Memorable Magnolia Manor

By Henry H. Mitchell.

Magnolia Manor

Shepherd Beginnings

During the 1890's William B. “Buck” Shepherd, clerk of the county court, built this Queen Anne residence on the former site of the Col. Coleman D. Bennett home at 131 North Main Street, Chatham, Virginia. Next door to the north also still stands a home built by Buck Shepherd's brother Hugh D. Shepherd, who operated a department store on the northwest corner of Main Street and Court Place.

Buck Shepherd's office as clerk of the county court was abolished with a change of the Virginia Constitution in 1902. Shepherd then lost his election bid to unseat longtime clerk of the circuit court Stanhope S. Hurt. Having lost the election, Shepherd and his family moved away from Chatham.

After the Buck Shepherd family sold the house, it became the home of the Thompson and Broaddus families for many years, then the Evans, Haases, Cashmans, and Camps.

Thompson and Broaddus Years

In 1921, Chatham pharmacist Girard Estes Thompson and his wife Irene White Vaden bought the house at auction for $10,000. After extensive renovations, they moved into the house on November 1, 1921, along with Thompson's business associate W. B. Cawthorne.

The house was the center of Thompson family life and activities for many decades. Thompson children who grew up there were VMI graduate and engineer Estes Carter Thompson; Chatham's beloved late family physician Dr. Girard Vaden Thompson; Virginia Supreme Court Justice William Carrington Thompson; and their sister Carolyn Thompson Broaddus, whose family later resided in the home.

Speculations on Architectural Origins

Current owners Richard and Betty Camp have a set of original plans signed by an architect by the name of Marye. However, the plans are not identical to the house as it was built; a possible explanation may involve the preferences and decisions of the Shepherds and their contractor as construction occurred.

Some years ago this author was told by the late Blanche Overbey Crews that the Buck Shepherd house was “brought in on a railroad car” as a pre-cut package. If her report is correct, it would suggest that this might have been the work of, or in collaboration with, the firm of Knoxville architect George F. Barber. Barber was responsible for the design, fabrication, shipment, and construction of numerous homes that bear a close resemblance to this one (see, for example, his 1891 publication Victorian Cottage Architecture: An American Catalog of Designs).

A Movie Star, and Children of Two Presidents

The Shepherd house enjoyed a brief period of celebrity in 1989-1990 when the movie Crazy People, starring Dudley Moore and Darryl Hannah, was filmed in Chatham. Hannah, who leased the Shepherd-Thompson-Broaddus house from new owners Joe and Geri Haase during that period, was accompanied by John F. Kennedy, Jr. Kennedy is remembered fondly by Chatham townspeople, who recall that he was often seen walking Hannah's dogs. One of his pasttimes, during the long hours when filming was in progress, was bicycling 10 miles east to Elkhorn Lake, where he occupied a spot on the diving platform to study for his upcoming bar exam. Local girls, of course, did their best to distract him from his academics.

After the Hannah lease ended, the Haases, who were long involved in Donald Trump properties management, gave the name “Magnolia Manor” to the Shepherd house and operated it as a bed-and-breakfast for several years.

The property had another brush with fame nearly 130 years before Crazy People. A log cabin dependency, now gone, remained for many years from the original Bennett residence. The cabin was reputedly the residence of President John Tyler's daughter Letitia Tyler Semple during the Civil War.


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