Halifax County is rich in historic homes. In accordance with the Society Mission Statement to preserve historical information for dissemination to the public, the Society may assist homeowners through the arduous process of documenting and helping to obtain the national recognition deserved of these homes.
Currently there are thirty-six county properties that have been listed on either or both the Virginia Historic Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places as well as five groups of homes and public buildings designated as “Historic Districts” in Virginia.
For additional information on the houses, please see An Architectural History of Halifax County, Virginia, published by the Halifax County Historical Society.
One of the designated properties will be featured periodically and will include detailed descriptions and photographs of the exterior and interior, if available.
Washington Avenue, South Boston, VA
(Special thanks to Dan Pezzoni, Architectural Historian,
Landmark Preservation Associates, for information in this article as well as
to Sallie Anne Vaughan Powell for additional family history.)
The Vaughan House, a two-story Italianate frame residence located on Washington Avenue in the South Boston Historic District, has recently been named to the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register designation was bestowed by the National Park Service, a division of the U. S. Department of the Interior, which recognized the historic character and integrity of the property.
The Vaughan House, built in 1888, was listed as a Virginia Historic Landmark in 2018. Its design, workmanship, and materials are central to the property’s significance for inclusion in both the state and national historic listings. The home, owned by Dr. Mark and Deborah Morris, brings the number of state and national listings of historically significant properties in Halifax County to thirty-six.
The house was built for Edgar Hopson (E. H.) Vaughan who served several terms as Clerk of Court in Halifax County, beginning in 1879. Vaughan purchased the lot from Alexander and Mary Bruce (daughter of James Coles Bruce and Eliza Wilkins Bruce of Berry Hill). The residence remained in the Vaughan family until 1998 when it was purchased by Dr. and Mrs. Morris.
The National Register of Historic Places’ nomination describes the dwelling’s façade as having “richly ornamented, character-defining features of the Italianate style.” It notes its elaborate cornice supported by heavy decorative brackets interspersed with sawn-work designs on the frieze and unique, fan-like cutouts ornamenting the top of the corner boards. The nomination also defines as “outstanding,” the small pedimented gable over the two-story projecting bay in the front of the house, which features a delicate scroll-sawn arch with a pointed and turned center pendant.
Decorative details of the second-story double windows are also documented in the nomination. The center double window is topped with a double arch. The double window on left has a shallow bracketed hood with sawn-work scallops, and the double window on the right has an elaborate hood supported by brackets with a fringe of short, incised pickets.
The nomination describes the primary entrance as “heavily enriched” with its double doors surmounted by an eight-light transom with a bracketed hood. The porch, covering two-thirds of the front, has chamfered posts, brackets with supports featuring ivy-vine designs, and unusual foliated cutouts resembling butterflies that support the frieze and cornice. The bay window to the right of the porch is also embellished with sawn-work designs, arches and incised brackets.
The interior also demonstrates characteristics of the Italianate style. Its baseboards, door surrounds, wainscot and formal entrance hall exemplify the quality of workmanship and materials indicative of the 1880s through 1920s period, when well-to-do homeowners demanded “beyond the usual” architectural elements, such as ornate ceiling medallions, elaborate mantels, and pocket doors to separate parlors and dining areas. Particularly impressive are the tiled surrounds of fireplaces on the first floor. The second floor retains original mantels in three of its four principal rooms.
Fireplace tiles were probably supplied by Halifax brick manufacturer Howard Welton Cosby. Cosby, the grandson of builder Dabney Cosby Sr. of University of Virginia fame, operated a brick kiln near Halifax and is credited with the construction of many area houses including his own residence, Ellerslie, built in 1888.
Cosby was apparently a distributor of decorative tiles manufactured elsewhere. Ellerslie’s fireplaces feature a dazzling array of tiles, and the house may have served as a sort of showroom for Cosby’s business. One hearth in the Vaughan has pinwheel-pattern tiles that are an exact match to the pinwheel-pattern tiles in the dining room fireplace hearth in Ellerslie, although the Ellerslie tiles have a brown glaze and the Vaughan House tiles have a yellow, pink, and white glaze. An exact match for the cartouche tiles in the northwest downstairs room of the Vaughan House appears in the 1900 catalog of the American Encaustic Tiling Company (AETCO) of Zanesville, Ohio. AETCO advertised itself as the largest tile manufacturer in the world in 1892.
