History

GEORGE CHRISMAN HOUSE is a private residence located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, northwest of Route 42 and Edom, on Shaver Mill Road (Route 780).  The 18th century stone house was placed on the Virginia Landmarks Register on September 6, 2006 and the National Register of Historic Places on December 1, 2006.  Shenandoah Valley historian and author John W. Wayland (1872-1962) wrote in a 1957 letter to former owner Fred Holm that the house is "probably one of the oldest in Rockingham County."

HISTORY

Captain George Chrisman was born in 1745 in what is now Stephens City (Frederick County) Virginia where his parents, German immigrant Jacob Christman (1706-1778) and Magdalena Hite (1713-1771), a native of New York, settled in the early 1730s.  George was the ninth of their eleven children.

Jacob Chrisman and Magdalena Hite married in Pennsylvania and the young couple and their first child (Jacob Jr., born 1730) made the pioneering journey from there to Virginia in 1732.  They traveled as part of a wagon train along with more than a dozen other families, including Magdalena's siblings and their families.  That trip was one of several that Magdalena's father, Jost Hite (1685-1761), organized and led.  Hite is considered to be one of the first pioneer settlers of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.   

George Chrisman grew up in a community built by his father, the Hites and their extended families, which included Bowman and Froman.  The Hites were acquainted with George Washington who, as a teenaged land surveyor in 1748, lodged at the inn owned by John Hite (George's uncle), along with other members of the team.  Washington spent several years in the area and his documented writings include diary entries about lodging at Capt. Hite's in Frederick Town and having his baggage sent there.  The Hites obviously made an impression on the young man as nearly twenty years later Washington recalled their success when he wrote in a letter, "...Only look to Frederick, and see what Fortunes were made by the Hites and first takers up of those lands: Nay how the greatest Estates we have in this Colony were made..."

In 1761 when he was 16 years old, George Chrisman acquired 376 acres of choice Augusta (now Rockingham) County land along Linville Creek from his parents.  Around the same time they deeded 300 acres of adjoining land to George's 22 year-old brother Johannes (John).  The land was quite a distance from their family home in Frederick County, about 60 miles south, but the brothers would be neighbors who could help each other as they built their own homesteads and raised the next generation of Chrismans.

George's wife Hannah McDowell was born in 1747.  Her parents, General Joseph McDowell (1715-1771) and Margaret O'Neill or O'Neal (1723-1780) emigrated from Ireland soon after their 1739 marriage and made their way to the same area in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where the Hites, Chrismans and other pioneering families had settled several years before.  Hannah and her siblings were born in this community so she and George would have known each other as children.  In 1761, when Hannah was 14, the McDowells migrated to Quaker Meadows, North Carolina where they settled permanently, leaving Hannah behind in the care of the Chrismans or some other respectable family.  It is likely that Hannah was already betrothed to 16 year-old George who received his 376 acres in May of that year.  She would have assisted with household chores to earn her keep until she and George married and set off on their own.  The actual wedding date of George Chrisman and Hannah McDowell is unknown, but an educated guess would be between 1763 (when Hannah turned 16) and 1765 (a year before they welcomed their first child).  

The stone house that stands today was built between 1761 and 1787.  It is where George and Hannah raised their seven children (Joseph, Hugh, John, Charles, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Hannah) who were all born between 1766 and 1784, and it was home to George and Hannah for the rest of their lives.   

Interestingly, all seven Chrisman children received their Christian names from the McDowell side of the family.  The boys were namesakes of their mother's four brothers and the three girls carried the names of Hannah's mother  Margaret (nee O'Neill), her older sister Elizabeth (wife of John McKinney), and Hannah herself.  If Hannah Chrisman had been blessed with one more daughter it is highly likely that she would have been named Jane after Hannah's last remaining sister.       

George Chrisman received his captain's commission with the Rockingham County militia on March 26, 1781 during the American Revolution and his unit was involved in at least two battles near Williamsburg that summer--the Battle of Hot Water (aka Spencer's Ordinary) on June 26th and the Battle of Green Springs Plantation on July 6th. 

Like his father and most of his relatives, George Chrisman owned slaves, which was typical for the time period and area.  In 1788 he had four, which made him the fifth largest slave-holder in Rockingham County (behind those who owned 7-12 slaves) and in 1810 when George and Hannah were in their mid-sixties and living alone at the house, the couple had 15 slaves. 

A prominent citizen in the community, Chrisman was a contemporary of Captain Abraham Lincoln and his wife Bathsheba (nee Herring) who owned land just two miles away.  In 1780 when Lincoln sold 250 acres before moving to Kentucky, Chrisman signed as a witness on the deed of sale.  Young Thomas Lincoln who made the trip with his parents would later become the father of the sixteenth president of the United States.  

