Abandoned farm house in Virginia

Bloomington House, Louisa Virginia
Date added: June 21, 2023 Categories: Virginia House Plantations & Farms
South elevation of main house (2004)

Bloomington, an antebellum farmhouse in Louisa County, Virginia, is linked to the Johnson family, one of the earliest and most politically prominent families during the colonization of the county. It is one of the oldest dwellings in central Louisa County. Bloomington is composed of three distinctive architectural blocks: an original two-room, split-log dwelling (ca. 1790); a two-story, three-bay main block with steeply-pitched gable roof (ca. 1832); and a one-story, gable-roofed addition (ca. 1900) off the main block.

The evolution of the country residence known as Bloomington is intertwined with the history of Louisa County. Louisa County was first settled in the early 1700s by families moving north and west from present-day Hanover and New Kent Counties. Louisa County was officially established in 1742, carved from Hanover County, when the population grew large enough to support a courthouse. Located 50 miles from Richmond and 30 miles from Charlottesville, Louisa Courthouse served as a stop-over for travelers. The earliest houses constructed in Louisa County were typically of frame construction because it was difficult to transport materials and supplies into the landlocked area of Piedmont Virginia. Although the establishment of the Louisa Railroad 1836 improved access in and out of the county, the population remained relatively constant, and the general rural quality was sustained well into the twentieth century. The survival of a large number of historic houses may be explained, in part, by the slow development of the county. The town of Louisa was incorporated in 1873 with a population of 250. The population remained nearly constant for more than a century. Even in 1970, there were only 633 residents in the town.

Situated on gently rolling farmland between State Route 646 and Beaver Creek, Bloomington is situated upon and surrounded by acreage that was part of a land patent, 400 acres on both sides of Beaver Creek, granted on June 26, 1731, to Thomas Hart. Early in the eighteenth century, numerous land patents were granted for acreage in what was then Hanover County. Before Louisa County was formed from the western part of Hanover County, many larger properties were sub-divided or sold with no official record of the transaction. As a result, it is often difficult to follow the trail of property ownership. By 1787, a vast parcel of the land bordering Beaver Creek was owned by John and Abigail Mayo, prominent citizens of Richmond, Virginia. In the 1787 census of Louisa County, John Mayo was one of the four largest landowners in the county with holdings of more than 3000 acres. Portions of the Mayo's property were sold between 1804 and 1816, first to Robert Freeman and later to David Johnson, son of the Louisa County sheriff.

The Johnson family were among the earliest and the most prominent settlers of Louisa County. Of English descent, Thomas Johnson and William Johnson were both justices and Burgesses. Supporters of the movement for American independence, both Johnsons were close friends of Patrick Henry. Thomas Johnson was a representative at the Constitutional Convention of 1775-1776. A prominent resident of Louisa County, he served as Sheriff in the 1760s, and he was a member of the county's Committee of Safety before the Revolutionary War. One of the earliest maps to delineate the boundaries of Louisa County was executed by John Henry in 1770. The only property owner identified on the map is the Johnson family, identified as a family "with a great deal of power in Louisa County". In 1762, Thomas married Elizabeth Meriwether Johnson and they built Roundabout Castle where they had ten children. When the Louisa County Land Tax Book was recorded in 1782, Thomas Johnson owned 1143 acres and his wife Elizabeth Meriwether Johnson owned 220 acres.

David Johnson, the earliest owner to be associated with the property called Bloomington, was the seventh child and third son of Thomas Sheriff and Elizabeth Johnson. Born in 1778, David apparently received at least 297 acres of land on Beaver Creek from his father before his father's death in 1803. In the will of Thomas Johnson, he specified that David was to receive slaves, "land not taken into consideration here". Evidently, Thomas Johnson had already provided for the disposition of his land holdings before his death. Upon her death, David's mother Elizabeth Meriwether Johnson willed to him only one slave named Wilson. Except for a few small concessions that provided for the care of her servants, the balance of her estate was willed to her daughters and their heirs. If her sons had already received a portion of their father's land holdings, Elizabeth's will may be viewed as an attempt to provide some parity for their daughters. David was named executor of his mother's will, along with her sons-in-law John Poindexter, Joseph Winston, William Quarles, and Charles Barret. The role Thomas Johnson played in the Revolutionary War may have caused difficulty for his wife after his death for she states in her will, "I among others was sued as executrix of my husband Thomas Johnson (sheriff) in sundry suits by British creditors and have expended a considerable sum of money in my defense which I think I ought to recover and feeling myself under great obligation to the Reverend John Poindexter for his assistance in shaking off said suits I give him all that he may be able to recover back of said money expended."

