Saturday, November 18, 2006

Historic Homes Tour of Yanceyville

Historic Homes Tour of Yanceyville (December 10, 2006)

The Caswell County Historical Association will present a medley of private homes and public buildings in its Sunday, December 10, 2006, tour (1:00 - 6:00 PM) . Except for the Holderness House (see below) all buildings are in the Yanceyville Historic District. The tour will end with a program of traditional Christmas Carols presented by the new community group, Singers of Hope, in the sanctuary of the Yanceyville Presbyterian Church, and refreshments will be served after the singing.


Tickets are $12.00 in advance and may be purchased at the Richmond-Miles History Museum or the Chamber of Commerce office in the Gatewood House on the Court Square in Yanceyville, North Carolina.

They also may be ordered from CCHA, Box 278, Yanceyville, NC 27379 by sending a check or Postal Money Order, or online from the CCHA Website and charged to PayPal or a major credit card.

Tickets will be mailed until December 3, 2006. After then they may be picked up at the Richmond-Miles History Museum on the day of the tour. Ticket prices on the day of the tour will be $15.00 and will be available at the Museum, the Holderness House, and the Yanceyville Presbyterian Church.

Tour Sites

Holderness House


The Holderness House on US 158 West is a handsome Boom Era Greek Revival style house with hip roof, exterior-end brick chimneys, and pedimented Doric entrance porch. It is an unusually distinguished example due to the flanking one-story wings, each with a smaller version of the central entrance porch. The voluptuous mantels and stair rail are stylistically attributed to famed local cabinetmaker Thomas Day. The unknown architect who built this house is said to have also built the front block of the nearby Bartlett Yancey House. This stately residence represents the ancestral roots of the prominent Greensboro Holderness family and over the years has been associated with other old Caswell County families. For much of the 20th century it has been home to members of Page family, which also has deep roots in Caswell County.



Dongola, located on West Main Street, is the "manor house" of the Jeremiah Graves plantation, which bordered the west side of Yanceyville. The prosperous Graves family owned most of the land that is now Yanceyville beginning in the mid-1700's. Jeremiah Graves was greatly influenced by the Virginia homes on his northern market visits and in 1832 he built what has been termed "the most pretentious farmhouse of the Piedmont". Tradition has it that he found a name on a map in his Bible showing "Dongola" as a place on the Nile River. The project took many bricks from his kilns and trees from his forests, but his woodwork seems to have been imported from Virginia. The grand scale of the double porticos, windows, and doors prepares the viewer for the six or seven huge rooms and the halls.

The last of the Graves family to live in the house (Robert Sterling Graves) donated the home and plantation lands to the NC Baptist Association for development into an assisted living facility that served the community well for many years. Since the early 1990's this property has been owned by various investors in the film industry who have added sound studios that have been used for film production, social events, and a community ministry. The present owner is Caswell native Faiger Blackwell, owner of Carolina Pinnacle Film Studios, who resides in Dongola. Dongola has been carefully restored and decorated to reflect its elegant history and the present owner's love of Caswell history.

Walter N. Harrelson House

Walter Harrelson House

Walter Harrelson House on West Main Street was built c.1885 by a granddaughter of Jeremiah Graves who married Walter N. Harrelson, a well-to-do Yanceyville merchant whose department store later became Watlington's on the Square. They built their Victorian home with the front door facing Dongola. Just to be on the safe side in the event streets were changed, they built another hall at right angles to the first and had another door and porch put in facing the present street. It remained in the Harrelson family until the late 70's. This home is now the residence of local Realtor Barry Smith, who with his late wife lovingly restored the home as warm hospitable dwelling to enjoy with their three children, family, and friends.

Barzillai Shufford Graves House

Barzillai Shuford Graves House

The typically Gay 1890's town house of Barzillai and Miss Malli Graves, also on West Main Street, is set on a generous lot with many old trees. It is a stunning site in autumn. The large public rooms retain high ceilings with some original wallpaper and woodwork. This lovely residence remained in the Graves family until the later part of the 20th century. It is currently being restored by Mike and Lucindy Willis, who restored the Federal/Greek Revival/Victorian home of the Bartlett Yancey House and created the popular Yancey House Restaurant. The Barzillai Graves Home will open as a bed and breakfast in the near future.

