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Historic Winton manor about to embark on new chapter

Historic Winton manor about to embark on new chapter

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The two-story white manor house sits back from Virginia 151, almost hiding among the ancient trees lining its long driveway.

Winton now is part of a golf course and country club in the Amherst County community of Clifford.

Neglect over the decades has left the almost 250-year-old Georgian mansion with peeling paint on its clapboard siding, a second-story bathroom slowly collapsing into the floor below and renovations that disrupt its pre-Revolutionary character.

Now owned by Dave McCormack, president of Waukeshaw Development, work is underway to restore the manor that was home to a number of prominent Virginia families.

“[Winton] is just rich with just incredible stories,” McCormack said. “Some are crazy and fun, but it’s just amazing to be able to talk about this place and talk about the architecture and the owners’ relationship with it and its relationship with the community. I think these buildings are all these windows back into time. And those stories are really a critical piece of the history of the county.”

The core of the manor house was built circa 1772 by Col. Joseph Cabell on about 1,200 acres, wrote architectural historian Sandra Esposito in a history of the property.

Cabell served as an amateur surgeon and commanded a militia regiment during the Revolutionary War. He also served as a senator in the General Assembly and a representative from Buckingham County.

“If he had a name for the home, it has yet to be discovered,” Esposito wrote. “The plantation had a mill, an office house, gardens, barns, and apple and peach orchards. The manor house was nice but typical for the frontier. It was a two-story, frame house that was one room deep with a central passage and a room on either side of the passage on both floors. It is commonly called an I-house.

“... Exterior decoration included a pediment above the transom of the main entry. The interior decoration included a dog-leg stair with wide treads and a shallow rise. These are historical parts of the house that remain; the house has undergone several renovations and expansion since its construction.”

The ornately carved mantle that rises all the way to the crown molding is rumored to have been carved by Hessian prisoners. The Hessians were mercenary soldiers for the British captured after the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 who were marched from Boston to Charlottesville, arriving in January 1778. When word came that British General Charles Cornwallis was coming to rescue the prisoners they were divided and moved to other places.

“It seems unlikely that the Hessians were available to work on the mantle for several reasons. Carpentry was an art and not likely [practiced by] the type of person to become a mercenary,” Esposito wrote, adding the 60 miles to Amherst would take more than a day. “The excessive cost of bringing prisoners to the farm as they would require a guard, food and shelter; there was an ongoing war and the Revolutionaries had pledged themselves and their fortunes to the war effort.”

Cabell sold the plantation to Dr. John Powell in 1779, who intended to resell the property. Advertisements in the Virginia Gazette described it as “large and convenient dwelling house almost new, upon a pleasant and healthy situation, in an excellent neighborhood, and very necessary office house, garden, barns, etc. in very good repair; a valuable mill upon a never-failing stream, large apple and peach orchards, etc. The soil generally is good for tobacco, hemp, corn, and small grain, and the low grounds proper for meadows,” Esposito quoted.

The plantation was purchased by Colonel Samuel Meredith, who moved in with Winton’s most famous resident, his mother-in-law, Sarah Winston Syme Henry, mother to founding father Patrick Henry.

It is believed that Winton got its name from Sarah Henry, as a sort of corruption of her maiden name Winston, Esposito wrote.

Sarah Henry died in 1784, and Meredith is said to have stood at the foot of her grave and vowed to be buried there so her face would be the first he sees on Resurrection Day. Meredith is indeed buried at her feet but, Esposito notes, if both were buried with their heads to the west, Sarah Henry would be behind Meredith.

“... He would not see her face unless he was buried with his head to the east, something that was not a proper burial practice for the time and would be dishonorable. Jane Henry Meredith Garland, Sarah’s granddaughter, quoted her father as saying, ‘When I die, lay my body just here, so that for all time I may lie at the feet of the deeply venerated and beloved mother of my wife.’”

The Winton tract passed to David Shepherd Garland, husband to one of the Meredith daughters, then to his son-in-law William Macon Waller, before leaving the family in 1839 to John P. Samson, a veteran of the War of 1812.

Samson “was financially crippled and he used Winton as security for several loans secured by his sons,” Esposito wrote. “In 1849, he died at the house and there is a possibility he was buried in its cemetery. During the time Samson lived in the house, the Greek Revival style of architecture was in popular use, especially in the south.”

The house was sold in 1843 to Edwin Matthews, who served as mayor of Lynchburg in 1849. Matthews never lived at Winton but descendants of the Meredith line lived there during his ownership.

John W. Jennings bought the property as a wedding present for his daughter, Mary Susan Jennings and her husband Henry Silas Beasley in 1855, selling down the 1,362-acre plantation to 240 acres in the post- Civil War depression.

