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Picturesque Forest Hill is a centuries-old piece of Amherst County history

Picturesque Forest Hill is a centuries-old piece of Amherst County history

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Behind the white clapboard-sided farmhouse rests the “Sleeping Giant,” and rolling farmland sprawls out before it.

The nickname for the groups of mountains that begins with Mount Pleasant in Amherst County, forms the picturesque backdrop to a centuries-old estate, though the exact age of the central part of Claudia and Bill Tucker’s home isn’t entirely known.

Amherst County’s geographic information system indicates the house was constructed in 1780; Claudia suspects it was built in 1795 but what the Tuckers know based on surviving paperwork is that a house already stood on the property in 1803.

The land on Indian Creek Road is the Tucker family’s award-winning cattle farm. The house sits on a knoll of about 220 acres, but all told the family holdings are close to 1,000 acres.

In 2000, the farm was named Outstanding Commercial Producer of the Year by the Virginia Cooperative Association, and it was among the first recipients of the Chesapeake Clean Water Farm award. The house and various outbuildings are listed on the Virginia and National historic registers.

“I firmly believe that when you have a home like this, you have a responsibility: one, to maintain it, two, share its history … ,” said Claudia, an Amherst County supervisor.

Bill was born and raised in that farmhouse and for him it’s not just about holding on to family history but preserving the “historical significance of how this piece fits into the history of Amherst and the early settlement of the county.”

Bill noted historical supposition suggests the property, which was the center of a huge land grant forming Amherst and Nelson counties, may have been a camping site where the surveyors stayed.

“It’s interesting in terms of just how old the property is, separate and distinct from the house itself,” Bill said.

The farmhouse evolved over generations. The first version of the house, the one that was standing in 1803, consisted of just an entry hall and parlor on the first floor, and a bedroom and nursery on the second.

On that historic facade, one can see the line between the original home and the first of several additions. Three more additions built out the back of the house. The Tuckers later added a pool and pool house, which serves Claudia’s office. Bill’s office is in the ancient smokehouse, which dates to about 1750.

The land is part of the original patent of 24,000 acres given to the Rev. Robert Rose, who passed the land to his sons. Charles Rose sold his part of the land in 1802 to Henry and James Woods. The brothers then sold it to William Galt in 1803. Galt sold the land to William Macon Waller in 1816.

While the house’s documented history begins in 1803, the nearby smokehouse dates to 1750, its age given away by the wedged construction of the logs that lock them into place without the use of nails. That style was used for just a decade — quite sturdy if things stay square but otherwise prone to collapse.

Waller served as a justice of the peace between 1818 and 1825 and as a delegate to the Virginia House of Delegates for two terms. In 1845, he was appointed county sheriff and was responsible for collecting taxes.

Waller established his home with his first wife, Elizabeth Mutter, and the couple had three daughters. He remarried in 1824 to Sarah Armistead Garland and the couple had nine children.

Waller died in 1849 and was buried on the farm, leaving the house and about 45 slaves to his wife, Sarah, who died about six years later.

It was the Waller family who gave the simple farmhouse its name and its first two additions.

“When you’re on the crest of the hill, which would be the first view of this estate coming from the old road, the first time you look at it, the trees frame the house from the hillside like a wreath,” Bill said.

“I appreciate the fact that even back then, people worked with natural landscape to create imagery, an orientation, to achieve some things that nowadays we do with technology and equipment. And that’s, I think, cool about this property.”

Waller constructed the west wing sometime before 1825 to accommodate his large family. In 1900, though, a fire destroyed the two-story, six-room addition. The remnants were used to reconstruct a smaller version of that addition — two rooms instead of six, built sometime before 1921.

The Waller family also added the first of three additions to the back of the house, the ground floor of which currently houses the couple’s dining room and the second floor of which contains another bedroom.

The Waller family retained the farm until 1921, when it was sold at public auction to J. Lipscomb Wood, who kept it until his death in 1948. That 1921 deed notes half an acre was reserved for a family cemetery, the location of which is unknown.

Under Wood’s tenure, the house became the only one in the area with electricity, supplied by Delco batteries and a generator.

Thomas Tucker, Bill’s father, purchased the remaining 220 acres in 1956 from Wood’s estate and added it to his family’s holdings.

In 1956, the Tucker family added a small kitchen on the back of the house, though that was replaced with a large kitchen addition in 2005 and the old kitchen now serves as a den.

Thomas Tucker created a peach orchard out of the terraced land but it was destroyed by the remnants of Hurricane Camille in 1969.

Bill Tucker took over the estate in 1999.

Both Bill and Claudia have been married once before, and between them they have three children.

The couple married 24 years ago after what Claudia calls a “whirlwind romance.” They held their reception on the property, in what since has been dubbed the wedding field. A painting of that place hangs in the kitchen.

The house stood vacant for years before Bill moved in, and Claudia said her husband did some basic repairs and upgrades. Claudia had fixed up old homes before the couple married and she couldn’t wait to get to work on Forest Hill.