In addition to the land from his father, David Johnson purchased from Robert and Sarah Freeman, for the sum of $2308.50, 513 acres on both sides of Beaver Creek on October 12, 1812. It is noted in the transfer document "with appurtenances." Four years later on July 19, 1816, David Johnson paid $400 to John and Abbey Mayo for 100 acres on Beaver Creek. It is noted in the transfer document that this acreage was adjoined to another parcel to the south also owned by David Johnson.

In 1805, David Johnson married Mary Tinsley, daughter of Colonel Thomas Tinsley. In the Johnson family register, it is noted that the couple was married in Richmond by the Reverend John D. Blair. It is unclear whether they took up residence in an existing dwelling on the property, perhaps in the log wing of the current house, or whether they constructed and resided in the main house of Bloomington. The riven lath and hand-forged nails suggest a date of construction for the main house early in the nineteenth century that may coincide with the tenure of David and Mary Tinsley at Bloomington. It is likely the substantial rubblestone chimney and the related log cabin were in their current location when David and Mary Tinsley Johnson resided at Bloomington.

What can be documented about David and Mary Tinsley Johnson is that they are the first residents to be associated with "Bloomington"; they had seven children between 1806 and 1819; they were prosperous enough to purchase at least two substantial land tracts on or adjacent to Beaver Creek to augment their land holdings. It is likely that David Johnson was involved in farming because the economy in Louisa County in the years 1765-1812 was totally controlled by agriculture. The 1820 census of Goochland and Louisa counties recorded that 6909 people, or 94% of the working population, were engaged in agriculture. Further evidence that David Johnson was likely engaged in agriculture is that Robert Yancey, one of David Johnson's neighbors, made this bequest in his will of June 13, 1808: "to friend David Johnson, Spanish ram and ewe."

Dr. Frederick Anderson Perkins, a Louisa County physician, was the second person to be associated with Bloomington. Son of Robert and Kitty Anderson of Wyndcroft, he married Ann Maria Johnson, daughter of Thomas (the fourth son of Sheriff Thomas Johnson and brother of David Johnson) and Ann Catherine Harriet Washington Johnson of Roundabout Castle. After their marriage in 1823, Frederick and Ann Maria Perkins either built or lived in Silver Springs on Route 630 south of Louisa Courthouse. In 1832, Dr. Perkins purchased a portion of the Bloomington land tract from William Gatt, Peter, and Lucy Ann Johnson, the children of David Johnson. Dr. Perkins and his wife either built or lived in an existing house on the property for eight years. When David's wife Mary Johnson died in 1840, Dr. Perkins purchased additional acreage that included the former Johnson dwelling. Local historians suggest that the ca. 1790 log house and the larger main block may have been combined to form a single dwelling around this time.

Dr. Anderson lived at Bloomington for nearly forty-five years while serving as a country physician. He and Ann Marie Johnson Perkins had ten sons and one daughter. Three sons and their only daughter died in infancy. Two of their sons William and Lewis became physicians, but both died in their early twenties. Two other sons Frank and Nathaniel were lost in the Civil War, one on the battlefield and another of disease contracted in camp. Thomas, Robert and Physick Philip grew to adulthood. Jan Stark, heir of Physick Philip Johnson and great-great-great-granddaughter of Frederick and Ann Marie Perkins, has published here a portion of the journal kept by Ann Marie during her years at Bloomington. The journal provides a fascinating personal account of the hardships and privations of the Perkins' lives at Bloomington. Her vivid descriptions related to the crops and orchard suggest that the Perkins family continued the farming endeavor of David and Mary Johnson. Ann Marie also recorded a large collection of recipes for organic dyes that suggest she was actively involved in farm-related enterprise. The 1864 map completed by the Confederate Corps of Engineers identify Dr. Perkin's substantial land parcel on Beaver Creek. The footprints of seven structures are detailed on the map. Two adjacent blocks coincide with the current location of Bloomington.

