Greek Revival Architecture

In Historic Chatham, Virginia

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

The Greek Revival was the first of America's Victorian Romantic styles. In the early 1800's ancient Greece was a fascination of both poets and political theorists, and buildings reflecting that Greek theme became a national style during a period of rapid westward expansion.

However, the style has very few examples in Pittsylvania County. It is speculated that this lack was caused by the severe and lingering local effects of the economic depression known as the “Panic of 1837.”

The Greek Revival style is found in none of Chatham's homes, but it was utilized in three of the town's public buildings: the Pittsylvania County Courthouse, the Masonic Lodge Hall (Tune & Toler building), and the 1857 Chatham Baptist Church (no longer existing).

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

Pittsylvania County Courthouse

Pittsylvania County Courthouse

The main body of the Pittsylvania County Courthouse, at 3 North Main Street, was completed in 1853. (There have been several additions to the rear in the 1900's.) L. A. Shumaker is credited with building the structure.

The courthouse is constructed of red brick with a columned portico and an elaborate entablature. The clock cupola has Italianate features not surprising in view of the date of construction, which is fairly late in the Greek Revival period. The courtroom has remarkable ornate plaster work, installed by Louis Justin Imhoff, a local resident who had immigrated from La Chau de Fonds, Switzerland. The ornamental iron railing was created by noted local ironworker Jacob Sours.

The Pittsylvania County Courthouse is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. (See further details in other recent photographs.)

Masonic Lodge Hall

North side of Masonic Lodge Hall

According to information compiled by the late Judge Langhorne Jones of Chatham, the Masonic Lodge Hall at 61 North Main Street was built in 1858, with the upper floor being utilized as meeting space and the lower rented as a female school. Originally, the structure sat back from the street, with a porch on the front, presumably a Greek portico. A neoclassical facade was added to the building between 1915 and 1920, extending the building out to the sidewalk (see additional photographs).

The upstairs is still utilized as a meeting area for the local lodge, and the downstairs is occupied by Premier Graphics.

A Lost Example

Chatham Baptist Church's 1857 Building

1857 Chatham Baptist Church

This image of the 1857 Chatham Baptist Church building was rendered in 1966 by architect John F. McLaughlin from descriptions provided from memory by Page Tredway and Maud Carter Clement.

The structure stood on the present site of the Canada-Chaney House at 270 North Main Street. (See also additional information.)

In the Region

Berry Hill

Berry Hill

Berry Hill, located in neighboring Halifax County, Virginia, is one of America's best examples of Greek Revival architecture. The house was designed by architect John E. Johnson and built for James Coles Bruce. Josiah Dabbs served as contractor (see Calder Loth, The Virginia Landmarks Register, Fourth Edition, University Press of Virginia, 1999, p. 203).

The property is well-known for its “horseshoe” double staircase in the entrance hall, and for extensive compatibly-designed dependencies. A residence of the Bruce family for well over a century, it is now a corporate retreat facility.

Berry 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.