City house has a story to tell

Posted: November 13, 2012

The Winchester Star

Pictured is the former home of Revolutionary War hero Daniel Morgan on Amherst Street in Winchester. Current owners George and Jeanne Schember have applied to have it added to the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)
Jeanne and George Schember stand in the dining room of their home on Amherst Street in Winchester. The house was once the home of Gen. Daniel Morgan, whose portrait hangs behind the Schembers. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — The fact that Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan died there in 1802 isn’t enough to get the house at 226 Amherst St. listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fortunately for owners George and Jeanne Schember, their home has even more historical significance.

The Schembers have applied to have it added to the National Register. Acceptance also would mean the structure would be included on the Virginia Landmarks Register.

“A number of people told us we really should do it,” George Schember said of seeking National Register status for the house he and his wife bought from Dr. and Mrs. Hunter Gaunt 18 years ago. “There’s not that many homes in Winchester that are singled out on the register, maybe five or six.

“We thought it would be good to put it on in part as a record of what happened to the house over the years, when different things were built, when different rooms were restored. Somebody might take a look at that document 50 years from now and learn about the home.”

Morgan — a hero on several Revolutionary War battlefields, most notably the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina — lived and died in the home, which is significant.

But Saratoga, a house near Boyce that he owned before moving to Winchester, was added to the list in 1973 because of Morgan’s ownership. Schember said only one home per individual can be listed.

The Winchester house, however, has other historical significance, according to the Schembers’ application.

George Flowerdew Norton, who built the house in 1786, was a partner in the House of Norton, which owned storehouses in Winchester, Williamsburg and Yorktown as well as London.

The house was used as a hospital during the Civil War.

In 1865, a group of prominent local women met at the house — then owned by Dr. Andrew Hunter Holmes Boyd and his wife, Eleanor Williams Boyd — to plan the establishment of Stonewall Cemetery within the Mount Hebron Cemetery and set June 6, the date of Gen. Turner Ashby’s death, as the date on which the local Confederate Memorial Day would be celebrated.

Mrs. Boyd was a key figure in the Memorial Association, which recovered the bodies of about 2,500 Confederate soldiers killed in the region and re-interred them in Stonewall Cemetery.

Virginia Ball “Jeannie” Sherrard (a descendant of Mary Ball, George Washington’s mother) and her sister Elizabeth, who later lived in the house, were among a small group of Yankee-hating women banned from Winchester by Gen. Philip Sheridan in 1865 because of their “antics and constant harassment,” the application states.

Jeannie Sherrard also taught school in the house in the late 1800s. Among her students were brothers Thomas, Admiral Richard E. and Gov. and Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr.

Even if all that hadn’t occurred inside the walls, the two-and-a-half story late Georgian-style house is architecturally significant. Among the features of the 17-room structure are 10 open fireplaces, eight with wood mantels, and none of the mantels are alike.

Frank Wright, president of Preservation of Historic Winchester, said the organization hasn’t commented on the National Register application but will if asked.

Wright said he thinks the house is significant because it was built on land originally owned by Col. James Wood and because of its architectural importance.

“It was probably the largest and grandest house existing (in Winchester) around the turn of the 19th century,” he said.

Tom Rockwood, chairman of the Winchester Board of Architectural Review (BAR), agreed. He said he’d compare the structure to Fair Mount, the house at 311 Fairmont Ave. that was added to the National Register in 2004.

“I’ve been in it. It’s been very well cared for for a long time,” he said, speaking for himself and not the BAR as a whole. “It’s certainly got enough structural integrity and stylistic integrity to merit inclusion on its own.”

Winchester Planning Director Tim Youmans said the Morgan house already is one of the 15 buildings listed in the City Code as designated historic landmarks and is “clearly worthy” of National Register status.

“The Schembers have done a beautiful job of preserving the structure,” he said.

Many people who apply for National Register status for their buildings hire specialists to prepare the application. But the Schembers, retired federal government employees, made it a do-it-yourself project.

“Things were quiet this summer,” George said. “We had two months of free time.”

The project wasn’t as daunting as it might have been for the average homeowner. George is president of the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.

He said he learned things he didn’t know about the home’s previous owners, and it was interesting to learn more about how it has been expanded and remodeled over the years.

The boards involved with the selection of landmarks for the National Register are expected to make a decision on the house on Dec. 13, and George Schember anticipates inclusion.

“I was told,” he said, “that it probably will be a very pleasant meeting.”

— Contact Vic Bradshaw at vbradshaw@winchesterstar.com