Following the Civil War, Dr. Perkins experienced financial difficulties that forced him to sell Bloomington to Benjamin Henson and Charles Monroe Mills, partners in a lumber business. Charles Mills purchased Henson's interest in the property. His three children Lula, Anna, and Eddie were born and reared at Bloomington. The children inherited the property, and in 1937, daughters Anna and Lula were interviewed at the house by Nancy Pate of the Works Progress Administration of Virginia. Except for the described furnishings, the interviewer's description of the house remains accurate today, demonstrating how little it has changed in the past 67 years. Subsequent owners include John and Esther Palmer, K.B. and Irone Chappell, and Anderson Woolfolk and the Woolfolk Brothers Lumber Company. Ownership has passed to Stephanie M. Chick and Cosby R. Woolfolk who plan to restore and live in the house.

Building Description

The property known as Bloomington is located approximately two-and-one-half miles southeast of Louisa Courthouse. The antebellum farmhouse is situated at the end of Bloomington Lane, a winding dirt road that turns eastward off State Route 646. Bloomington is perched on a ridge of land overlooking Beaver Creek to the west and a spring-fed pond to the east. The seven-acre parcel is pastoral and unspoiled. Gently sloping fields, mature trees and boxwoods surround the dwelling and a small collection of outbuildings. Bloomington is composed of three distinctive architectural blocks. The dwelling evolved into its present form from an original two-room, split-log dwelling dating to ca. 1790. The main block, ca. 1832, is a two-story, three-bay structure with a steeply-pitched gable roof constructed over a raised brick basement. A one-story, gable-roofed addition was attached to the north wall of the main block ca. 1900. The entire dwelling is sheathed in weatherboard siding. Notable exterior features include two exterior end chimneys, a combination of nine-over-six and six-over-six sash-style wood windows, boxed cornice, and standing-seam metal roof. The front facade is also distinguished by a pair of plain shed-roofed front porches. Historic outbuildings include a horse barn, a corn crib, tool shed, and tobacco barn with heavy corner posts, beams and diagonal bracing. Bloomington is important because the dwelling preserves an increasingly rare example of eighteenth-to-early-nineteenth-century English frame construction which found expression in early Southern Colonial style. Bloomington is one of the oldest dwellings in central Louisa County.

The architectural form of the oldest portion of Bloomington is an important representative of the English frame or English house, terms employed by seventeenth-and-early-eighteenth-century colonists to describe well-constructed frame structures: "Chesapeake builders thought of an English house as one with a tightly fitting sawn frame secured with mortise and tenon joints... Roof framing often consisted of a series of principal rafters that were tied together by girders or cross-beams." The plain and simple house of the English yeomen dating to the late sixteenth century served as the model for colonial residences. Early colonial houses also manifested various characteristics of the late medieval form: steeply-pitched gable roof, massive chimneys, symmetrical arrangement of openings, two-room plan, and often one room deep. In New England, chimneys were more often centrally placed whereas in the south, end chimneys were more common.

Louisa County is dotted with a rich collection of early colonial dwellings that manifest in form and detail their relationship to the English frame house. Two historians are especially notable for their useful documentation of the significant resources of Louisa County. In 1972, Henry Glassie published Folk Housing in Middle Virginia, a detailed survey and analysis of 338 surviving country dwellings around the rural centers of Orchid and Gum Springs in Louisa and Goochland Counties. And in 1979, Claudia Anderson Chisholm and Ellen Gray Lillie published Old Home Places of Louisa County.

Bloomington is located on the northeast side of Route 646, between Louisa Courthouse and Yanceyville, at the end of a mile-long dirt road. The main house and four surviving dependencies are perched at the top of a broad hill overlooking Beaver Creek. The historic house is composed of three distinct parts. The oldest section, ca. 1790, is a one-and-one-half story, three-bay wing, constructed of split logs over a rubble-stone foundation. This west wing, approximately 22' by 26' in plan, has a steeply-pitched gable roof with standing-seam metal sheathing and one central dormer window facing south and another facing north. A substantial, double-shouldered exterior chimney is located on the west wall. The lower portion of the chimney is constructed of rubble stone while the upper portion has been rebuilt of red brick laid in common bond. The off-center placement of the chimney is particularly curious and quite uncommon. On the first floor, there are two piercings on each elevation. The front and rear egress doors are aligned. Fenestration consists of 6/6 double-hung wood windows with asymmetrically molded surrounds. The second-story dormers exhibit 4/4 sash windows with thick muntins. A plain porch with shed roof extends across the primary south facade. The entire wing is covered with weatherboard siding.

