The “public face” of Chatham is that of a Victorian and early-20th-century town. However, Chatham was actually founded in 1777, and closer examination reveals a few visual reminders of its first and second generations. This guide is intended to assist in identifying these early local landmarks.
When Pittsylvania County was trimmed to its present boundaries in 1777 and its court moved from Callands to Chatham, the General Assembly ordered that court be temporarily held at Richard Farthing's home, which sat near Hickey's Road (modern-day Hurt Street / Chalk Level Road), the first major east-west thoroughfare through this frontier district. Some historians have assumed that Mansfield was the Richard Farthing house, but researcher Ronnie Walker proved from court records that the Farthing property was some distance to the east of Mansfield. Mansfield was apparently a nearby home of the same period. It is currently a private faculty residence on the campus of Chatham Hall.
The first courthouse in Chatham was built near springs a few hundred yards west of present downtown. The damp, boggy location proved unacceptable; therefore, a second court location was chosen where Chatham Baptist Church now stands. This decision was so hotly contested that the legislature changed the name of Pittsylvania Court House to “Competition” in 1807. (Not until 1874 did the town become “Chatham,” a name originally given in 1769 to the court village at Callands.) In 1812-13, a clerk's office was built near the “new” courthouse. Yet another (the present) courthouse was built a few hundred feet to the east in 1853, leaving the clerk's office behind, in the “backyard” (Town Park) of the old Tredway-Whitehead house (Town Hall).
During the 1980's the Pittsylvania Historical Society restored the old Clerk's Office for use as a meeting room and museum. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.
Here sits a crown jewel from Chatham's early days, a beautiful brick Federal-style residence built by merchant Hugh Wier. It has been stunningly restored by Reginald and Anna Whitehead Kenney beginning during the 1930's; continuing under the ownership of Dr. and Mrs. Hugh Willis, Jr.; and today as the private home of Mr. and Mrs. Phil Mauger. Originally, the house's lawn extended from Main Street in front to Tanyard Branch at the bottom of the hill behind the house.
The old stage road to Lynchburg departed Chatham's north end through a magnificent grove of oaks. Here, where some of the oaks remain today, Dr. Robert Coles chose to place his massive Federal house, and obtained court permission to alter the stage road (now Main Street) slightly to the west.
The house boasts wide-paneled pine wainscoting and “12-over-12” windows in the original downstairs rooms. The original Federal portico was replaced during the mid-1900's with a large porch. The Oaks is now the private residence of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Hurt.
Across the stage road from Dr. Coles's home, his friend Dr. Richard White built a smaller house, a portion of the present structure. The building was expanded in later years to its current appearance, with Gothic roofline and broad latticed porch.
After Dr. White's death, the home was purchased by Stanhope S. Hurt, Clerk of the Court for 62 years (a record term among all elective officeholders in the history of the U. S.). The house is the private residence of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Hurt (its having been purchased again by the Hurt family after a long period as the Hundley home.
Completing the threesome of the town's doctors during the early 1840's, all living within a stone's throw, was Dr. Chesley Martin, Dr. White's brother-in-law. He constructed the central portion of this building in the Federal Style.
Dr. Martin's son, Lt. Col. Rawley White Martin, commanded the local 53rd Va. Regiment in Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg. Martin, along with color-bearer Lt. Hutchings Carter of Chatham, and Gen. Lewis Armistead, were the point of the Confederates' farthest advance before Martin was wounded and captured, and Armistead killed.
From 1909 to 1910 Chatham Training School (now Hargrave Military Academy) utilized this as their main building. Through the years the house has been expanded and porches added. It is now the residence of Mrs. James Tucker.
Architect and merchant James L. Poindexter built this magnificent Federal home on 20 acres of land at the south end of Chatham, and named it “Oak Hall.”
In 1873 the property was purchased and renamed “Morea” by Lt. Col. Rawley W. Martin (see above) who had followed his father's footsteps into the practice of medicine. Dr. Martin's office (the original 18th-century house on the property and one of Chatham's very oldest structures), sits in the yard beside Morea, and a smokehouse is to the rear.
The house grew to include vast verandas in the early 1900's. During the late 1900's, its owners Comdr. (USN, Ret.) and Mrs. Richard W. Arey restored it to a Federal form similar to the original. It has been further enhanced by its current owners, Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Wall.
Note: This self-guided tour was first published in the Winter 1993 issue of the Pittsylvania Historical Society Packet.
This website is sponsored by Mitchells Publications, Chatham, Virginia.
Copyright © 1992–2013 Henry H. Mitchell.