“The money that we spent that you can’t see, like in the foundation and things like that, people could build a small home for,” Claudia said. “...We’re always updating something or repairing something, but everything we do we’re looking to the next generation. What can we do that makes their ability to maintain this and care for this and enjoy it like we have easier.”

Claudia recalled at one point there was a 17-inch drop in the dining room floor from settlement issues.

“We literally had to put shims under furniture to make it look OK,” she said. “At one time the wing over there was literally sitting up in the air. We thought, ‘Oh my gosh, if a strong wind blows, this whole thing is going down.’ But anyway, we built it all back up.”

After the couple’s finances recovered from that effort, they built another bathroom and updated an existing one. The house was rewired and fireplaces were repaired.

“We’ve spent a lot of time landscaping, not just things that make it pretty but things that keep water draining away,” Claudia said. “So underneath everything you see is this multitude of pipes. Everything is to take water away from this house because the worst thing for wood in the house that’s 200-some-odd-years old is water.”

The Tuckers have spent thousands to restore the ancient windows with their wavy glass panes. One of the windows has initials etched into the glass. Whose initials?

“It was nothing we could ever make sense of, knowing all the people who lived here,” Claudia said.

In the near future, the couple will restore the walls in the parlor, and then “we’re going to call it a day,” Claudia said.

As Bill and Claudia work to restore and maintain the house, they also have been highlighting its history. For instance, on the shelf above the stove in the modern kitchen is the well-worn doorknob from Bill’s childhood. A built-in cabinet and farm table feature recycled flooring from the house.

Claudia noted the mantle around the fireplace in the dining room shows burn marks from a fire that once got out of control. The couple used bricks from other places on the farm to rebuild the firebox that was collapsing.

The dining room leads into the hall of the original house, with the turned staircase to the second floor rising along one wall. Its banister is made of one piece of wood as it curls up both turns of the staircase, though it now has a cut needed to move furniture.

“Did the person prior to Mr. Waller, who built the original one-over-one with the side hall [house], did he find this curved limb that he liked and then built the house around it? Or did he build the house and walked in the woods until he found the curved wood?” Bill said. “Either way, it’s pretty phenomenal. And if you actually measure and look closely, each one of these [balusters] is a little bit different height to get it to work out with the steps and the slope of the layout.”

Back in the time the original house was constructed, pine was extremely brittle and difficult to work with given the tools they had, Bill said.

“Now, of course, pine today is one of the cheapest forms of wood flooring,” Bill said, before gesturing to the entryway floor. “Chestnut, which was very common, it’s very rare today. I don’t even know what that floor would be worth.”

Bill noted the chestnut likely was cut from right there on the farm. To display one’s wealth, it was common to use pine flooring at the front door, before converting to chestnut.

“A rug covered everything else, because that was your old chestnut that you were ashamed of,” Bill said. “Now, 200 years later, the world’s upside down. [Pine] is the cheapest flooring material and you can’t buy [chestnut] with any amount of money.”

The original parlor is the most elaborately decorated of the rooms.

“Even though 20th-century alterations have been carried out, the room retains most of its Federal-style detailing,” the application for inclusion on the national historic register reads. “The mantelpiece is centered on the east wall and displays fluted colonettes that flank the firebox. A reeded console above each colonette supports the mantel shelf. The frieze below the shelf has a reeded central panel with rectangular faux grained panels on each side.”

The trim above the door and the wainscoting surrounding the space is equally ornate, but muted from its original look when the ceiling was dropped 14 inches in the 1970s and sheet rock was laced on top of the plaster.

Decommissioned fireplace mantles in one wing have been drafted to serve as headboards for the beds in each room, creating a unique melding of home and contents.

The couple spends much of their time on the porch and sometimes eats dinner looking out over the picturesque landscape. The porch ceiling is painted a particular shade of sky blue, often referred to as haint blue. The color is thought to draw mosquitoes — and ghosts — up and away.

“This house is meant to be lived in,” she said. “It’s such a warm, comfortable, loving house — it is meant to be lived in.”

What the future holds for this centuries-old home, including whether the couple’s children will want to take over its care, is unknown. Claudia and Bill know one thing, though: “This will always be home, whether or not anybody ever lives here,” Claudia said.

“My goal is to do everything I can to have it ready for that next generation, and then to be able to provide for the upkeep and maintenance of this house, which is not cheap, so that’s not a burden. ... I want it to be loved and enjoyed.”

PHOTOS: Picturesque Forest Hill is a century’s old piece of Amherst County history

Behind the white clapboard-sided farmhouse rests the “Sleeping Giant,” and rolling farmland sprawls out before it.

The nickname for the groups of mountains that begins with Mount Pleasant in Amherst County, from the picturesque backdrop to a centuries old estate, though the exact age of the central part of Claudia and Bill Tucker’s home isn’t entirely known.

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