Beasley died in 1870, leaving Mary Susan and her three children at Winton. Mary may have remarried in about 1872 to Powatan Henson.

“Tradition has it that when Mrs. Henson also lived at Winton during the War between the States she was Mrs. Susie Jennings Beasley,” the application reads. “As the story goes, she heard of the approach of Yankee troops and so carefully hid the … treasured hams and silver under the smokehouse floorboards. Upon the arrival of the dreaded warriors, out ran one of the small Beasley boys who asked if they were looking for hams, which had just been hidden. On hearing their vigorous ascent, he led them to the smokehouse, which still stands in the side yard and hospitably showed them the hiding place and its treasures.”

Esposito wrote the story is plausible until one looks at the birthdays of Henson’s children.

“The incident was likely part of Hunter’s Raid in June 1864,” Esposito wrote. “The official records record a Union cavalry raid charged with disrupting supply lines to Lynchburg, such as destroying storehouses and rail lines at Amherst Courthouse. … In this incident, the troops likely rode up from off the stage road which passed the house and were searching for prisoners. A child, possibly a relative’s or a slave’s child likely was the one who led the men to the hams, not Mary Susan’s son, he was too young.”

Winton then was held by the Charles Beasley family from 1907 to 1929. Beasley was a merchant who opened the firm of C.H. Beasley and Brother, a wholesale grocer. He passed the home to his son, Charles Beasley, Jr. who farmed wheat and later livestock there in 1918.

Beasley remodeled and modernized the manor house.

The house then passed to U.S. Army Colonel James Dillard, who enlarged the farm to its current size by reacquiring some land sold by Jennings. He modernized the house by adding new heating and plumbing and added a dining room in the rear.

Victor Kelsey purchased the house in 1947. Kelsey was a chemist for the Carolina Railroad in Johnson City, Tennessee, during World War I. In the 1930s, he was employed by Dominion Minerals and transferred to its Piney River Plant in Nelson County.

In 1959, Leonard Alexander Snead bought the house. He encouraged the relationship between the house, its cemetery, and the Daughters of the American Revolution who began a Memorial Day ceremony to honor veterans of the Revolutionary War and Sarah Henry. The Winton cemetery has 23 known burials, 17 of which have stones.

“He was concerned about people and preservation, both historic and natural,” Esposito wrote.

In 1967, Winton passed out of private hands when Keene Brown purchased the property and deeded it to Amherst County to be run as a country club.

Three years later, Winton opened with a par 71 golf course designed by Ed Ault.

An addition to the manor house included a banquet hall and a commercial kitchen, and the garage was converted to a pool house and other outbuildings were converted to serve the country club.

The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

McCormack first learned of the Winton property in 2018. He spent the winter researching the possibilities and decided to delve into rehabilitating the property.

“Winton was really financially hurting when we took over,” McCormack said, noting his company closed on the property Feb. 19, 2019. “... It took about 10 months, but we turned that around. So it’s actually operating with a cash flow positive right now, which is great. And our goal is to really turn this thing around and make it not only a good business but a really important business for the county.”

Restoring the manor house is next on McCormack’s agenda, and he plans for the building to reopen in the spring.

“We’re looking to now really celebrate this place, celebrate its history, and showcase it because it’s such an iconic, important piece of history, but we think it can be a huge part of its future,” he said.

The Winton estate currently stands at about 296 acres, with a lake, a pool and a golf course, among other amenities. McCormack hopes to add walking and bike trails in the future.

Winton Manor is a white-sided house with black shutters resting on a stone foundation. It underwent a number of renovations over its lengthy history, but still features 11-foot ceilings, thick planked hardwood floors, ornate woodwork, dentil-style crown molding and ornately carved mantelpieces. The dining room doubles as a library with built-in shelves ladened with books along one wall.

Wallpapers feature flying birds and flowers on curved stems. McCormack said he plans to keep as much of the wall coverings as possible, and replace the rest with replicas. He also plans to restore the original flow of the home, removing added walls.

“A lot of this furniture transferred with the building, which I love,” McCormack said. “They will always stay with the place.”

McCormack noted the project is in the demolition phase and he is just beginning to make design plans, focusing on the future of Winton while honoring its past.

“With historic property, you start really thinking about what it means to own something, and ownership,” he said. “I think a lot of people misunderstand that and really, what we’re talking about is stewardship. … One day, I’ll be on that list of people who have owned this throughout its hundreds of years. It’s really important to do the upkeep and maintenance here and make it something interesting and amazing and then hand that off to the next generation of people.”

PHOTOS: Historic Winton manor about to embark on new chapter

The two-story white manor house sits back from Virginia 151, almost hiding among the ancient trees lining its long driveway. Winton now is part of a golf course and country club in the Amherst County community of Clifford.

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