If this house could talk, what would it say?
Houses, like people, contain an unmistakable identity. Not only is the structure important, but also the items that survived a life lived. The worn places on floors, tables, books, mantels — tell a distinctive and sometimes secret story about the history of a place and by extension, the people who antiqued them. It’s no secret that today’s homes usually contain more items than their predecessors; with many historic sites in our region reflecting a simpler life on the outside, making it harder to read a home’s history.
The existence of documentation can change everything about the “life” a house can tell us.
Prominent historic homes usually contain a paper trail. The extent of this trail is dependent on the family, social standing, monetary value and so on. As a historian, more times than not, I am left with insufficient information and even more questions.
When it come to the Edwards-Franklin house, we got pretty lucky.
Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, the Edwards-Franklin house has seen years of Surry County’s changes. The house was built in 1799 by Gideon Edwards.
Other notable buildings from this time are the Grant-Burrus hotel, built in 1796 in Rockford, and the Bartholomew Hodges house built in 1805 in Dobson.
Edwards, a local planter and state senator, built his home in the Georgian style. Georgian styled homes are usually known for their symmetry and proportion sometimes labeled revived renaissance architecture. Its parallel chimneys further identify its style. The home consists of two stories with a fieldstone foundation.
A long-forgotten breezeway, which once connected the home to a wood/log kitchen with a dirt floor, no longer stands in the remainder of the home.
The plantation included at one time 2,330 acres, a separate wood kitchen, spring house, ash house, spinning and smoke house, dry house, wash house, stables, loom barn, two cemetery areas and more. One map drawn in 1976 from memory, suggested that the estate included a large vegetable garden, beehives, oak trees, and multiple plots of apple trees. The old Haystack road was moved closer to the main house, eliminating many of the original buildings.
Many different people passed through this historic home as well; first the Gideon Edwards family, with daughter Mildred marrying Meshack Franklin; the two namesakes. In addition to sisters, brothers, children, and grandchildren the plantation was home to 60 slaves who worked the tobacco fields and ran the house, kitchen, and many other ventures.
For the Edwards-Franklin family and the enslaved, the records of the Franklin estate upon Meshack Franklin’s death in 1839 illustrated the life lived, here are a few. What kind of life do you, the reader, think the Edwards-Franklin family lived?
Books: Rolins’ Ancient History (8 volumes), Nicolson’s Philosophy, Homer’s Iliad, Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia, and a personal favorite, Lady of the Lake. The estate had over 60 books in total.
Equipment: Four dagon plows, a harrow, augers, one old wagon, set of blacksmith tools, bush scythe, and more.
Animals: Seven head of horses, 40 head of hogs, sheep, cattle, and more.
Upon his death many of the items were sold, while some were passed down to children and grandchildren. These items listed above are not a complete inventory of estate items, but are merely a sample that, I feel, reflect the life of the house and everyone in it. By studying these items any observer might guess that the property was ran as a farm and that someone in the home was well read.
The Edwards-Franklin home was occupied until 1969 when Elsie McCann, daughter of Laura and James Blevins (a family descendant) moved in with her son. The site was vacant for four years when the Surry County Historical Society purchased the property. During a normal summer, the site is opened occasionally for visitors, and plays host to the Surry Sonker festival in October. For more information, visit https://www.surryhistoricalsociety.org/
I encourage readers to look around their homes. What does your house say about you? What do you say about your house? What history is right under our noses?!
Figure 1: Photo of the Edwards-Franklin House prior to renovation by the Surry County Historical Society. Photo taken in 1973 by Francis Andrews.
Figure 2: A map made from memory of proposed buildings on the Edwards-Franklin Estate
Figure 3: Jamming on the porch of the Edwards-Franklin house.
Emily Morgan is an associate at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. Emily works seasonally as a Park Ranger on the Blue Ridge Parkway. She and her family live in Westfield. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 336-786-4478 x223