Although the interior plan of the log cabin wing has been re-worked over time, an original two-room plan is suggested. The front entrance door leads into a well-proportioned parlor with a large fireplace in the northwest corner. The front door displays two raised, vertical panels with a porcelain knob in the center rail. On the east wall, non-load-bearing partition walls were constructed to create a closet and a passageway with two shallow steps into the main house. There is evidence on both the first and second floors that a narrow stair leading to the half-story above was originally located along the southeast wall of the parlor. Although the firebox in the parlor has been rebuilt with modern masonry units, the original wood mantelpiece is mostly intact. The fireplace surround consists of a plain architrave, frieze, pilasters, and molded cornice shelf.

The secondary room of the log cabin has been subdivided, but it was most likely one open space at the time of construction. This room also has a corner fireplace, smaller in size than the fireplace in the main parlor, but proportional to the room. This fireplace retains its historic fabric including brick and stone firebox and mantelpiece with simple architrave, frieze, pilasters, and molded cornice shelf. Preliminary to restoration, the owners of Bloomington have recently removed all of the sheetrock from the split-log walls. The sturdy hewn logs have wattle and daub chinking. Other notable elements on the interior of the west wing of Bloomington include wide-board heart pine flooring, molded baseboards, and asymmetrical, banded door and window surrounds. The half-story above consists of one open room with a central fireplace on the west wall. The mantelpiece, heart pine flooring and millwork match the details on the first floor.

This west wing of Bloomington is consistent in form with "the rectangular cabin" (XY) prototype, described by Henry Glassie, that is well represented among the earliest architecture surviving in Louisa County. Glassie's documentation suggests that this fundamental form appears most frequently in middle Virginia between 1720 and 1760, although the form persisted in construction between 1760 and 1810. A date of ca. 1790 is assigned to the west wing based on its construction detail, local testimony, and land tax records. The current owners and their relatives who have owned the house and its surrounding acreage since 1970 believe the west wing to be approximately two-hundred-and-twenty-years old. In the attic, heavy corner post-and-beam framing with diagonal bracing indicates an early date. Framing members are hewn with wooden draw-bore pins.

The main house, ca. 1832, is a two-story frame structure built over a raised basement laid in six-course American bond. The foundation is pierced with three-light, rectangular wood windows. The rubblestone of the west wing and the brickwork of the main house have been parged in an attempt to unify the dissimilar foundation materials. A broad, free-standing end chimney, constructed of red brick in common bond, is centered on the east wall. Also on the east wall, a small, shed-roofed addition covers an exterior stair to the basement. The main house features plain weatherboard siding, stepped trim around the doors and windows, gable roof with standing-seam metal sheathing, and plain, boxed cornice.

Centered on the three-bay front facade is a one-story porch with shed roof, paired square wood columns, and simple rail. The porch shelters a five-panel entrance door. Windows on the first and second stories are not in alignment. First-floor double-hung wood windows are 9/6 lights while the second-floor windows are 6/6 lights. Tiny 4-light windows, visible just below the roof peak on both the east and west walls, provide light to the third-story attic. Currently, the windows are adorned with modern vinyl shutters. The historic nineteenth-century louvered, pegged wood shutters are stored in the horse barn. They appear to be restorable.

The interior floor plan is an early form of the hall-and-parlor type in which the front entrance door leads directly into the formal community space. Glassie notes that the earliest houses in Louisa County were designed "so that one entered immediately into the center of the action of its inhabitants". In later houses, incorporation of a central entrance hallway and the reversed position of the stairway to the rear of the hall reflected a greater concern for privacy.

