By Sonja Ingram, Associate Director, Preservation Field Services, Preservation Virginia
October 20, 2021
Sharswood, designed by famed architect A.J. Davis of New York, was built in the 1850s for Charles Miller in the Mt. Airy Community of Pittsylvania County. Davis also designed Belmead in Powhatan County―one of the nation’s most noted Gothic Revival houses, which became a principal center of African American education after the Civil War; and the Virginia Military Institute campus, one of the first entirely Gothic Revival campuses in America.
The fairy-tale-like, Gothic Revival Sharswood replaced an earlier house that was destroyed by fire. A review of the Pittsylvania County 1860 U.S. Census revealed that 58 enslaved African Americans lived and worked at Sharswood, and 12 houses for enslaved people existed on the farm. The property also retains several outbuildings including an office, a brick smokehouse, a covered well, and a timber-framed kitchen/quarters. Sharswood was recorded by the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1933. It was also recorded by Architect Anne Carter Lee for the Society of Architectural Historians, and is included in Madelene Vaden Fitzgerald’s 1987 book, Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past.
The kitchen quarters and smokehouse predate the main house, and appear to have been built in the 18th century. The timber-framed kitchen/quarters has been the subject of several investigations by architectural historians, including preservation architect, Jobie Hill, who recorded the kitchen/quarter in 2017 as part of the Saving Slave Houses Project. Also in 2017, Professor Doug Sanford of the University of Mary Washington and several of his students further recorded the building.
Mike Pulice from the Department of Historic Resources. Pulice described the kitchen quarters as, “highly significant and a rare survival.” His report includes the following description: “meticulous mortise-and-tenon braced timber-framing with massive L-shaped “guttered” corner posts; the exclusive use of hand-wrought, rosehead nails; single-piece “struck” window and door casings/molded trim; and a massive central double fireplace of stone and brick masonry construction.”
I recently visited Sharswood with Professors Doug Sanford and Dennis Pogue (University of Maryland), as part of the Virginia Slave Housing Surveyed Buildings Database. Pogue and Sanford determined that the kitchen/quarters was an 18th century, hall and parlor-type house, which was later converted into a duplex dwelling for enslaved families at Sharswood. Due to its significance and its rare state of preservation, Sanford and Pogue are planning to further record the building.
Sharswood is owned by descendants of the enslaved family who lived and worked there before Emancipation. The family is currently working with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources to have Sharswood placed on the National Register of Historic Places.