By Susan M. Thigpen © 1991
Issue: June, 1991
Have you ever wished for a home with a history, or a home two hundred years old? Have you ever thought of starting a small bed and breakfast, but thought wishing for it was only a dream? This story might just connect you with your dreams. This month we learned of such a home that is for sale in Wythe County, Virginia and is even an obtainable price ($89,500). Let us take you on a tour of Locust Hill.
Locust Hill now belongs to the Lancasters, who are having to relocate because of a job opportunity. They have had the house for six years and would like to see the house belong tosomeone who will appreciate and love it as much as they have. Although it has siding on it now, the original part of the house was built from logs and even interior walls are log beneath the boarding. There has been very few structural changes made to the house since it was built in 1782 and in the house's lifetime, it has only had eight owners.
The builder and first owner of Locust Hill was Robert Graham. He bought the land from Michael Doughterty in 1782. The original tract contained 93 acres and Graham paid 130 pounds for it. Robert Graham died in 1811, when the property passed into the hands of his heirs by his second wife. The third owner of Locust Hill was Robert's grandson, Robert G. Crockett. Robert G. Crockett was the son of Nancy Agnes Graham who married John Crockett II, of Crocketts Cove. The fourth owner was John G. Crockett, husband of Nancy Agnes Graham. The fifth owner was Thomas H. Simmerman; sixth - J. Elbert Simmerman; seventh - George B.Simmerman and the eighth (and present day) owners are Michael and Kendell Lancaster.
The original owner of the home was born in 1750 in County Down Ireland. He arrived in Pennsylvania in 1770, later moving to Mecklenburg County in North Carolina. He was a Captain and Lieutenant in the Revolutionary War and a Justice of the Peace in his own community. In 1785 he was the overseer of the building of a road from Reed Creek to Fort Chiswell known as "The Great Wagon Road." In 1788 he received a commission to evaluate property. He was also the first elder of theAnchor of Hope Church in Max Meadows.
Robert Graham had an "ordinary" license, but did not run his house as a tavern per se. Travelers who had need of housing for the night were welcomed though. On October 18, 1821, a neighbor, Henry Bird stated that both wagoners and horsemen stopped at Graham's house for entertainment and Graham was never known to be out of money. A Joseph Glasgow added on May 18, 1821 that Robert Graham made his money by farming, adding that he kept a distillery, wagonedto Richmond, and sold grain to travelers, all from the produce of his farm.
Robert Graham had a trade also. He was a gimlet maker. For those of you who do not know what a gimlet is (and I must admit I had to look it up before I did), the dictionary describes it as, "A small tool for boring holes, consisting of a shaft with a pointed screw at one end and a cross handle at the other." Gimlets were used to drill holes in wood to peg furniture and even beams of houses together. Perhaps he made the instruments that bored the holes that pegged together the very beams you cansee in the attic.
Robert Graham has another claim to fame and that is through his children. He was the father of David Graham of nearby Grahams Forge, who became a pioneer in the iron industry in Southwest Virginia. David Graham built his first furnace at Cedar Run, his home place in Wythe County, and made the first stoves used in the county. One of Robert Graham's daughters, Margaret, married James McGavock of Fort Chiswell, another prominent person in Wythe County history.
Robert Graham died in 1811 without leaving a will, but there is an inventory of his property on microfilm at the Wythe County courthouse. According to it, he had 9 slaves, 46 head of cattle, 11 horses, 6 geese, 46 head of hogs, and 23 head of sheep. He had assorted belongings such as a still, 8 weeding hoes, 1 broad axe, 4 iron wedges, 4 plows, 1 wagon with 6 inch wheels and log chains, 9 pots, 2 ovens, 1 skillet and 1 kettle, 1 clock, 3 tables and 1 desk, 1 rifle gun, 13 chairs, 1 looking glass, 3 barrels and 3 bushels flax seed, wool, 2 small bottles and coffee mill, 30 earthen plates, 28 sheets, 35 yds. blankets, and 70 ga. whiskey. His books contained 5 Bibles, 7 sermon books, a 6 volume set of Guyes Paraphrase, Laws Thoughts, 1 dictionary and 1 grammar, and Pike's Arithmetic and others. The list above is only a partial list, the inventory takes pages. I have only listed some of the more interesting sounding ones.
Enough of the history, now for a tour of the house. The present property has 1.7 acres and two log outbuildings besides a barn with new attached workshop and a small detached garage. It is on a small hill beside Old State Highway 11, within minutes of an access to Interstate 81 and nearby Interstate 77. There is an old brick walkway to the front door and slate walkways in back of the house have been made into a patio. There are concord grape vines on one of the old sheds and a garden space at the back of the property. Hedges line the walkway to the road and old lilacs and forsythias bloom in back of the house.
We will enter the house by the back door. You step into an enclosed back porch that is approximately 9x20 feet. It has lots of windows and would make a nice sunny place to grow plants and have a breakfast table. The steps to the basement go down from the back porch. The basement has a brick floor and a bricked up fireplace. It was the kitchen of the original house. Here you can see the rock foundation of the house. There is a workshop room here as well as the furnace. The house is heated by hot water over oil and has electric baseboard heat on the second floor. Kendell Lancaster found two treasures in the basement - a tiny delicate white china tea pot and cup which were probably once a part of a child's tea set.
Going back upstairs, we enter the back hallway. Through the back hallway you enter the living room. There is an old fashioned transom window over the door as you enter. All of the rooms in the house are spacious and have nine feet ceilings. The original five mantles are in the house and four of the five fireplaces are still open and could be used. There is oak flooring on the main floor. The second story has five inch pine board flooring. Passing out of the living room, we are in the front hall. The front door faces out onto a porch that is the length of the house. The glass in the windows of the living room have bubbles in them and waves that show their age. The interior walls are 18 inches thick.
If you are standing in the front hall, just as if you entered by the front door, the living room is on your left and the formal dining room is on your right. Directly in front of you is the staircase that leads to the second floor and to the third floor storage space. The third floor has never been finished, but has enough height to make another room. From this third floor access you can see the dovetail and pegged woodwork structure of the house and huge log beams. The banister of the stairway is said to match the style in the Graham's Forge mansion and are perhaps by the same craftsman. They are original also.
We turn to our right and enter the formal dining room. This room is wallpapered with only one layer of wallpaper which looks to be old, although nothing is known about it. Double french doors open from the dining room into the huge kitchen.
The kitchen is the only concession you notice to modern-day changes. It has a built-in oven and stove top as well as a dishwasher and disposal built in. The kitchen sink sits in a free-standing work island. There are built in window box shelves beside the mantle. There is a door from the kitchen to the back porch.
There is a large room behind the kitchen that would make a convenient extra bedroom, den or office. There is one bathroom downstairs off the back hall that has an old fashioned claw-foot tub. The house has two full baths, one on each floor.
Now we will go to the two bedrooms upstairs. The stairs and the upstairs foyer are carpeted. One of the bedrooms upstairs has a closet that was built in under the eaves and is a part of the original structure. There is a unique feature about the closet. It has a door inside of it, on the closet wall, that opens to a passage way to another part of the house. There is enough unused space above the kitchen and the back room of the house to finish into other rooms if you wanted to. The upstairs bedrooms also have fireplaces.
I am afraid it is time for us to go back out the front door and leave, but the Lancasters and I would like to thank Davie Davis, a Wythe County school teacher and historian for researching the history of the Robert Graham family for this article.
If this house sounds like what you have been looking for, you can write Mr. and Mrs. Michael Lancaster, Route 3, Box 640, Max Meadows, Virginia 24360 for more information or call 703-637-4325.