Halifax County, Virginia
One of two homes called Long Branch, this one was located near Providence or Noland Village. This article was written by Kenneth Cook Sept. 26, 1974, for the News & Record.
A number of great plantations were established along the Staunton River in Halifax County in the late 18th. and early 19th. centuries. Their familiar names are links to our past: Belle Mont, Seven Islands, Belle View, Clarkton, Mildendo, Long Branch, Chester, Riverview, Black Walnut, and Woodlawn.
Their owners lived in large, commodious, sometimes elegant and imposing residences, overlooking their broad acres of fertile soil. Plantations ranged in size from as little as 500 acres to over 6000. With the exception of two, Belle View and Long Branch, the houses still stand, historic examples of gracious living in an era long past. They are in varying states of preservation, from the pristine beauty-of Black Walnut to the total abandonment of Mildendo.
The finest of all the Staunton River mansions was Long Branch, the home of Walter Coles Carrington, located in the area known 157 years ago as Coles Ferry, known today as Providence. Demolished in the early 1950's, its interior finish was, overall, perhaps the finest this county ever knew, It was a mansion rivaled in its refinement by only a handfull of others.
The lands of the Long Branch estate were first in the possession of John Coles, the emigrant, who came to Virginia from Ireland about 1730-35 (the exact date is not known). One of the largest landowners in the state, he held literally thousands of acres in South side Virginia, in that part of Lunenburg County that was to become Halifax in 1752.
In 1740 Maj. Coles secured a grant of 5600 acres on both sides of Staunton River. Among the surveys recorded in Halifax County Courthouse are three tracts on both sides of Buckskin Creek - one of 330 acres and two of 400 acres each. An additional tract on the south side of Staunton River contained 65 acres. A tract of 300 acres lay on Buckskin Creek and 1513 acres on Black Walnut Creek.
Maj. Coles was married, circa 1738, to Mary Ann Winston of Hanover County. It was to the eldest of their five children, Walter Coles, that he apparently devised much of this vast Halifax County acerage at his death in 1747. Mentioned specifically in the will was all the land he purchased from Richard Ward and John Wingham on Staunton River. Along with this went 15 slaves and the stock of cattle, hogs, horses and mares on the plantation.
Born in 1739 in Hanover County, Walter Coles was living in Halifax County when in his 20's. He was first elected a member of the House of Burgesses in 1765. When he was 28 he married Mildred Lightfoot, a member of another prominent Virginia family. They built their home, which they called Mildendo, on a beautiful site overlooking the Staunton River. Here they lived in splendid style.
Col. Coles willed a large tract of land on Buckskin Creek to his son, Walter, known as the "younger" to distinguish him from his father. When he died intestate in 1792, at the age of 17, his land was allotted to his sister, Mildred Coles Carrington, as her share of his estate.
This evidently left Mildred with a two-thirds interest in the land and her sister Sarah Coles with one-third. To give Mildred and her husband full ownership of the tract, they entered into a rather complex legal transaction. First, on June 28, 1797, they sold her two-thirds share to her sister Sarah, as witnesseth the following extract from the deed:
"...between Paul Carrington the younger and Mildred Howell his wife of the county of Charlotte of the first part and Sarah Coles of the county of Halifax of the other, witnesseth: that whereas Walter Coles the elder, being seised and possessed of a large tract of land ... devised the said land to Walter Coles the younger, who died intestate, by reason of which were allotted unto the said Mildred Howell ... 1133 acres of the tract aforementioned as her proportion of the undivided real estate of her brother, the said Walter Coles the younger; they, the said Paul Carrington the younger and Mildred Howell his wife, for and in consideration of the sum of 1000 pounds Virginia currency ..."
This transaction gave Sarah Coles complete ownership of the 1133 acres. The next day, June 29, 1797, she sold the tract back to Paul Carrington, Jr., for 1500 pounds. Thus her one-third share cost him 500 pounds. These 1133 acres were to become the nucleus of the Long Branch estate. On September 20, 1812, Paul Carrington, Jr., "for and in consideration of my affection for the said Edward C. Carrington and of five shillings in hand paid," gave to his eldest (and, according to one family member, favorite) son "all that parcel or tract of land being in the county of Halifax and which has recently been surveyed and layed off and comprehending the upper part of a large tract of land on both sides of Buckskin Creek and on Staunton River, containing 676 acres ..."
