Architecture

THE HOUSE

This late Georgian to early Federal period home is a two-story stone house with 18" to 24" thick walls of double coursed interlocking limestone with rubble fill on a high base.  The inside end chimneys are constructed of limestone and brick.  The three-on-three floor plan consists of a large rectangular parlor at the south end of the main block with a fireplace centered on its south wall, and two small adjacent parlors to the north, each with its own corner fireplace.  Two enclosed winding staircases (“winders”) on the south provide access to the second floor and attic.  The interior framing is characterized as English, due to its centrally located Summer Beams that run the length of the house along with binding and trimming joists.

Attached to the south is a 1.5 story limestone cook house (winter kitchen) that features a large walk-in cook fireplace.  Beneath ground level on the south end of the main house is a stone cellar, presumably intended as a food storage area.  The cellar is accessed on the south by a wooden door which is original to the house and dates to the fourth quarter 18th century.  Just inside the exterior cellar door is a large exposed wooden framing member that bears the stamped initials, "GC".

The main entranceway, which originally included the transom, was widened during the Greek Revival period for the placement of flanking sidelights.  Beneath the front soffit of the main house is a “Wall of Troy” cornice molding.  The molding is original with the exception of a replaced six-foot long section on the north side.           

The windows are single-hung, wood-sash with nine-over-six on the first floor and six-over-six on the second.  The north and south elevations have two-over-two windows on the attic level. A southern exposure narrow eight light fixed wood-sash window provides light into the enclosed staircase leading from the first to second floor.  Two small windows located at ground level provide light and air into the cellar.  Jack arches can be found over five first floor windows and two doors.

The interior of the house is framed with three 30’ long, 10" x 12" summer beams that are centrally located and extend the length of the house. They are situated beneath the first, second, and attic floors.  The lowermost beam is made of oak with oak binding joists, the second floor and attic "summers" (as they were often referred to in 18th c. vernacular) are made of yellow pine with pine binding joists.  All binding joists are approximately 24" on center.  Each joist/summer intersection is a mortise and tenon held by an oak peg and marked with small Roman numerals that are hidden by flooring.  The opposite ends of the binding joists extend into the exterior walls and are secured by a method unknown as of this writing.  The first floor summer contains paint residue of the same color as the vertical wallboards, which suggest that it was painted during the 18th century.                

The home was abandoned in 1918 and sat unoccupied, and without electricity and indoor plumbing, until about 1960 when the former owners (Holm: 1956-2002) completed their renovations and moved in.  A wardrobe in the northeast bed chamber on the second floor is from the nearby Lincoln family homestead which was built around 1800 by Jacob Lincoln.  Jacob was an uncle to Thomas Lincoln, the father of our sixteenth president.  The Holms purchased the wardrobe at auction in the 1960s and raised it up to the second story room before flooring was completed in that room.  The wardrobe does not break down into sections and cannot be moved via the winding staircase or through a window, therefore it remains where it was placed more than 50 years ago.  

THE LOG CABIN

When the Kline family purchased the home in 1948, a freestanding log cabin lacking its roof and chimney, stood just a few feet to the south of the kitchen.  The cabin was razed between 1948 and 1956, but thankfully photos were taken to document its existence. 

The exact purpose of the log structure is unknown.  George Chrisman may have needed a temporary dwelling while the stone house was under construction.  If this was his first shelter, then it is conceivable that the cabin would have been relegated for use as a summer kitchen or slave quarters once the stone house was completed.   It is rumored that the foundation of slave quarters lies just below ground level somewhere to the south of the house, and census information confirms that the Chrismans were slave owners.  

George's older brother John had 300 acres of adjoining land; maybe George lived with his brother's family while he was working on the stone house.  The cabin may have been originally intended for use as a cook house or slave quarters, and not as a dwelling.  Owner Dan Pinnell has found that 18th century German builders of hewn log structures in the Shenandoah Valley seem to favor the "half dovetail" corner notch.  It is his opinion that the "V notch" on the Chrisman cabin would more appropriately attribute it to a post-1800 construction date.

SHAVER MILL

Southeast of the house are the ruins of Shaver Mill, a circa 1830 limestone gristmill that was known to be in production between 1831 and 1861.  It was likely used into the 1870s, but appears to have ceased operation by 1885.

George and Hannah (Sites/Seitz) Shaver purchased the house and land from Conrad Custer and his wife Elizabeth (nee Chrisman) in 1829.  This timeline makes it more probable that the Shavers, not the Chrismans or Custers, built the mill.       

In the 1970s, stones taken from the mill (which had no roof by that point) were used to build the lower, attached sympathetic addition to the north of the main house. 

Currently only one partial wall of the mill still stands above ground, largely supported by one very determined lintel beam.  Leading to the mill from the west and across the entire width of the property is a meandering millrace that once allowed movement of water from a high point on Joe's Creek (a tributary of Linville Creek) approximately 300 yards to the west.

Shaver Mill is featured in the book, Mills of Rockingham County, Vol. II, by Janet & Earl Downs.

An 1853 entry from Silas Fisher's Day Book (purchased at a local auction) reads, “Sept 10 put 25 Bushels wheat in Shavers Mill and got 82 lbs flour."  While this day book entry appears to be substantial documentation, in 1849 the children of Abraham Breneman (b. 1744, d. 1815) sold their family mill (now called Breneman/Turner Mill) to George Shaver so the reference in the ledger may in fact be to that other local mill.

There is documented evidence that the mill was in production from 1831 to 1861.  John George Shaver, who was born in the stone house in 1909 and lived there until 1918, wrote the following in an October 4, 1969 letter to Agnes Kline (Harrisonburg, VA) in response to her previous inquiry.  At the time John Shaver was a resident of Muncie, Indiana; he wrote,

“I have an old account book which, from the dates (1831 to 1861) belonged to George Shaver who married Hannah Sites.  The earliest dates for the entries recorded the transactions in pounds, shilling and pence in some instances, and in dollar and cents in most instances.  This book indicates that George had a mill since there are entries for the sale of mill products, and there are a couple of entries referring to George Shaver's mill.  In addition to the stone house on the farm on Joe's Creek there was a stone mill." 

Mr. Shaver continued, “I do not recall my father ever having talked about operating the mill on our farm - I am sure it was never operated past the time back to which my memory goes which would be about 1918.  I am sure I have heard my father talk about his father (who is the George who married Elizabeth Burkholder) having operated it.  Since my grandfather died in 1906 I suspect it may not have been operated much in this century.  As to the age of the mill on our farm (where I was born, along with my two sisters - 1909 to 1913), I would say that it probably goes back to at least 1831 based on the account book."

D. J. Lake & Co.'s 1885 atlas of Rockingham County, Virginia recorded two structures on Joe's Creek that were owned by George W. Shaver.  On the map the dot on the left for "Geo W. Shaver" signifies the stone house and the dot on the right points to the location of Shaver Mill.  Many mills were represented on the map and labeled by type (e.g. "G. MILL" for gristmill and "S. MILL" for sawmill); however this structure was NOT labeled, indicating that Shaver Mill had ceased production by the time the land was surveyed.

Circa 1787 George Chrisman House: A Virginia and National Historic Landmark

The home is a private residence in the care of owners Dan & Susan Pinnell since 2003.  Tours are by appointment only.  We greatly appreciate the courtesy of at least 24 hours notice.  Please make contact by email to:

GCH1787@gmail.com

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