This Old House Series: Lot 217, West Point VA (403 Main Street) Part 1

 

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If you missed the Introduction to the series which provides some background information, you can read it here.

Well, I have put this off long enough. The house standing on Lot 217 (403 Main Street) is arguably the oldest surviving structure in West Point, Virginia. I’ve known this for quite some time but as a researcher, I have not wanted to publish a “house history” because several mysteries remain. This home has been added on to and renovated multiple times, but the original foundation, like the stories of previous occupants, has survived. Today on a particularly hot day in our little town, I’ve decided we need to get this history house party started.

Normally I like to begin at the beginning—the first indisputable documented evidence of a particular structure or tract of land.  In this case, there are multiple stories to tell throughout many time periods so there is no time like the present to begin this journey.  The property however is described as “abandoned” by Dr. P.P. Duval in the Freedmen’s Bureau Report which confirms its existence in “good repair” after the Civil War.

403 Main (lot 217) is now a wonderful Bed and Breakfast owned and occupied by a delightful couple, Larkin Garbee and Erin Beebe. The home attracts visitors from around the country who are drawn to this innovative fusion of the old with the new. This historic home has been fully renovated with all of the modern conveniences and swag while maintaining many aspects of its historic architectural ancestry. It is truly a gem and it has been an absolute pleasure (albeit frustrating at times) unraveling its mysterious and complex past.

1998-2018

I have lived next door to this amazing house since 1998. When I bought the house next door, I immediately met the previous owners, Retta and Vaughn Novotney. I learned they had a few of the shutters from my house donated to them by the house flipper who sold it to me.  I also discovered there was no mail or food delivery and they had a great lighthearted laugh at my expense as I searched for the missing mailbox.  Like me, Retta and Vaughn were huge history buffs.  They had spent a lot of time researching their home and devoted their blood, sweat and tears into renovating it. They hit a brick wall however in terms of documentary evidence because of the King William County Clerk’s Office fire of 1885.  It became an inside joke that any mention of the “oldest house in West Point” would immediately invoke the fire of 1885 explanation.  More about that later . . .

In spite of those barriers, the Novotney’s were undeterred in their search for evidence.  Click here to read more about their early findings.

“The front two rooms on the main floor, the rooms above them and the English basement formed the original house. Over the years, three additions were made, the last one in 1885. Before they decided to buy the house, Vaughn brought friends who work for Colonial Williamsburg to look at the structure. He also took a brick from the house’s foundation for an expert to examine. Since purchasing the home, Vaughn and a friend using a metal detector have found ‘all sorts of old artifacts’ in the dirt floor in the basement. These included china shards and a wine bottle with the cork still in it. Vaughn, who is a history buff, has researched the town’s history and hoped to find out more about Retta. However, the Novotneys discovered that a fire destroyed all the town’s records prior to 1885. A small brass key, tied with a pink satin ribbon, is a special treasure for Loretta. Soon after moving in, Vaughn found a large pocket double door, hidden behind molding. The dainty little key was hidden away, still in its lock. Vaughn uncovered another treasure in the kitchen. Beneath linoleum flooring he discovered a wide slat, heart pine floor. Using a hand scraper, he patiently removed the black tar used to cover the original surface.”

Early Timeline

1940

The home was owned by Vernon Spencer Yow and Nell Yow. He also owned a local department store.

1920

The home was owned by Peter and Mettie Thrift.  Peter was a lumber dealer.

1910

The home was owned by Fannie Bagby, widow of Thomas P. Bagby.

1876

This is the year Thomas Pollard Bagby first arrives in West Point and describes his new home.

“The writer can never forget the first time he came to West Point to live. There were about three stores here, and about five hundred inhabitants, the houses were far apart and ill kept, and the streets, for such the people delighted to call them, were grown up with weeds except just in the middle of the street, where there was a roadway just wide enough for a cart or buggy to pass. The sidewalk in front of the house which he was to occupy was grown up with weeds about as high as his head, and there was no little trouble in getting to the house. He walked down first to the shore of the deep and rapid Pamunkey to the wharf to get some furniture that had come from Richmond by train the day before. There was then, in the way of terminal facilities, a small wharf about one hundred feet wide, and at the shore end of the dock there was a small warehouse where local freight was stored. The writer walked all over the wharf and could find no one. All was silent and deserted. The warehouse was locked, and subsequent inquiry revealed the fact that the one agent, as was his custom, had locked up soon after an early breakfast, when the labors of the day were over, and had gone hunting. Late in the evening the agent came, and then and there trouble arose in the shape of the need of a dray. Inquiry revealed the fact that nothing that could be called a dray was to be found, but an old man called George Massie, now gathered to his lathers, but once an institution in West Point, would, ‘for a consideration’ with just two bony horses and his two donkeys to a wood wagon haul up the things.  We went in search for this old man and found him driving one of his donkeys to a plow in a ‘tater patch,’ and soon difficulties were surmounted and the house furnished. Such was West Point in 1876. Today a very different tale can be told.”

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This series is meant to highlight answers to a few questions and encourage further dialog. If you are interested in having additional research for a particular property, family history, or court case, contact Theresa Sirles with REACH Consulting for a quote: (804) 843-3495, via e-mail at ttkdiscount@gmail.com or by text at (804) 310-0516.

Next up, part 2—lot 217 before the Civil War! I sincerely hope you enjoy this series and it inspires other local historians, especially young people, to actively research history. Rarely is a story finished; it’s simply on pause until the next discovery.

403MainREACH

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