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DESCRIPTIONDan's Hill of Danville, VirginiaCreated By Jacqueline A. Luzar, Garden Club of Virginia Rudy J. Favretti Fellow 2005
Created By Jacqueline A. Luzar for the Garden Club of Virginia
AcknowledgementsI wish to thank the entirety of the Garden Club of Virginia for the Favretti Fellowship opportunity. Each meeting with a Garden Club of Virginia member revealed a passionate and enthusiastic individual with a love of Virginia history and its land. The knowledgeable and attentive members of Rieley and Associates are the highest caliber of individuals one could ever have the honor to work with. I especially wish to thank Will Rieley and Roxanne Brouse for their time, thoughtfulness, and expertise. My appreciation goes out to the ladies of Danville, including Nan Freed, Carol Strange of Laurel Cliff, Lois Mengel, and Betty Updike, who acted as respectable, benevolent hostesses of their region. Without the photographs and blueprints from the files of Betty Updike, as well as the recollections of both she and Lois Mengel, much of the history of Dans Hill would have been lost. Thank you to the entire Thomson family for their hospitality and their eagerness to learn and maintain the historic element of Dans Hill. Overall, the kindness and generosity of everyone in Danville was immeasurable. I also wish to extend gratitude to Garden Club of Virginia fellow Penny Heavner, whose optimism and interest in Garden Club properties, including both Gay Mont and Dans Hill, brought us together.
Copyright 2005 by The Garden Club of Virginia. All Rights Reserved.
Reproduction: All material contained herein is the intellectual property of the Garden Club of Virginia except where noted. Permission for reproduction, except for personal use, must be obtained from: The Fellowship Committee, Chair The Garden Club of Virginia The Kent-Valentine House 12 East Franklin Street Richmond, VA 23219 www.gcvirginia.org2
ContentsIntroduction The Land of Dans Hill The Wilson Era Terraces Brick Construction The Gazebo Wilson Cemetery The Boatwright Era The Pool House and Pool Robert Bursons Designs Walkways and Path Alterations The Surrounding Landscape The Thomsons Resources Appendicies 4 5 6 11 13 14 17 19 26 29 33 35 39 40 41
IntroIn Pittsylvania County, Virginia on the northern banks of the Dan River, the Dans Hill property has experienced a rich history, with its occupants contributing to the economic, social, and overall vitality of the surrounding region. Dans Hill has seen two major eras. The first era is that of the Wilsons, who settled along the Dan River beginning in the eighteenth century, while the second began in the 1930s when the Boatwrights purchased the property. The property passed into the hands of the Thomson family in 2005 with the aspiration of caring for the land and its historic structures. In this document, information on the Wilson and Boatwright Eras is provided in a summary, followed by photos and descriptions of landscape details. Appendices follow that include a plants list, photos of the roses on the property, and a copy of the Historic American Building Surveys architectural drawings from 1933.
The Land of Dans HillGeologically, Dans Hill is located in the Central Virginia Volcanic PultonicBelt. The main residence and gardens are located between the two lakes setting north of the Dan River in the bottom portion of the image above. Exposed geology near the Wilson Cemetery is shown below. The soils on the property are characteristic with their high sand content.
Image by author, 2005
Detailed USGS Descriptions of Geology around Dans Hill:Ofgn: White to pink fine- to mediumgrained, lineated, muscovitequartz feldspar gneiss. Mafic minerals comprise only 3% to 4%. Contains enclaves or xenoliths of metavolcanic rocks.
United States Geological Survey. Danville and Vicinity.
Olgr: Greenish-grey to pinkish-grey, medium- to course-grained, nearly structureless to protomylonitic, muscovite grainitoid gneiss. Thick homogeneous sills and dikes intruded into metavolcanic and metasedimentary rocks.1
1Conley, James F. Geology of the Southwestern Virginia Piedmont. Charlottesville, Virginia: Virginia Division of Mineral Resources, 1985.
Wilson BeginningsThe Wilson legacy in the Danville area began in 1746, when Peter Wilson moved to Pittsylvania County from Pennsylvania.2 Peter Wilson, who was of Scotch-Irish descent, settled on lands along the Dan River and established Wilsons Ferry as a means to cross the waterway. Until 1817, no large scale commercial centers would be developed, causing economic focus to settle on plantations and ferrying points.3 Wilsons Ferry was one of the few ways across the Dan River in the region and was critical to many settling or passing through the area. Transportation of goods from Pittsylvania County and the surrounding region was costly due to the high expense of transport and poor navigable conditions of the Roanoke River. Production of tobacco and hogs developed into the concentration of settlers, with tobacco becoming the regions dominant crop.4 Peter Wilson and his descendents would become instrumental in the areas tobacco production legacy.