Edward, however, did not live on the property. He made his home instead at Berry Hill, the residence of his bachelor uncle, Isaac H. Coles, which he inherited in 1814.
Edward did buy the residue of the tract, but no deed is recorded for it. Suffice it to say he owned the whole of the 1133 acres on February 28, 1821, when he and his wife, Eliza Preston Carrington, sold the land to his brother, Walter Coles Carrington, for an unspecified sum. On December 9 of that year Edward's mother, Mildred H. Carrington, who had "never conveyed or relinquished her right of dower in the land sold to Edward C. Carrington by her late husband nor to the land directed to be sold as aforesaid," conveyed her right and title to her son Walter for one dollar.
By his will, Isaac H. Coles gave his nephew Walter Coles Carrington "the Buckskin tract of land ... with all the negroes that work on the lands, and horses and stock of all kinds belonging to the plantation." The tract is thought to have been about 339 acres in size. It was on this "Buckskin tract" that, prior to 1817, Walter Coles Carrington built the mansion he called Long Branch.
The site he selected for his home was on the Staunton River, several miles from two other family estates, Mildendo and Elmwood. The name of the architect who designed the mansion is not known, but there must have been one. Likewise, there must have been a master artisan to carve the interior woodwork, but his identity is a mystery as well. The hands of master builders were evident; Long Branch was not the work of home planning.
Long Branch was a large house, built in the shape of a "T," with 11 rooms and two broad halls. Its two-and-a-half stories rose over an English basement that was about five feet above ground on the land front and entirely above ground on the river side. The thick brick walls were laid up in Flemish bond; the broad shingled roof unbroken by dormers. There were double galleries (porches) supported by octagonal columns both front and back.
Large, heavily panelled doors, crowned by matching fanlights, gave entrance at either end of the broad hall. The staircase, which ascended from the river front, began with several winding steps, then proceeded in a straight, steep run. Three rooms opened off the hall, and the door to each was crowned by a fanlight matching those over the outside doors. These five fanlights, combined with a carved cornice and handsomely carved wainscoting and paneling under the stairs, created an impressive introduction to the mansion.
Entering from the land front, the drawing room was to the right, in the arm of the tee. It was one of the largest rooms, said to have measured about 18 by 24 feet, with a 14-foot ceiling. Two huge windows, one on either side, bathed the room in light.
The fireplace mantel stood nearly six feet high, and was elaborately carved. The edge of the shelf was edged in dentil blocks; from each of these a carved tassle hung. Reeded pilasters supported the shelf. In the center of the panel over the fireplace opening a pineapple, the traditional symbol of Southern hospitality, was carved. Rosettes, garlands, and more reeded work further adorned it.
On either side of the mantel there was a recessed cupboard, each crowned with yet another fanlight. Reeded pilasters flanked the cupboards, windows, and door. The whole room was wainscoted, with carved chairrail. The dentil cornice was, like the mantel, adorned with tassles.
To the left side of the hall, the dining room was at the front, a bedroom at the back. Both rooms were wainscoted, with high mantels and excellent carving. A warming closet was attached to the dining room a dressing room to the bedroom, bot housed in a small annex on the side of the mansion.
The second floor had the same room arrangement as that below a large room in the arm of the tee and two smaller ones. Again, there were excellent mantels and chairrails. Doors with transoms at either end of the hall opened onto the upper galleries.
There were only two rooms in the attic, separated by a hall. The larger one, nearly 35 feet long, was, by tradition, the plantation ballroom. It was quite handsome, with its twin fireplaces. In the basement there were three rooms, each with a fireplace. It could be entered from the outside by a door on the river front.
The kitchen at Long Branch was a brick building standing a short distance to the left of the mansion. The problem of food being cold when it reached the dining room table was overcome by the warming closet, through which the servants entered. Here dishes were kept warm until served.
