First-Time Home Eyers: Greenbrier tour visits countryside for never-before-shown houses

By: Rosalie Earle of the WV Gazette

Page Dickson at her Spring Valley home in Ronceverte, WV.

Page Dickson at her Spring Valley home in Ronceverte, WV.

They call it the “new wing,” the two-story addition built onto Spring Valley in 1889.

That’s understandable, as the main clapboard structure was constructed in 1837, and the dining room even earlier.

As Page Dickson moved from room to room, she pointed out items, explaining whom the ancestor is in the portrait and what antique belonged to what distant relative. She knows what it cost to build the house — $1,900 — and the staircase — $36.

The expenditures are listed in the ledger saved through the years since Richard Dickson had the house built on Second Creek, outside Ronceverte. A Dickson has lived on the property since 1776.

Jarrett House is even older. It was built of stone in 1815 on a hillside near Alderson. But no Jarrett had lived there since before the Civil War until descendant Margaret Clay Hambrick and her husband bought it in 1976.

For the first time, both houses will be open to the public as part of the Lemonade and Lavender home tour June 8. The fundraiser for the Greenbrier Historical Society will feature another first-timer — the Jeter House. None of the five houses on the tour are in Lewisburg.

“We thought we would dip into other areas,” said Hambrick, president of the historical society. “We have beautiful houses in the country too.”

Tour organizers have mapped out two driving loops over country roads to see Spring Valley and two other houses in the Second Creek area, and to view the Jarrett House and the Cedars in the Alderson/Blue Sulphur Springs area.

A CD may be purchased for $10 to play during the drive that will give the history of the houses and the countryside they are passing through.

Also for the first time, the Lemonade and Lavender Tour is expanding into a three-day event. An opening gala will take place June 7 at the Jarrett House, with the house tour on June 8 and a tour of Ronceverte on June 9.

No stone untouched

For five years, Hambrick and her husband, David, spent every Saturday with a stonemason laying the dry-stack stone walls to terrace the steep hillside in front of the Jarrett House. “My husband says I gathered every rock in a three-county area.”

Although the landscaping doesn’t reflect the original contour, most of the main house is original. “I am a purist,” she said. “The two main floors have no electricity, no heat, no running water.”

On the back of the house, however, is a new one-story addition with every convenience — a kitchen with all the appliances, living and dining rooms and modern bath.

The 21st-century and 19th-century houses are connected by a short corridor called a “hyphen.”

In the older section, the Hambricks removed the plaster-covered lath work to expose the beams, which they cleaned and sealed, making dusting much easier. She surmises that the first room was used as an office by James Jarrett, who had salt works in the Kanawha Valley and more land on Muddy Creek.

The second room downstairs was probably the master bedroom and the domain of the wife and mother, where she sat sewing, spinning, reading and caring for the children. Hambrick said Jarrett had two wives and maybe as many as 24 children.

She envisions children sleeping three to four in a bed in the large second-floor bedroom. A smaller bedroom might have been for the older children or for the slave tending the children.

In the restoration, Hambrick said they were lucky because farm families had lived in the house since it left the family in the 1850s. “They didn’t put money into the house, but they didn’t do it any harm either,” she said.

There is still no staircase from the main part of the house to the basement, where the kitchen was, with a fireplace big enough, Hambrick said, “to stand up, and lie down in.” Used now as a recreation room, the large room does have electricity.

Over the years, the Hambricks have collected period-appropriate furnishings for the house. A collection of needlepoint samplers decorates the wall, with one dating to 1749.

The house sits on 100 acres left in the original land claim by James Jarrett in 1774 by settlement on Muddy Creek.

Hambrick said their restoration efforts began in earnest about 12 years ago when she retired as an administrator for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Although she lived throughout the country, they have always maintained a house in Alderson, where David Hambrick was a banker.

‘I have loved living here’

The main reason Page Dickson knows so much Spring Valley history is because she has lived there for 26 of the 36 years she was married to a Dickson.

“My husband was born here and died here,” she said.

There were always relatives around the dining room table, so she became steeped in the family history and stories, and can keep track of great-great-aunts and first cousins once removed.

And if the sideboard or sugar chest didn’t come from some branch in the family tree, it was discovered at an estate sale or auction usually somewhere in the Greenbrier valley area.

She pointed to a chest of drawers in the living room. “I bought that for $20 — with its original pulls. I was bidding against a farmer who was going to put his farm tools in it!”

Then there’s the 7-foot-tall wardrobe in an upstairs bedroom that had been stored in a barn on the farm. Refinished in a warm brown stain, Dickson said she now knows “I should have left it black.”

The first Dickson settled on land on the Monroe County side of Second Creek in 1774 on land that the Indians used as a camping ground. “Every year, when we plow in the spring, we turn up arrowheads,” Page Dickson said.

He brought with him from Scotland parts to assemble a wool winder that’s still in the family.

