He-Wasn't-Crazy House

7 Court Place, Chatham, Virginia
By Henry H. Mitchell

Tunstall-Hargrave House

Located in the center of Chatham, the Tunstall-Hargrave House has undergone several changes of architectural style in its two centuries of existence. James Johnson constructed the first portion of the house in 1782. The house was subsequently owned by Richard Johnson, William Tunstall, Jesse Hamlin Hargrave, and J. Hunt Hargrave, with several expansions and re-stylings along the way. It was given its columned Neoclassical façade during the late 1930's (see note below) under the ownership of Gladys Hargrave Nenon.

The house achieved regional fame during a highly publicized court battle in 1936. J. Hunt Hargrave had been fatally injured in an automobile accident while riding with Congressman Joseph Whitehead (of Briarwood) in Wentworth, NC, on February 26, 1935.

After Hargrave's death on April 2, his will was read, revealing an estate valued at $260,000, with his adopted daughter Gladys Hargrave Nenon as chief beneficiary. Other Hargrave relatives contested the will, claiming that Hargrave had become insane shortly before writing the 1932 document.

The case finally came to trial in November of 1936. Public interest in the case reached a fever pitch, driving subscriptions to the struggling local newspaper, the Tribune (later the Star-Tribune), to first-time-profitable levels (thus establishing the young editor, Preston Moses, and his court-reporter wife Minnie, for a U.S.-record-setting 51-year editorial run with the local Tribune, the subsequent Star, and the merged Star-Tribune).

The case ended in a dramatic “Perry Mason moment,” when, after reading portions of the will to the plaintiffs on the witness stand, the Hargrave estate's attorneys revealed that they had been quoting from identical portions of wills drawn by Hargrave in 1921, 1922, and 1927, long before his supposed mental decline.

The Tunstall-Hargrave House is still the private residence of descendants of Gladys Hargrave Nenon Brown.


Related Book

(Available from the sponsor.)

Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past

Fitzgerald: Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past

This webpage is provided as a courtesy by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House B&B, Chatham, VA.