370 Mountain Road, Chastain Home
(Source: Kenneth Cook's files)
The Chastain Home for Gentlewomen, located at 370 Mountain Road in Halifax, will open its doors to the public for the first time this Sunday, December 14 (year unknown), as one of five homes on the Halifax Woman's Club's annual Christmas tour.
A typical Victorian mansion, the stately, white-columned home is one of the real landmarks of the county seat. It was built circa 1885 by Henry Edmunds on land purchased in 1883 from William R. Barksdale.
Title to the site of the Chastain Home can be traced back to William Gent, who received the land as a grant in 1755. He gave it to his son, Thomas Gent, Sr., whose family sold it to John Barksdale in 1804.
In 1855, 51 years after John Barksdale acquired the land from the Gents, a second John, Dr. John D. Barksdale, purchased the land from Dabney M. Cosby. In 1859, Dr. Barksdale sold to Jonothan B. Stovall, who the next year sold it to Mrs. Eliza A. Borum. Mrs. Borum sold the land to William R. Barksdale in 1878, and it was he who sold the land to Capt. Edmunds in 1883. When Capt. Edmunds bought the land, there was a dormered, story-and-a half house standing, referred to as the John Barksdale home. Which John is not certain, but looking at the house, one suspects it belonged to the earlier John. (One deed refers to the home of William Gent, so it could be much older than 1805; William may well have built it between 1755 and 1774.)
After purchasing the land, Capt. Edmunds had the Barksdale home moved about a mile away, by wagon and oxen, to Banistertown. The house still stands, a hundred or so feet off Main Street, opposite the Banister Hill Baptist Church.
Capt. Edmunds built his big brick mansion on the site of the Barksdale home. He died in 1907, and the house passed to his wife, Susan Edmondson Edmunds. She lived there until 1913, when she sold it to James B. Chastain.
Mr. Chastain, a descendant of Huguenot emigrants, was a native of Halifax County, the son of Howell Chastain. He was remained to Mrs. Mary T. Earle, a very wealthy heiress. They had no children, but she had a daughter, Katherine Earle Dickerson, by her first marriage. They lived in what was described as formal splendor at the Edmunds home which they named "Rest-A-While."
At Mrs. Chastain's death, her estate passed to her husband, her daughter being dead. She placed no encumbrances on the estate, but did request that he eventually leave the estate to a church home in Kentucky or establish one himself. When died in 1917, he did both.
By his will, Mr. Chastain left very liberal legacies to numerous friends and relatives, including all of his faithful servants. He left endowments with two churches, Christ Church Cathedral of Lexington Kentucky (where he and Mrs. Chastain are buried) and John's Episcopal Church Halifax, the income from them to be used to care for Chastain the Chastain lot in Lexington and the Chastain family cemetery Halifax County.
"The Trustees for the Church Home for females and Inrirmary for the Sick," at Louisville, Kentucky, were given $10,000 for the perpetual endowment of two rooms for poor and dependent gentlewomen. They were to be memorials to his wife and late daughter.
To his cousin, Miss Lula Howard Edmondson, he left car, horses, carriages, clothing, jewelry, real estate in Baltimore (where he once lived) and "Rest-A-While with its 17 acres, furnishings and all other belongings not bequeathed, for the term of her natural life. She was also receive $3600 annually for life.
After her death the estate would pass to certain trustees "for the purpose of founding, and maintaining a home for dependent gentlewoman," from Halifax and adjoining counties in Virginia and from Lexington, and Fayette County, Kentucky. It would be known as "The Chastain Home for Gentlewomen." He directed that all the expensive articles and bric-a-brac be sold, with the proceeds used to purchase more suitable furnishings.
Miss Edmondson lived at "Rest-A-While" with her sisters, Mrs. Anna Ferrell and Mrs. Sue Edmunds (wife of the, builder). During the time she dispensed typical Halifax hospitality. She was hostess to two queens of the National Tobacco Festivals - Hollywood actress Martha Scott, in 1940, and Senorita Cristina Michels, daughter of the Chilean Ambassador to the United States, in 1941.
Miss Edmondson moved away in 1948 (she died September 4, 1950), and the mansion became, as it had been willed, The Chastain Home. The first guest of the Home arrived in 1949. A residence wing was added in 1953 to enlarge the capacity; the Home is licensed for 15 guests, but at present there are only seven Mrs. Katherine Hankins Coles is the manager, with James Daniels as caretaker and chauffeur. Mr. Daniels has been there since 1948.
The Chastain Home is just that - a home. Its rooms - 17 major, rooms and many other service rooms are tastefully decorated. Antiques and more contemporary pieces are used throughout. The guests have all brought family antiques, portraits and personals effects with them, and they add to the home atmosphere. The entire mansion will be open to tour visitors.
The Chastain Home is an unique institution, one which all the citizens of Halifax County can be proud to have in its midst. The spacious grounds are well cared for, and in the spring and summer are especially lovely, since many of the guests have flower beds that they tend.
Mountain Road didn't have much development in the 1850's, 1860's or early 1870's. A number of residences were built in the late 1870's and 1880's. By this time the name of the town had been changed to Houston and had begun to attract a growing class of professionals. The most substantial of these later residences is the Holt Easley house. In addition to its large, two story, wood-frame dwelling, the estate has a range of early outbuildings, including an office-billard, parlor kitchen, well house, chicken house, necessary house and smokehouse.
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