Captain and Mrs. Chrisman lived long, full lives considering the time period.  He was 71 years old at the time of his death on August 29, 1816 and Hannah was 70 when she passed away five months later on January 24, 1817.  After both were gone, ownership of the stone house and land fell to their daughter Elizabeth and her husband Conrad Custer who raised their own family there for the next twelve years.

The Chrisman name was well known in Rockingham County for more than a century.  Among George Chrisman's descendants is his great grandson and namesake, Major George Chrisman (1832-1915), a Confederate officer during the Civil War and commander of "Chrisman's Boy Company."  The major, who was a lifelong resident of Rockingham County and a valuable member of the community, was one of three founding members of what is now the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society.  Hundreds were in attendance for his funeral on Thanksgiving Day 1915.

THE SHAVER FAMILY (1829-1948)

In 1829 the Custers sold to the Shavers, coincidentally another George (1783-1866) and Hannah (nee Seitz or Sites, 1788-1873) and the Shaver family retained ownership for the next 120 years.  First the home was passed to their daughter Catherine J. Burkholder (1809-1907) and her husband Jesse (1811-1898), then to Catherine's youngest brother George Washington Shaver (1832-1906) and his wife Elizabeth (nee Burkholder, 1832-1920), and finally to George W. Shaver, Jr. (1873-1959) and his wife Lucy (nee Dovel, 1880-1964).  This last generation of Shavers owned the stone house from 1906 until 1948.

The ruins of Shaver Mill, a circa 1830 limestone gristmill are located on the property and though the house was known locally for many years as "The Shaver Place," when it received its historic designation in late 2006, the house was officially named in honor of its original owner.  For more on SHAVER MILL, see our Architecture page.

George and Lucy Shaver took up residence at the stone house in 1906 and all three of their children were born here--John George (1909-2002), Mary Lucille (1911-1997) and Janie Elizabeth (1913-1992).  Nearby Harrisonburg (once known as "Rocktown") was less than 10 miles away.  It had electricity by Christmas 1890 and was incorporated as an independent city in 1916.  The streets in town were soon lined with many new, beautiful homes and exciting businesses.  The appeal of modern conveniences must have been great to those who were still living in the surrounding rural locations.  George Shaver wanted to improve his family's situation and by September 1918 the Shavers were living within the city limits at 299 Franklin Street, a large Victorian house built in 1910. 

Until the stone house was sold in 1948 to the Kline family, the Shavers made regular trips back to the old homeplace to work the farm and the children would have surely played in the creek.  In 2011 George Shaver, III related that his grandmother, Lucy Shaver, was "very fond of the place and sad to leave" in 1918.  That same sentiment was not shared by George's father John who was nine years old at the time of the move.  As an adult John Shaver shared memories of his early childhood on the family farm with his own children.  He vividly recalled the cold winter months when he had to break ice in the basin and then wash his face with the freezing water.  John Shaver was not at all unhappy about the move to town. 

In 1938 when electricity finally made its way into the rural areas of western Rockingham County, the Shaver-owned house was bypassed.  By then it was more than 150 years old and had been unoccupied for 20 years.  It would take more than two decades and as many owners before the house could accommodate the needs of a 20th century family with conveniences such as electric light and indoor plumbing.

The stone house sat vacant for more than 40 years before Frederick L. (1924-2003) and Mary R. (nee Monahan) Holm purchased it from the Klines in 1956.  They renovated it during the 1960s, built a sympathetic addition on the north end of the house in the 1970s (using stones from Shaver Mill) and raised their three children here.  It was the Holm family residence through 2002.

THE CIRCA DATE 

It is believed that the house was built in the 1770s or early 1780s.  Architectural details are helpful, but it is impossible to assign a firm date of construction without a date stone or substantiating documentation.  Unfortunately, many early Rockingham County records were lost as the result of courthouse fires in 1787 and 1864.  (The latter was an intentional burning by Federal troops during the Civil War.)

The following is excerpted from the National Register of Historic Places registration form for George Chrisman House, prepared in June 2006 by Preservation Consultant Sarah Edwards:

"The construction of the two-story limestone main house helps to illustrate the economic success of George Chrisman and his place within the local gentry.  While the existing fragments of tax records for Rockingham County begin at 1787, the rate of tax and the total value that the Chrismans paid suggests that there was a substantial structure located on the property on Joe's Creek.  The tax value on their property is almost triple what many other residents in the district paid, thus supporting the date of the house's construction prior to 1787."  

GEORGE CHRISMAN'S CONFUSING EPITAPH

George Chrisman's tombstone is located in Cook's Creek Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Rockingham County, Virginia. The bronze plaque/marker next to it is in recognition of his service in the American Revolution.  (See image of tombstone on our Photo Gallery page.)