Scarborough Law Office Building

Emerson Scarborough Law Office

The Scarborough Law Office (ca. 1835) is a 1-1/2 story frame house, Federal in style, with exterior end stone and brick chimneys. It is located on the north side of West Main Street next door to the Kerr Hotel. Substantial alterations have been made over the years. Josiah Rucks, coach maker, innkeeper, and possible architect-builder of several houses in the district is believed to have lived here in 1850's. This building served for decades as the law office of the father of the present owner, Dr. Emerson Scarborough, who currently is restoring it. The structure is a "work in progress" and will provide an opportunity to view some details of historic preservation.

Kerr Hotel

Kerr Hotel

The brick Kerr Hotel was probably built under the supervision of architect-builder Josiah Rucks. Ibsan Rice obtained a tavern license there in 1838. Upon Rice's death in 1848, Rucks took over the tavern. He was not able to pay for it and in 1858 joined with the Rice heirs to convey the title to Dr. Bedford Brown, Jr., son of U.S. Senator Bedford Brown, who practiced medicine here until he became a surgeon in the Confederate Army, and relocated in Alexandria, VA, after the war. The Rucks continued to operate the Tavern when CSA veteran, John Kerr, obtained the property and operated the Kerr Hotel from ca. 1890 into the 20th Century. One can easily imagine guests arriving by stage coach and gathering before the double fireplaces in the lobby after dinner in the sunken dining room. The house is on the National Register as the birthplace of Congressman John Kerr, and has entertained many distinguished guests. For most of the 20th century the Kerr Hotel was the private residence of children and grandchildren of John Kerr. It is currently the Real Estate Office of Barry Smith, Realtor.

Clarendon Hall


Clarendon Hall on West Main Street was built in 1842. Described by historian Katherine Kendall as "a rich man's house", Clarendon Hall was built by Thomas Donoho Johnston, Yanceyville banker. It has many remarkable architectural features typical of Federal and Greek Revival architecture. Interior woodwork includes mantels, molding and doors that are attributed to Thomas Day, as is the grand staircase in the spacious hall. Current owners, Ben and Margaret Williams, have meticulously restored this elegant home, which was used as a storage building by former owners. Ben is a former curator of the NC Museum of Art, and Margaret taught art at St. Mary's College. The magnificent public rooms are a perfect setting for their superb collection of art and antiques and are frequently the site of gracious entertaining.

Caswell County Courthouse


The Historic Courthouse (built c. 1857-1861) on Court Square is an imposing Romanesque structure designed by the famous architect Sir William Percival. In 1860 Sir William received the first place award for the best building plan displayed at the NC State Fair. It has been called by many people "the most beautiful courthouse in North Carolina." The courthouse is notable for hosting the "Trial of Henrietta Jeffries," a midwife who was defending herself after being charged with practicing medicine illegally in the county. As she gave her testimony the judge left the bench, removed his robe, and after presenting additional defense, returned to the bench, and declared her innocent.

The courthouse probably is more famous as the site of the murder of Republican N. C. State Senator John Walter "Chicken" Stephens who was a scalawag in the area during Reconstruction. He was murdered in the Caswell County Courthouse during a political rally in the courtroom upstairs. Following this murder, Caswell was occupied by Kirk's Raiders, troops sent by Republican North Carolina Governor William W. Holden under the leadership of former Union officer George Kirk to restore order and arrest those responsible for political assassinations in Alamance and Caswell County. Noting that Kirk's actions were unawful, one historian has described the behavior of Kirk's Raiders as "unacceptable then, as it is now." However, to others who feared the Ku Klux Klan, Kirk's men probably were viewed more sympathetically. In the aftermath of this "war" Governor Holden was impeached and removed from office in 1871.