To the left of the kitchen was a row of service houses, including the smokehouse, wash house, ice house, weaving house and dairy. They were very handsome little buildings, constructed of flat, beaded weatherboarding with shingled roofs. The well was in this area, too. Due west of the service houses was a row of servants' quarters, flanking a road to the river. Like the service buildings, the quarters were of beaded weatherboarding with shingle roofs.
On the right side of the mansion, formal boxwood gardens extended to the family cemetery, about 400 yards away. In the center of the gardens stood the dove cote, an octagonal brick structure about 15 feet high with slate roof and pineapple finial. There was a door to allow entry to the lower room; at the top were the numerous little holes for the birds.
As if all this were not enough, at the back of the grounds, an avenue was open through the woods. One could stand on the upper river front gallery and see the Staunton, about a mile away.
It was to this splendid establishment that Walter Coles Carrington and his wife, Alice Cabell, moved following their marriage November 15, 1817. From wealthy families, they must have lived lavishly.
Mr. Carrington was born in 1794 at Sylvan Hill, the Charlotte County home of his parents. He studied at Washington College before settling down to the life of a planter. He served as Overseer of the poor for Halifax County in l831.
Mrs. Carrington was the daughter of Dr. George Cabell and his wife Sarah Winston of Point-of-Honor, Lynchburg. Dr. Cabell was a distinguished physician and surgeon. He attended Patrick Henry during his last illness at Red Hill.
The Carringtons were the parents of six sons, all born at Long Branch. The eldest, Dr. Edward Coles Carrington, born November 20, 1817, studied at the College of William and Mary. Married three times, he died in Brazos, Texas.
Dr. George Cabell Carrington, born October 13, 1819, married in 1843 Sarah Winston Henry, daughter-of Spottswood Henry and Paulina Cabell, granddaughter of Patrick Henry. She was his first cousin, their mothers being sisters. He, too, studied at the College of William and Mary, and was among the 92 doctors who met in Richmond November 2, 1870, to organize the Medical Society of Virginia. A resident of Halifax, where he practiced medicine, he and his wife are buried in the cemetery of St. John's Episcopal Church.
Paul Venable Carrington was born December 28, 1821, died October 18, 1822.
Marion Cabell Carrington, born October 18, 1823, died in his infancy.
Dr. Paul Jones Carrington, born March 21, 1825, was twice married. One of his ten children was Dr. John M. Carrington of the Mount Laurel community.
Dr. Walter Coles Carrington, born November 3, 1827, was also twice married. He had issue of only one son, Walter Coles Carrington III.
On November 20, 1845, Walter Coles Carrington sold to Beverly E. West "one certain tract or parcel of land lying and being situated in the said county of Halifax, called and known as Long Branch Plantation ... containing 1472 acres." The purchase price was $16,400.
Why Mr. Carrington sold Long Branch is not known. Perhaps he was in financial difficulty. In THE READS AND THEIR RELATIVES, Mrs. Alice Read Rouse has this to say of the Carringtons:
"It is not certain just how the fortunes of the Carringtons began to decline. They were an open-handed, high-living, hospitable race. An older member of the family said several of the Carringtons would 'take a chance on creation.' It is also recalled that Halifax was a great horse county, and few of the estates were lacking in private tracks. Also, like many others of the day, these gentlemen had what Dr. Philip Alexander Bruce called 'the genial habit' of endorsing for some friend, ahabit, that ruined many of them."
A year after Walter Coles Carrington sold Long Branch Plantation, his wife Alice died. Her place of burial is not known; perhaps she was buried at Long Branch, where her two infant sons were doubtless buried. Another unkown is whether or not the Carringtons lived on at Long Branch after the sale, until her death.
In 1852, Mr. Carrington married as his second wife Anna Hicks, 1821-1897, the daughter of Reuben Hicks and Elizabeth Lewis. They had issue of three children, all born in Mecklenburg County, who were:
Benjamin Coles Carrington, born February 11, 1853.
Mildred Coles Carrington, born January 28, 1856) died August 162 1884. Named for his mother.
Lightfoot Carrington, born October 28, 1857, died June 20, 1878.
