Greek Revival Plantation House in NC prior to Restoration

Longwood Plantation, Milton North Carolina
Date added: April 01, 2024 Categories:
Northwest side (1975)

Longwood, an antebellum plantation house built in three stages, with several contemporary outbuildings, is one of Caswell County's most architecturally interesting farm complexes. Though the earliest stage is obscured, the two latter stages are distinct and unaltered examples of the Federal and Greek Revival styles. The south block exhibits finely crafted, beautifully proportioned early nineteenth-century interiors of moderate decorative pretension. The mid-nineteenth century north wing represents one of the most complete survivals of Greek Revival woodwork in the idiom attributed to Thomas Day, a prominent free black North Carolina cabinetmaker. Romulus Saunders, a Caswell County native who became one of the state's most influential nineteenth-century politicians, serving as United States Congressman, judge, and minister to Spain from 1846-1850, is believed to have lived at Longwood early in his career.

On March 3rd, 1779, Richard Caswell, governor of North Carolina, granted to Thomas Donoho a tract of 640 acres in Caswell County, "on the Waters of Dan River" and bounded on the south by the lands of James Sanders. During the Revolution, Thomas Donoho was a major in the North Carolina Continental Line, and his neighbor, James Sanders, was one of the most conspicuous public figures in Caswell County in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Sanders was a colonel in the state militia and one of the five commissioners to lay out the town of Milton in Caswell County in 1796. Milton was but a short distance from Sanders's plantation.

James Sanders died, childless, in 1825 and left a large estate in land, slaves, and personal property, to several nieces and nephews. One of his heirs, Romulus Mitchell Sanders (he later spelled it Saunders), a son of his deceased brother William who had previously lived in Caswell County but had removed to bounty lands in Tennessee, inherited a large share of his land. The estate papers of Colonel Sanders state that his nephew, Romulus, received 875 acres on Dan River "commonly called the lower tract."

The location of Longwood is so close to the dividing line between the James Sanders and Thomas Donoho tracts, that without an actual survey, it is almost impossible to determine who may have built the older sections of the house. Judging from strong local tradition not denied by deed transfers (which give few if any landmarks), Colonel James Sanders could be credited with building the oldest sections. Beyond the fact that Colonel Sanders owned large tracts of land in that immediate area, little is certain. The Caswell County court minutes for July Court, 1824, state that one John M. Glenn was appointed overseer of the road from the fork of the road near Archimedes Donoho's plantation (he was a son and heir of Major Thomas Donoho) to Dan River below the town of Milton, and that others living on that road were: James Sanders "at his lower quarter," Jesse Owen, R. M. Sanders, William Sawyer, and others.

Given the fact that James Sanders did own land on this road, which he deeded to his nephew, Romulus, and the fact that strong tradition says that Romulus M. Saunders did live at what is today referred to as Longwood, which is on this road to Milton near, or on, the "lower quarter," this court record appears to place R. M. Saunders in residence on this land, which he inherited from his uncle in 1825. If Romulus Saunders owned a tract on this road in 1824 the deeds are not apparent.

Romulus Mitchell Saunders was born in 1791, in Caswell County, North Carolina, the son of William and Hannah Mitchell Sanders. He received his early education at the Hyco and Caswell academies, attended the University of North Carolina from 1809-1811, studied law under Justice Hugh Lawson White of the Tennessee Supreme Court, and was admitted to the Tennessee bar in 1812.

On December 22nd, 1812, Saunders married and settled in Caswell County, where he began to practice law, and soon entered politics, representing Caswell in the state House of Commons in 1815, and in the state Senate in 1816. He was speaker of the House in 1819 and 1820, the year he was elected to Congress. He remained in Congress for three terms and was strongly Democratic. In 1828 he became attorney general of North Carolina and remained in that post until 1833. It was before serving in this office that he moved to Raleigh, where he made his official home for the rest of his life. In 1835 he was elected judge of the Superior Court and remained in that position until 1840, when he was an unsuccessful candidate for governor. After his gubernatorial defeat, he returned to Congress in 1840 but was unsuccessful for a Senate seat in 1842.

After playing a vital role in the election of James Knox Polk to the Presidency, he received Polk's appointment as minister to Spain from 1846-1850. In 1850 he returned to Raleigh and was active in state house politics. In 1852 he was elevated to the Superior Court bench and held the post until he retired in 1865. Saunders died at Elmwood, his Raleigh estate, on April 21st, 1867.