In his 1919 "confession," Captain John G. Lea revealed that the Ku Klux Klan seized and stabbed the Radical Republican leader in his former office in the courthouse. This document wa sealed until after the death of Lea in 1935. The revolver owned by Senator John W. ("Chicken") Stephens and removed from his body when he was murdered is on display in the Richmond-Miles History Museum. The main floor of the Historic Courthouse contains the county offices. The courtroom is used by the county commissioners and for other public and private functions.

Poteat School

Poteat One-Room School House

Poteat School (built ca. 1900) is located behind the Historic Caswell County Courthouse. This relic of the past is typical of the one-room schools of the early 1900's at least 40 of which were used as late as 1940 in Caswell County. Albert Lindsey Poteat and his neighbors built the schoolhouse on the corner of County Home and Slade roads. One teacher was hired to teach grades 1-7 until general consolidation began around 1923. The building was moved to its present location in 1982.

Old Caswell County Jail

Front (North Facade)

The Old Caswell County Jail, located behind the Historic Courthouse, is a late 19th century, two-story brick building of Romanesque Revival design that served as the county jail until 1973. This is a two-story structure, with the cell block on the upper floor. The walls are covered with years of graffiti from countless prisoners. An indoor hanging cell is one of the most interesting aspects, with a trap-door in the upper-floor cell. The lower floor served as quarters for the jailer and his family and consists of a foyer, three rooms, and a kitchen where meals for the jailer and his prisoners were prepared. No one was ever hanged in the jail for, shortly after the jail was completed, the N. C. Legislature ended death by hanging as punishment for crime.

Richmond-Miles History Museum

Richmond-Miles History Museum

The Richmond-Miles History Museum is located in the Graves-Florence-Gatewood House (built ca. 1810) at 15 Main St. on Court Square. This early 19th century, two-story frame house with four exterior end brick chimneys, was apparently built in the early 19th century with additions and remodeling during both Greek Revival and late Victorian periods. Built by a member of the prominent Graves family, it served the community as a school in its early years. In the mid-19th century it is said to have been a hotel run by the Jones brothers. About 1880 it was purchased by the Florance family and remained a private residence until 1999.

The late Maud Gatewood, nationally known artist, and daughter of Sheriff John Yancey Gatewood and Mary Lea Florance was born here. The studio in her early years was located in the outbuilding behind the house. Some of her early work is on display in the museum. In 1999 the Caswell County Historical Association purchased the property through the generosity of Caswell natives who cherish the county's history. The extensive collection of Caswell County artifacts and genealogy records are housed here. The museum gift shop offers a variety of books and gifts related to the county history.

Yanceyville Presbyterian Church

Yanceyville Presbyterian Church

Yanceyville Presbyterian Church (built ca. 1849-1850) on the corner of North Avenue and Church Street, is a simple, handsome Greek Revival brick church, with a pedimented fa├žade, wide frieze, and a single front opening (a double door with a cosseted architrave). The architect for the church was Felix Roan, M.D., who was Clerk of Session for the church and is buried in its cemetery. The settle on the pulpit is believed to be by Thomas Day. Original pews located in the church vestibule are very similar to the pews in the Milton Presbyterian Church, which were made by Thomas Day. Founding pastor Nehemiah H. Harding was pastor of Milton Presbyterian and would have influenced the choice of builder for the pews. The interior has beautiful Doric galleries on three sides. The steeple and portico were added in the late 20th century. The congregation, established in the 1830's, is the oldest congregation in Yanceyville.


Bag lunches are available at the Presbyterian Church for $5.00 starting at 12:30 - while they last. Lunches include sandwich, chips, cookies and a drink.

Christmas Carols

At 5:30PM there will be a concert of traditional carols by the Singers of Hope at the Presbyterian Church after which refreshments being served.

More Information

For more information, contact:

Cy Vernon, CCHA VP and Tour Chair
(336) 421-9493

Karen Oestreicher, CHA President
(336) 562-5083

Lib McPherson, Tour Publicity
(336) 694-4450

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