Elm Hill
*National Register of Historic Places
Dick Cross WMA

Location: House remains are located on property adjacent to the Dick Cross Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The WMA entrance is on the east side of Buggs Island Road (Route 4) adjacent to Pino's Pizza (6288 Buggs Island Rd.) House site is surrounded by state-owned Wildlife Management Area (WMA).

Dawn to Dusk

Fees/Access: Access care of Dick Cross Wildlife Management Area. Permits and fees apply for visitors to DGIF-owned (WMAs) who are age 17 and older, unless they possess a valid Virginia hunting, freshwater fishing, or trapping license, or a current Virginia boat registration.

This house burned June 25, 2014, the result of a lightning strike.

For over 200 years, on the north bank of the Roanoke River, with a commanding view of a bend in the river, stood the house known as Elm Hill. Historical explanations of the chain of ownership of the land and the origin of the house are often conflicting but apparently the house was built in the late 18th century. At various times in the 18th century it was home to Sir Peyton Skipwith, baronet, and his family.

In September 1788 Sir Peyton (1740-1805) married Jean Miller (1748-1826), youngest sister of his deceased wife, Anne (1740-1779). A very wealthy man, Sir Peyton owned several properties and ultimately chose to build his mansion at his plantation named Prestwould, in western Mecklenburg, overlooking the Staunton (or Roanoke) River near its convergence with the Dan. His family resided at Elm Hill during the construction of Prestwould house, completed in 1795.

In May 1799 Sir Peyton sold (gave) his "Clay Cabin" and "Elm Hill" tracts to his son (by his first wife) Peyton, Jr. (1779-1808), for 1 pound (and love and affection). Two years later, in November 1801, Peyton Jr. sold the property back to his father for "4400 pounds Virginia currency." Peyton Jr. moved to Georgia, exact timing unknown, where he was married in April 1802.

When Sir Peyton died in 1805, Elm Hill, along with his other properties, passed to his widow, Lady Jean. Seven years later, in 1812, she deeded the property to their son, Humberston (1791-1863), for one dollar.

After his mother died in 1826, Humberston moved from Elm Hill to Prestwould, prompting him to advertise Elm Hill for sale. However, not finding a buyer, he kept the farm, which he later leased to his son Fulwar (1836-1900). When the 1860 census was taken, a then-unmarried Fulwar and 60-plus slaves were living there -- Fulwar in the big house and the slaves in 11 slave houses. The names of some of the freedmen (emancipated slaves) formerly owned by the Skipwith family, living and working on the Elm Hill property postwar (at least about 1867-1869), are known: Amos Skipwith, Stephen Skipwith, Alphonzo Skipwith, and Delia Skipwith.

Humberston Skipwith (1791-1863) died September 5, 1863. By his will he left Prestwould to son Fulwar, who then moved his family there from Elm Hill. By 1863 Fulwar was married and had a son, also named Humberston (1863-1866), born January 25 at Elm Hill. Leaving Prestwould to his son, the elder Humberston left Elm Hill to his daughter Selina (1793-1870), who lived, with her husband (her cousin Tucker Skipwith Coles [1828-1907]) and family, in Albemarle County. During the war, Tucker S. Coles was exempted from military duty so that he could serve the Confederacy as an agriculturalist (as were Fulwar Skipwith and his brother, Grey Skipwith [1839-1895], in Mecklenburg).

Early in the war Mecklenburg and neighboring counties had become places of refuge, and in the winter of 1863-1864 members of the Coles family availed themselves of the use of this more remote property. At least Selina, Tucker, and their young children were at Elm Hill and settled in by February 10, 1864, when neighbor Sallie Alexander "called to see Mrs. Coles." The Alexander place, Park Forest, (at present-day Red Lawn) is about two and a half miles east, as the crow flies, of Elm Hill.

The Confederate government also quickly "welcomed" the Coles family to the county; on March 18, 1864, a mule belonging to Tucker S. Coles was impressed into service.

Tucker's brother, Peyton S. Coles (1826-1887), presumably with his wife and young children (four under five years old), also came to Mecklenburg, again presumably to Elm Hill. On April 24, 1864, Peyton S. Coles received a voucher from the Confederate States for payment for 62 cords of wood; assistant quartermaster Capt. William H. Kable could not pay cash just then, "for the want of funds."

In June 1864, U.S. troops under Brig. General James H. Wilson and Brig. General August V. Kautz, on a mission to burn the Richmond & Danville Railroad bridge across the Staunton River and sever Lee's supply line, destroyed railroad tracks south of Burkeville as they proceeded southwest toward the bridge. While they did not succeed in destroying the bridge, the break in the railroad line was a major problem that had to be solved quickly. And in the meantime, the flow of supplies was kept in motion by the CSA quartermaster service, which hired from neighboring counties wagons, teams, and drivers (probably all slaves) to haul "supplies across the gap in the Rd. & Danville R.R." while the tracks were being repaired. As the repairs to the road commenced, the distance the wagons needed to travel (one way) was about 25 miles, but fortunately on a good road. The four-horse wagon, team, and driver sent by Tucker Coles was hired from July 13 through July 18, 1864, at $6.50 per day. Rations were furnished by the government. Tucker and Selina Coles were still at Elm Hill until at least December 21, 1864, when he sold 400 pounds of blade fodder to Capt. Kable.

The last Skipwith descendent to own and live at Elm Hill was Humberston Skipwith Coles (1860-1910), son of Tucker S. and Selina Skipwith Coles. He probably first knew Elm Hill as a four-year-old.

Elm Hill changed hands many times since being sold out of the Skipwith family. In 1988, the now apparently defunct Historical Society of Mecklenburg bought the house from the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) for $1 with a plan to restore Elm Hill to its former glory. Apparently, its initial efforts for restoration included the Society dismantling chimneys (which probably would have fallen in otherwise). The old home, which overlooked Lake Gaston and the John H. Kerr Dam, is listed in The Virginia Landmarks Register, Fourth Edition, edited by Calder Loth and published in 1999 as follows: "… unoccupied and deteriorated condition, the T-shaped house preserves nearly all of its original fabric including bold provincial Federal woodwork." Still listed (on the Geographic Information Systems website for Mecklenburg County) as the property of the Historical Society of Mecklenburg, the Elm Hill Historic House is also listed among buildings on the map of the Dick Cross (formerly Elm Hill) Wildlife Management Area (WMA). On the evening of June 25, 2014, the home was destroyed by fire, the victim of a single bolt of lightning.

This WMA is named for former executive director of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, wildlife biologist, and field trial judge Dick Cross. It features gently rolling land with elevations varying from 200 to 300 feet. Much of the area was once a cattle farm and evidence of that operation remains. The area's 1,400 acres are primarily open upland, maintained as old fields or cultivated to benefit wildlife. Numerous wetland impoundments totaling about 165 acres are managed for waterfowl. Nationally known for hosting bird dog field trials, this WMA is also a popular dove hunting area and home to a diverse resident upland wildlife populations. A number of bald eagles winter in the vicinity and can often be seen from the management area.

The site is near numerous recreational outlets associated with Lake Gaston and John H. Kerr Reservoir, an Army Corps of Engineers project, including Tailrace Park, Liberty Hill Fishing Access and Trail, North Bend Park, and Tanner Environmental Education Center.

Contributor: Jennifer B. Sheppard, Mecklenburg County Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee

(c) Copyright 2014. All Rights Reserved. Designed by Jason Winter || WinternetWeb.com