Little is known of Walter Coles Carrington from this time forward. No portrait of him is known to exist. He died in 1858, at the age of 64. His place of burial is not known.
Capt. Beverly E. West, who purchased Long Branch from the Carringtons in 1845, was a successful farmer and a public official. He and his wife, Mary A. Hunt, whom he married in 1830, made their home at Long Branch.
After changing hands several times, Long Branch was eventually purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Robert G. Conner on August 7, 1937. The Long Branch mansion remained in the Conner ownership a tenant property, as it had been since circa 1900. By the time the Conner family acquired it, however, it was decaying. Occupants had ravaged it; necessary repairs had not been made. Its days as a residence were almost over.
The early 1950's found Long Branch only a vestige of its former self. After several decades as a tenant propert, the mansion's spacious rooms were used for the storage of hay and grain, Many changes had been'-wrought.
The boxwood gardens were destroyed in the 1890's, the detached kitchen in the 1920's and the connecting closets in the 1940's. At some time in the 40's the original shingle roof was replaced with metal, but only on the land front; they remained on the river side.
A remodeling of sorts took place in 1910, at which time a room on the back was removed and replaced by a porch. The room had been created by the addition of a wall at an unknown date and hid the back entrance. Its removal returned the galleries to their original form.
Said to have been struck by lightning years before, a crack, in one of the river front walls was widening. Because of decay, the corners of the mansion were falling away. Dampness was causing the soft, unmortared, sun-dried brick of the interior walls to crumble, and they were settling. In short, the mansion was slowly falling down.
From her family still living in the area, Mr. and Mrs. J. Harwood Cochrane, who were then planning a new home, knew of the condition of Long Branch and that its woodwork might be for sale. The former Louise Blanks, Mrs. Cochrane felt a special affection for the mansion. Her family had occupied it from 1910 to 1917, and she herself had been born there in 1916. Her older sister and brother were married during the period, with receptions there. According to Mrs. Cochrane, they were "happy, memorable years."
The Cochranes were able to purchase the woodwork. As much as was possible was removed, but some including the handsome fanlit entrance doors, was lost when the house began to crumble. That that was saved was taken to Richmond where it was inventoried, examined and cleaned. Their architect was instructed to use as much of it as possible in their new home.
In regard to the cleaning process, Mrs. Cochrane commented that obtaining the woodwork was easy compared to cleaning it. Nearly a century-and-a-half of dirt, varnish, whitdwash and paint was deeply embedded in the carving, and it did not give easily.
The Cochrane's new home, Walnut Hill, near Rockville in Hanover County, was completed in May, 1954, and needless to say its plans were literally drawn around the Long Branch woodwork. The living room mantel is the highly-carved one from the drawing room; the one in the master bedroom is from the Long Branch room in which Mrs. Cochrane was born. A third one is used in the family room. Many of the reeded pilasters and much wainscoting and chairrail was used, along with flooring and fanlights. One of the latter was used in a corner cupboard.
After the removal of its woodwork, the remains of Long Branch were leveled and the site cleared. The family cemetery and a slave burial ground remain. The land is still owned by the Conner family.
Halifax County has been more fortunate than other counties in that few of our great house, have been destroyed. The loss of Long Branch however, is the most tragic. Had it survived intact with its gardens and appendant buildings, to be restored to its former grandeur, it surely would have ranked as one of Virginia's finest establishments.
Such thinking, of course, is useless. Long Branch is gone. We are fortunate at least that some of its woodwork was saved. In it we can see the beauty as it was in the beginning, forgetting for a moment the ignominity of the end. Perhaps that's best.
A final note as to the name of Long Branch. The mansion has from time to time been referred to by a few local people as "Red Level" or as an old Terry place. There is absolutely no basis in fact for either. Where the former came from is anyone's guess; the Terry family never owned Long Branch, but may have lived there as tenants.
The name Long Branch, on the other hand, is documented. It is used in Carrington family papers and in at least one deed, that which transferred the property from Walter Coles Carrington to Beverly E. West. In that deed the name is not only used, it is underlined, as if to emphasize it.