Peter Wilsons son, John Wilson, inherited his lands and established a home on elevated land south of the Dan River, naming it Dans Hill. Over time, through the opening of a store at Wilsons Ferry in 1771, investment in transportation for goods, and the production of tobacco John Wilson became one of the wealthiest men in the region.5 He held lands in both Pittsylvania and Halifax County upon which his family, workers, and many enslaved individuals were established. An active individual, John Wilson was a financier, colonel in the American Revolution and represented Pittsylvania in the House of Delegates at the Virginia Convention of 1788.6 During his lifetime, he would be sheriff, justice of the peace, Overseer of the Poor, part of the Virginia Non-Importation Association, and active in the Methodist church.7 Along with others in the region, he was interested in establishing a major center for the inspection, trade and distribution of tobacco. John Wilson developed into the leading planter entrepreneur of the area and as a result one of Danvilles major founding fathers. A portion of the land upon which the new town was established was John Wilsons. He and his wife, Mary Lumpkin, raised eleven children, most of who would go on to be equally as influential to the region. As adults, several children moved to lands given to them by their father and lived in structures constructed by skilled craftsmen, who were most likely Wilsons enslaved laborers.
2Siegel, Frederick F. The Roots of Southern Distinctiveness. Chapel Hill, North Carolina: The University of North Carolina Press, 1987. p. 28 3Siegel, Frederick F. p. 13 4Siegel, Frederick F. p. 14 5Siegel, Frederick F. p. 28 6Halifax Web WorX. Transcribed from Dan Shaw. South of the Dan Tour. Accessed at: Accessed on 5 June 2005. 7Siegel, Frederick F. p. 28
JOHN WILSONS CHILDRENJohn Wilson (d. 1820) and Mary Lumpkin (b. 1749 in Virginia, d. 4 January 1827)Peter Wilson ---married Ruth Stovall Hairston and lived at Berry Hill John William Nataniel---married Winnefred Tunstall (daughter of William Tunstall Jr. of Belle Grove) and lived at Belle Grade on the Dan River Clement George---married Elizabeth Brodnax and settled Laurel Cliff Robert---married Catherine Pannill (daughter of Samuel Pannill of Green Hill Campbell County) and received Dans Hill from his father Mary ---married Colonel John Clark Patsy ---married Alex Cunningham Nannie ---married Robert Brodnax Isabella (b. 1778, d. September 18, 1846) ---married James Anderson Glenn (b. 4 May 1765 in Glasgow, Scotland),
Signature of Robert Wilson from the will of John Wilson, located in Chatham.7
John Wilsons Will
The will of John Wilson and other property records may be accessed at the Pittsylvania County Court House in Chatham, Virgnia.8
Colonel John Wilsons seventh son, Robert Wilson, inherited Dans Hill in 1820
at the death of his father. Robert Wilson was a colonel in the War of 1812 and married Catharine Pannill of the Green Hill plantation in Campbell County, Virginia. Robert Wilson exhibited his influence in Danville through things such as support in 1837 for a turnpike that would connect the town of Fincastle to Danville and his encouragement for a branch bank, which was also backed by his brother Nathaniel.8 Robert Wilson continued the tobacco production legacy of his father on the property. His greatest contribution to Dans Hill, however, would be the construction of the grand terraces along with the plantation home and outbuildings.
The immense undertaking of the main home and terraces at Dans Hill would be
completed in 1833 after eight years of construction.9 The home was constructed predominantly in the Federal style. It has been suggested that James Dejarnett, an area master builder, designed the Dans Hill residence; however, the sites designer has not been confirmed.10 Native lumber from the property was used for the structure and bricks were created on the site. In 1923, an article was composed by Mrs. Rorer James in Historic Gardens of Virginia, which expressed details about the structures at Dans Hill from this period. At the time the article was published, Robert Wilson James was the fifth generation of Wilsons to own the property. Built elements constructed by Robert Wilson existing on the site at the time included: stables, carriage-house, in which the old four-horse coach was kept, the weaving-house, where expert weavers in former days made the homespun worn by the house servants and farm hands, a laundry room, dairy, smokehouse, icehouses, kitchen with huge fireplace in which a person could easily stand, and the several log cabins for servants quarters. The main residential structure