Strong local tradition maintains that in 1824 Romulus Saunders traded his plantation house (Longwood) with Dr. John T. Garland, who lived at that time in the town of Milton at a house now called Fairview. The reason given for the trade was that Saunders was planning to entertain William H. Crawford of Georgia (who was at that time a candidate for President of the United States) and Saunders needed a larger house. What makes this situation more interesting, though certainly more confusing, is that Romulus Saunders, after returning to Caswell County in 1812 and marrying Rebecca Peine Carter, purchased the house, called Fairview, and lived there until October 1st, 1822, when he deeded it to John T. Garland of Halifax County, Virginia. The deed specified that the dwelling was "on the corner of High and Water streets in the town of Milton," and the purchase price. was $4,000. It went on to describe the property as being "the lot and tenement purchased at the sale of W. Williams on which said Sanders latterly lived." It is at this juncture that R. M. Saunders is said to have removed to Longwood, which at that time may have belonged to his uncle, James Sanders. On October 28th, 1824, Dr. John T. Garland deeded to Saunders "the House and lot in the Town of Milton on which the said Garland now resides with one acre of land adjoining the same which said Saunders heretofore conveyed to him the said Garland. The vague deed states that Saunders deeded land to Garland in return for his former house, Fairview. This deed, coupled with the fact that Crawford did visit Milton on his Presidential campaign tour, supports the tradition that there was a switch between Saunders and Garland for the stated purpose. On December 6th, 1826, Saunders again sold Fairview to Garland, as well as another tract in the county which is described briefly as "adjoining the lands of Mrs. Phoebe Bolton the late Coll James Saunders, the land of James Chalmers & which was conveyed to said Saunders by James Rainey." (Rainey was also executor for Colonel James Sanders" estate.)

It appears that Romulus M. Saunders was selling out his land holdings in Caswell County, and it may be at this point in his life that he removed to Raleigh. Saunders did not live at Longwood for more than two years. His major residence in Caswell County was Fairview, in Milton.

Dr. John T. Garland made his will on July 16th, 1873, and left to his wife Christian I. Garland "my lots and houses in Milton and my home plantation near Milton of 930 acres of land. . .." It was to belong to Mrs. Garland for her lifetime and then to their daughter, Isabella, who had married Thomas A. Donoho, a son of Archimedes Donoho and grandson of Major Thomas Donoho, and then to their children. Judging from stylistic evidence at Longwood it appears that Dr. Garland built the Greek Revival section of the house, about 1850. Dr. Garland's granddaughters stated before their deaths in the 1940s that their grandfather lived at Longwood, as did their father, Thomas A. Donoho. The Longwood property eventually passed to the grandchildren of Dr. Garland, and was purchased from all the heirs by Grace Donoho Tucker, a granddaughter. Mrs. Tucker died in the 1940s and the property was sold to Marcus Winstead and then to Mrs. Janie Barker who sold it in November, 1974, to Miss Maud F. Gatewood and Dr. H. Bee Gatling, who restored Longwood.

Building Description

The plantation known as Longwood, sited on a hill above N.C. 62 southwest of the village of Milton, includes a two-story frame L-shaped house, a frame kitchen, a log corn crib, a log tenant house, and a log tobacco barn. The large house is an amalgam of three eras of construction: early, Federal, and Greek Revival. A path of ancient cedar trees leads to the main entrance of the south block, a Federal-style house four bays wide and one deep. A path lined with large boxwoods leads to the main entrance of the north wing, a Greek Revival addition two bays wide and one deep. The west side first-story room, whose frame is independent of the frame of the east side of this section, apparently predates the east section and was the original house. The framework, including exposed, beaded ceiling joists, and the fieldstone foundation are the only visible remnants of this earliest stage, which was almost completely overbuilt during the Greek Revival stage.

The Federal house consists of a two-story block four bays wide and one deep, which incorporates the original structure and evidently a later second-floor west room above it. This section also rests on a fieldstone foundation. The entrance on the main (south) facade, the rear entrance, and most of the sash reflect the original appearance of the Federal structure. The main entrance consists of a door with six raised panels set within a handsome surround of flanking reeded Doric pilasters supporting a simple entablature with end blocks. The rear door is identical but has a beaded surround. The windows at both levels contain nine-over-nine sash and have wide beaded surrounds and louvered shutters.

The remaining visible exterior fabric dates from the third development period, the Greek Revival stage. Beneath the north wing is a brick foundation with scored stucco covering the entire foundation. The west end has an exterior end single-stepped shoulder brick chimney laid in one-to-five bond; the east and north ends have interior end brick chimneys. Beaded lapped siding covers most of the south block, with plain lapped siding on the remaining wall surfaces. Boxed eaves, with a cornice and eave molding, continue around both the two earliest stages and the Greek Revival sections, with wide eave returns on the west gable end. A low roof, hipped on the north end and gabled on the west end, covered with wooden shingles, caps the structure. The western bay of the south block, which was raised to two stories during the Greek Revival remodeling, and the Greek Revival section have Greek Revival sash, some six-over-six, and some twelve-over-twelve, with molded surrounds and louvered shutters. One Federal-style sash occurs in the rear west bay of the south block, in the second story, evidently reused from elsewhere. The main entrance to the Greek Revival section, in the center bay of the east elevation, features a double door, each leaf with two vertical flat panels, with irregularly paned sidelights and transom set within a fluted surround with roundel corner blocks flanking the door and plain corner blocks flanking the transom. Opposite the main entrance on the west elevation of the north wing is an identical double door with flanking fluted pilasters.