Located behind the house and dating to the same period, is a small brick building which may have served as a smokehouse. Several outbuildings original to the house have been lost. These include a carriage house, privy, garage and tool shed.
A Craftsman-style porch with brick pillars was added to the front in the early twentieth century, but was replaced by former owners who provided family photographs of the house to help carpenters replicate the original porch.
(Read about the Vaughan family in the article following the photos.)
The first-floor bay window, shown above, has bracket-like ornaments atop each round-arched window. Key-blocks with applied ornaments meet at the centers of the arches and rectangular sawn-work ornaments are found on the cornice between the incised brackets. Above the bay is a double window, crowned with a projecting hood supported by brackets and embellished with a fringe of pointed, tooth-like slats.
About the Vaughan Family
The land on which the Vaughan House was built, was purchased in 1882 by E. H. Vaughan and his first wife, Almira Traver, with whom he had six children. The lot was part of a large piece of property owned by Alexander and Mary Bruce (daughter of James Coles and Eliza Wilkins Bruce of Berry Hill).
Almira was the daughter of contractor James Traver, formerly of New York and Connecticut, who moved to the area in the 1850s to built South Boston’s covered bridge over the Dan River. He is also credited with building Spring Hill Presbyterian Church in Cluster Springs and several homes in South Boston.
Given that James Traver had built several houses and since he was Vaughan’s father-in-law and grandfather to Vaughan’s and Almira’s six children, it is likely that Traver built the Vaughan House, although construction was completed after Almira’s death in 1885.
In August 1890, Vaughan married Ida Rogers, the daughter of William Rogers, who was county court clerk before Vaughan. Vaughan and Ida had two children before his death in a hunting accident on September 22, 1893. Ida Vaughan, her children, and stepchildren continued to live in the house after her husband’s death.
In 1897, Ida married her late husband’s younger brother, Aaron Haskins (A. H.) Vaughan. Their son, Aaron Hugh Vaughan, toured the nation as bandmaster of Vaughan’s Virginians, a 1920’s dance band, before returning to South Boston. He married and continued his musical career as organist for Trinity Episcopal Church and was an organizer of the Community Concert Series.
Another son, Page Haskins Vaughan, worked in the insurance business and at his death was manager of the Richmond office of the New Amsterdam Life Insurance Company. He was the first president of the National Tobacco Festival, held in Halifax County in the late 1930s through the early 1940s and starred as Sir Walter Raleigh in publicity photos for the festival. He was also a commander of the South Boston National Guard and was instrumental in having an armory constructed. The Vaughan Armory, still in use today, was named for him.
A. H. Vaughan died in 1914 while serving as South Boston’s mayor. An obituary noted that he was “twice president of the First National Bank, president of the Bannister Brick Company, director of the local building and loan association, and one of the proprietors of the Vaughan Meat and Coal Company.” Another obituary noted that he was also president of the Vaughan Undertaking Company.
Ida took over the administration of the family businesses and was known in South Boston as an excellent business woman. She was a staunch advocate of public education and opened the town’s first public library located in a room above the Planter and Merchant Bank. Determined to keep the library open, Mrs. Vaughan would move into any space that was provided rent free. The moves ended in 1935 when the Carrington Memorial Library was built on Yancey Street in South Boston.
Ida Rogers Vaughan died at age 94 in the late 1950s. The Vaughan House was left to her son, Aaron Hugh Vaughan and her daughter-in-law Mary Booth Vaughan, Page’s widow. Hugh’s family lived downstairs and Mary’s family lived upstairs. The sleeping porch upstairs was converted to a kitchen for Mary. Aaron Hugh Vaughan died in 1964, and in 1966, his daughter Sallie Anne Vaughan Powell and husband, William Carrington Powell, acquired the half-interest from Mary Vaughan’s heirs. The Powell’s returned the house to a single-family residence. Deborah and Mark Morris acquired the house in 1998.