The parlor at Bloomington is dominated by a broad Greek Revival-style fireplace. The wood mantelpiece features plain pilasters with an unembellished frieze and shelf. Opposite the fireplace, a door leads into the hall which has been modified to serve not only as a passageway to the stairway at the front of the dwelling, but now also to the dining room and kitchen addition to the rear, and to the original west wing. The open-well stair, positioned at the front of the hall, features walnut newel posts, rounded handrail, and turned balusters. A low door beneath the stair descends to the basement. Moldings and other details in the main block display the craftsmanship of a finish carpenter familiar with the Greek Revival idiom. Handsomely-crafted millwork in the hall-and-parlor block includes six-panel doors, molded baseboards, chair rail, and picture molding. Windows and doors display asymmetrical, stepped surrounds. The heart pine flooring is fabricated from broad boards, laid in random widths. Secondary egress doors dating to a later period exhibit five panels and narrow transoms.

The hall and parlor retain their high ceiling planes, over nine feet. Walls and ceilings are plaster over riven lath, suggesting an early nineteenth-century date of construction. Until the nineteenth century, almost all plaster lath was riven rather than sawn. A sample nail removed from the lath at Bloomington is hand wrought and hand headed, an example of the clasp, T-headed type, hand forged in America between 1720 and 1790. Because there were no naileries in Louisa County or in adjacent Goochland County until after 1810, it seems likely that the process of hand-forging nails persisted in those counties into the early part of the nineteenth century.

The third distinct section was appended to the rear of the main block, ca. 1900. A clumsy entrance hallway provides transition between the main house and the dining-room-kitchen annex. The one-story rear addition, constructed over a low brick foundation, features a low-pitched gable roof with flared eaves and a deep overhang that shelters an elongated porch and an enclosed pantry/utility room in the northeast corner. Standard features and finishes in the rear annex include five-panel doors with iron rim locks, plaster over sawn lath, tongue-and-groove wainscoting, molded chair rail, stepped door and window trim, and random-width heart pine floors. A shed dormer was added sometime later to the second floor at the intersection of the three rooflines. The diminutive space shelters a modern bathroom.

Historic outbuildings include a tobacco barn, a horse barn, a corn crib, and a tool shed. The tobacco barn is located mid-way between the driveway off Bloomington Lane and the house. The corn crib and horse barn are placed on a perpendicular line off the west facade of the dwelling. The tool shed is situated approximately seventy-five yards behind the kitchen annex. All of the dependencies are similarly constructed with post-and-beam framing, gable roofs with standing seam metal sheathing, and vertical weatherboard siding. The tobacco barn has a shed-roof addition, apparently used for storage, on the north wall. The tobacco barn is an excellent example of the English barn form used in central Virginia for stables. It is nearly identical in form and detail to the tobacco barn in the photograph on page 173 of Glassie's book.

Bloomington House, Louisa Virginia Site view looking north (2004)
Site view looking north (2004)

Bloomington House, Louisa Virginia South elevation of main house (2004)
South elevation of main house (2004)

Bloomington House, Louisa Virginia Split log cabin wing, west facade (2004)
Split log cabin wing, west facade (2004)

Bloomington House, Louisa Virginia Double-shouldered chimney, west elevation (2004)
Double-shouldered chimney, west elevation (2004)

Bloomington House, Louisa Virginia North elevation of main house (2004)
North elevation of main house (2004)

Bloomington House, Louisa Virginia Roof and dormer detail (2004)
Roof and dormer detail (2004)

Bloomington House, Louisa Virginia Fireplace mantel in front parlor of main house (2004)
Fireplace mantel in front parlor of main house (2004)

Bloomington House, Louisa Virginia Post-and-beam frame construction, west wing (2004)
Post-and-beam frame construction, west wing (2004)

Bloomington House, Louisa Virginia Front entrance door, west wing (2004)
Front entrance door, west wing (2004)

Bloomington House, Louisa Virginia Corner fireplace mantel in bedroom-parlor of west wing (2004)
Corner fireplace mantel in bedroom-parlor of west wing (2004)

Bloomington House, Louisa Virginia Tobacco barn (2004)
Tobacco barn (2004)

Bloomington House, Louisa Virginia Tool shed (2004)
Tool shed (2004)

Bloomington House, Louisa Virginia Horse barn (2004)
Horse barn (2004)

Bloomington House, Louisa Virginia Corn crib (2004)
Corn crib (2004)