Pedimented Doric porches of identical form but slightly different sizes shelter the main Federal and Greek Revival entrances. Each porch is one bay wide, with paired tapering Doric columns, each column a solid wooden shaft, supporting an entablature and pediment with a flush-sheathed tympanum. The porch eaves match those of the main block. The wall areas beneath these porches are covered with wide flush sheathing, and Doric pilasters echo the columns. Across the rear elevation of the main block and north wing stretches a shed porch with an enclosed room at each end which appears to be contemporary with the porch. The porch is Greek Revival in style, with solid tapering Doric posts supporting the wood-shingled roof, whose boxed eave is similar to the main eaves. A portion of the original shaped porch railing remains. The small porch rooms are finished on the interior with wide flush sheathing and with some beaded and some plain lapped siding on the exterior. At the north end of the north wing is a gabled basement bulkhead, covered with plain lapped siding, with a double batten door; within, a brick stair descends to a one-room cellar with field stone walls and a dirt floor.

The interior like the exterior reflects several stages of development. The west bay was remodeled on the interior as well as the exterior during the Greek Revival alterations, but the interior of the Federal section is almost unaltered.

The Federal section contains a hall and east side room at each level. The walls and ceilings are plastered; beaded baseboards are consistent throughout. The lower and upper hall and the upper east room have molded chair rails. The first-floor openings have two-part molded surrounds; the second floor, one-part molded surrounds. All of the interior doors in the Federal section have six flat panels, most are hung on rising butt hinges, and some have artificial graining and simulated raised panels. The lower east room mantel, an elaborate three-part Federal design, consists of flanking paneled and reeded pilasters supporting a frieze with a center tablet and corner blocks with sunburst ornament, a diamond-patterned lower frieze molding, and a molded cornice and shelf. The upper east room mantel is a simpler Federal design. The upper west room mantel, a Federal-style mantel with a center tablet adorned with a diamond motif was probably reused from the lower west room during the Greek Revival remodeling. The hall contains an open-string stair which rises from the rear against the west wall in a single flight, with winders.

A slender railing with a square newel with a molded cap, shaped rail, and rectangular balusters encloses the stairwell. The stair spandrel is flush-sheathed, and beneath the stair is a closet, reached by a small door. At the rear of the upper hall is a small room.

Except for the beaded ceiling joists of the lower west room and the Federal mantel in the upper west room, the west side room at each level has Greek Revival style trim which matches that of the north wing. The lower west room mantel, Greek Revival in style, has Doric pilasters.

The Greek Revival north wing is reached through doors cut in the north wall of the east side rooms; it contains a wide hall and a single large room on the first floor and a smaller hall with one large and two small rooms on the second floor. Symmetrically molded baseboards and plastered walls and ceilings occur in this section at both levels. The doors have two vertical flat panels.

The spacious north room is finished elegantly. The handsome mantel has Ionic colonnettes undercut to create the illusion of freestanding columns, in the manner of the group of mantels attributed to Thomas Day, the master cabinetmaker of Milton during the Greek Revival era. Elliptically arched niches flank the mantel. The arches have paneled soffits and symmetrically molded archivolts with molded keystones, and the inner surfaces of the niches are plastered. The wide, fluted window surrounds, with roundel corner blocks, extend to the baseboard, flanking a flat-paneled apron.

A wide stair rises in two flights with a landing from the lower to the upper hall of this wing. The open string is accented with curvilinear brackets, and the balustrade consists of a turned newel in the lower hall, simpler tapering posts at the landing and upper hall, rectangular balusters, and a ramped, shaped railing. Beneath the stair is a closet. Both the front and rear entrances in the hall have interior treatment identical to that of the exterior. The other lower hall openings have wide fluted surrounds with plain corner blocks. The upper hall and the upper north room have wide molded surrounds; the remaining openings at this level have wide beaded surrounds. The upper north room is finished in a manner similar to but simpler than the lower north room, with a mantel with Doric pilasters and aproned windows. The dilapidated gabled, one-room kitchen, located directly behind the house, has a mortise and tenon frame and vertical siding. The chimney has been removed. The log corn crib, tobacco barn, and tenant house, set far behind the house, are well-preserved. The crib has half-dovetail corner timbering, and the single-pen tenant house and large tobacco barn (which is being converted to a painting studio) have V-notched corner timbering.

Longwood Plantation, Milton North Carolina Northwest side (1975)
Northwest side (1975)

Longwood Plantation, Milton North Carolina Rear view (1969)
Rear view (1969)

Longwood Plantation, Milton North Carolina Northwest side (1972)
Northwest side (1972)

Longwood Plantation, Milton North Carolina Interior (1975)
Interior (1975)