Hawthorne house up for historic designation

Posted: February 12, 2013

The Winchester Star

Hawthorne, a historic home on Amherst Street in Winchester owned by Howard and Joan Lewis, has been nominated for the National Register of Historic Places and Virginia Landmarks Register. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)
The Old Town Spring house has been nominated to be placed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register. The spring adjoins Hawthorne, a private historic home that has also been nominated. Both properties are on Amherst Street in Winchester. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — A house that once was the home of a “Devil Diarist” and an early water source for local residents are being considered for a historic designation.

Howard and Joan Lewis are seeking to have Hawthorne, their home at 610 Amherst St., added to the Virginia Landmarks Register and National Register of Historic Places.

Their application also includes the Old Town Spring, a small city-owned parcel with a springhouse that once was part of the Hawthorne property.

Joan Lewis said Irvan O’Connell Sr., a local building restorer, insisted that the couple take the step to have Hawthorne considered for the registers.

“This is really to benefit the community,” Howard Lewis said, “to preserve the history of the house and the people who lived there 200 years ago.”

A public meeting about the nomination was held Monday in Rouss City Hall. It was required because the nomination includes properties with different owners.

The Lewises, who acquired the home from Howard’s mother in 1970 and restored it, conducted preliminary work for the application about seven years ago. But they put the project on hold until recently, hiring architectural historian Maral Kalbian to complete the work.

At the public meeting, Kalbian said Hawthorne and Old Town Spring meet three of the four criteria for which a property can be considered for the registers.

One of the key reasons, she said, is that Cornelia Peake McDonald lived at Hawthorne from 1861 to 1863, and it is the only known surviving building associated with her.

She was one of a group of Winchester women who were called “The Devil Diarists” for their antagonism by Secretary of War William Stanton during the Civil War.

Kalbian writes that her diary “stands out as one of the most vivid commentaries on a community that saw more battle action outside Atlanta than any community in the South.”

In 2010, McDonald’s great-great-granddaughter came to Hawthorne to be filmed while reading from her ancestor’s diaries for a National Geographic cable channel program.

The property once was part of the historic Glen Burnie estate. James Wood Jr., the governor of Virginia in 1796-99, owned the land at one point.

The house was built around 1811 for Alfred H. Powell, a member of the Virginia General Assembly and the U.S. House of Representatives. Joseph and Thomas Tidball, who each served as the clerk of the Frederick County Court, also lived there.

The house also is architecturally significant, Kalbian said. She writes that it “represents an intact example of an early-19th-century stone house in Winchester ... that demonstrates the transition from Late Georgian to the Federal style.” The rear wing was added around 1840.

It is thought to have been built by Lewis Barnett. He also built Fair Mount, another city home on the historic registers.

In the late 1700s, Winchester residents sought permission to tap into the spring on the property as a water source. In 1804, they approved an act to have Town Spring provide water.

Wooden pipes were installed to deliver water to the town, and the springhouse was built over it around 1816. Kalbian said it is thought to be one of Virginia’s earliest municipal water systems.

The small springhouse also is cited as architecturally significant. “It’s a very elegant building,” she said.

City Planning Director Tim Youmans said Kalbian asked if the city government would allow the Old Town Spring to be added to the nomination, and he obtained approval for that to be done.

Kalbian said preparing the nomination was interesting because Hawthorne was important in many ways.

“I think the building needed to be recognized,” she said. “It’s got historical significance, more than you’d ever guess, and I’m glad that story is being told.”

Joanie Evans, architectural historian for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources office in Stephens City, said the Historic Resources Board and the State Review Board will consider the application in March.

— Contact Vic Bradshaw atvbradshaw@winchesterstar.com