It was his son, the second Richard Dickson, who constructed the two-story clapboard house in 1837 on land bought from John Knox, who left the log cabin he built in 1780. The cabin was placed on logs and moved with two teams of oxen to the new house, where it is still used as a dining room. For many years, only the 80-foot-long front porch connected the kitchen and dining room.

“She said she didn’t want the smell or food of flies in her house,” Dickson said of great-grandmother Barbara Dickson.

In time, a kitchen and an adjacent room used to store the coal stoves in the summer were connected to the main house through the dining room. When Page Dickson and her husband moved in, they modernized the kitchen and converted the storage room to a home office and laundry room.

The “new wing” containing an upstairs and downstairs bedroom was added in 1890. Gravity-operated running water and indoor bathrooms arrived in 1916.

The only closet in the six upstairs bedrooms is in the new wing, Boards lined with pegs serve to hang clothes in the other rooms.

Because paperwork never left the house or the family, Dickson can read that the well-known woodworker Conrad Burgess charged $10 for a mantel. She also knows that certain pieces were made by furniture maker David Surbaugh, who died in 1823, by their construction and signature designs. The dovetail joints on the flat-wall cupboard in the parlor reveal that it was a Tommy Hemming piece, another early artisan in the area.

A large piano in the parlor came from the Dickson Hotel in Ronceverte. A ledger from the hotel, now in the North House Museum, bears the signature of President Grover Cleveland, who used to travel from the White House to fish in the Greenbrier River.

Before the hotel, Spring Valley itself was a stagecoach stop to change horses on the road between White Sulphur Springs and Salt Springs. The cost of breakfast was 50 cents in gold.

The house was placed on the Register of Historic Places in 1974, and the farm is in the West Virginia Land Trust.

“I have loved living here,” Dickson said.

More historic homes

Also on this year’s Lemonade and Lavender Tour is The Cedars, a late-19th-century Victorian farmhouse in Alderson with an interesting cast of occupants.

The first lady of the house, Mittie Point Miller, was a writer of highly profitable romance novels at the turn of the 20th century. She is credited with writing 80 novels, earning $100,000 during her career.

In 1939, the house was purchased by Ruth Bryan Owen Rhode and her husband. Ruth was the daughter of William Jennings Bryan, the progressive Democrat who twice ran unsuccessfully for president. Earlier Ruth Rhode had been elected to Congress from Florida, and appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt as a minister to Denmark.

Another occupant devoted her energies to planting of hundreds of boxwoods on the grounds.

Pamela Bergren and Border Crow are the current owners of the house, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

A log cabin on Second Creek owned by Herbert and Katy Montgomery is also new to the tour circuit. The Montgomery family is re-creating a pioneer homestead on the site.

Montgomery and his sons expanded the cabin using logs from two 1700s outbuildings, and stones from another structure on the farm were used for the fireplace.

There is now the reconstructed cabin, a barn and woodshed with plans to add a smokehouse, summer kitchen and blacksmith shop.

Also open to the public for the first time is Maple Hill, the home of James Jeter, a Charleston native. Jeter’s 20th-century brick house isn’t historic, but his collection of antique furnishings is. The house on a hilltop surrounded by 350 acres of farmland is “filled with fine paintings, prints, children’s furniture, books, toys, unusual local furniture and rare items with unique provenances,” said a news release from the historical society.

Shopping opportunities are available on the tour. Reed’s Mill, which has been in operation continuously since 1791, will have ground grain for sale. In the back of the mill, the Everette Hogsett Broom Factory makes brooms using on pre-Civil War equipment and will have several styles for sale.

Want to go?

The Lemonade and Lavender historic home and garden tour will take place from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 8.

Tickets are $30 each and may be purchased in advance at the North House Museum in Lewisburg or at any of the houses on the day of the tour. Fliers with maps and directions to each house will be available, as will a CD to listen to while driving. Available for $10, the CD contains information about the houses, significant sites along the route and historical background about the Greenbrier valley area.

From 5 to 7 p.m. June 7, a wine-and-cheese reception will take place beside the pond at the Jarrett House, near Blue Sulphur Springs. The collection of horse-drawn carriages owned by Raymond and Lynn Tuckwiller will be on display and carriage rides given. The 1815 house may be toured by candlelight.

Tickets for the wine-and-cheese reception are $50, and must be purchased in advance at the North House or at the Greenbrier Convention and Visitors Bureau. Ticket orders may be taken by phone by calling the Greenbrier Historical Society at 304-645-3398.

A tour of downtown historic Ronceverte will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. June 9. Shops will be open and lemonade will be served at the Edgarton Inn. Price is $10.

A weekend pass for all three days is $80.

All proceeds will go to the Greenbrier Historical Society. According to its president, Margaret Hambrick, the society operates the North House Museum, 301 W. Washington St., Lewisburg, and funds raised from the tour “are an important part of our operating budget.”

Reach Rosalie Earle at ea… or 304-348-5115.

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