E. Johnson and built for Charles Bruce in the late 1840's.

A residence of the Bruces for well over a century and a half, it is now operated by the family as a country inn.

Staunton Hill is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.


This webpage is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House, Chatham, VA.