The tombstone is inscribed: "George Chrisman Son of Jacob Chrisman a native of Swabia in Germany who emigrated to Virginia about 1740. He died Aug 29, 1816 Aged 71 years"

Many early tombstones ended up under water in 1823 when a dam was put in place to create Silver Lake Mill in Dayton.  This headstone is one of many that were replaced in the 19th century because of that project.  Whoever provided information for the new stone was obviously trying to be helpful, but unfortunately the misinterpretation of this epitaph has resulted in the dissemination of false information for more than 130 years.

Many who read the stone's narrative attribute all of the details to the deceased; however, only the first and last parts of the epitaph pertain directly to George Chrisman. The middle portion ("a native of Swabia in Germany who emigrated to Virginia about 1740") is about his German immigrant father Jacob who came to America around 1710 as a small boy and then migrated to Virginia from Pennsylvania with his wife and first born child in 1732 (which is "about 1740").

In an 1884 published biography of Capt. Chrisman's great grandson and namesake, CSA Major George Chrisman (1832-1915), it is incorrectly explained that the major's great grandfather (George) was the founder of the family in America and in Virginia. It was actually Jacob Chrisman, one generation earlier. Additionally, the 1884 bio cited 1740 as the year George came to America from Germany. George was a native of Virginia, born in 1745.

It seems likely that the 1884 account of the major's ancestry was based on the words etched into George Chrisman's tombstone (which had been misinterpreted) so some details in the major's bio were simply untrue.

To make matters worse, the flawed 1884 biography was used as a source for the major's obituary so the falsehoods were perpetuated. Those who unequivocally accept the Chrisman family origins from the 1884 bio, the 1915 obit, or any subsequent works based on those tributes are regrettably misdirected.

CHRONOLOGY OF HOUSE OWNERSHIP   

Although it appears to have changed ownership numerous times, the house actually remained in the same two families, CHRISMAN and SHAVER, for more than 160 years.  In its 225+ year existence nine owners, but only four families have occupied the house--CHRISMAN (includes Custer), SHAVER (includes Burkholder and Dovel), HOLM, and PINNELL.  The chronology of ownership is as follows:

1. CIRCA 1787 to 1817 (30+ years): Captain George Chrisman (1745-1816) & Hannah (McDowell) Chrisman (1744-1817)

George Chrisman built on the 376 acres he obtained from his parents in 1761. 

2. JAN 24, 1817 to APR 06, 1829 (12 years): Conrad Custer (1771-1845) & Elizabeth (Chrisman) Custer (1779-1835)

Elizabeth Custer was the daugher of George and Hannah Chrisman who died in 1816 and 1817 respectively.  After their deaths Elizabeth and her husband Conrad Custer bought the house at auction.    

3. APR 06, 1829 to MAR 29, 1855 (26 years): George Shaver (1783-1866) & Hannah (Sites) Shaver (1788-1873)

The first of three generations of Shavers to own the house.  

4. MAR 29, 1855 to OCT 09, 1868 (13.5 years): Jesse Burkholder (1811-1898) & Catherine (Shaver) Burkholder (1809-1907)

Catherine Burkholder was the sister of George Shaver (1832-1906)

5. OCT 09, 1868 to MAR 01, 1906 (37.5 years): George W. Shaver, Sr.   (1832-1906) & Elizabeth J. (Burkholder) Shaver (1832-1920)

6. MAR 01, 1906 to SEP 27, 1910 (4.5 years): George W. Shaver, Jr.   (1873-1959) & Lucy V. (Dovel) Shaver (1880-1964)

7. SEP 27, 1910 to SEP 09, 1914 (4 years): John E. Dovel (1826-1914) & Jane A. Dovel (1841-1915)

Lucy Shaver’s 84 year-old father insisted on assuming ownership while he and his wife resided with their daughter and son-in-law.  This was a temporary ownership that would revert back to George and Lucy Shaver upon John Dovel’s death.

6. SEP 09, 1914 to JUN 08, 1948 (34.5 years): George W. Shaver, Jr. & Lucy V. (Dovel) Shaver

Per their 1910 agreement with the Dovels, the Shavers regained ownership after the passing of Lucy’s father.  In 1918 or 1919 the family moved to a house in town leaving the stone house unoccupied for the first time in 130+ years.

7. JUN 08, 1948 to MAY 18, 1956 (8 years): Homer R. Kline (1905-1997) & Goldie M. (Summers) Kline (1905-1998)

The house was unoccupied during this initial restoration phase.

8. MAY 18, 1956 to DEC 30, 2002 (46.5 years): Frederick L. Holm & Mary R. (Monahan) Holm

The Holms completed the restoration and became the first family to live in the stone house since the Shavers moved out in 1918-19.

9. DEC 30, 2002 to PRESENT (13+ years): Dan Pinnell & Susan (Klender) Pinnell

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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