One of two homes called Long Branch, this one was located 7 miles northeast of Halifax off State 360 on Long Branch Lane county road 750. It was taken down in June of 1976.
This and the other photos of the mansion used here were taken in 1967.
This article was written by Kenneth Cook for the News & Record.
Two or more houses with the same name are not unusual in Halifax County. There are two Woodsides, for instance, the Cosby-McDannald home at Halifax and the William Spencer Betts home at Cluster Springs, as well as two Bloomsburgs within a mile of each other on US 58 near Turbeville. Both the Terry and Clark families built houses which they called Banister Lodge, and both are gone. Two houses were called Bellevue, but Oak Grove was the most popular of all--there are three houses with that name.
The "other" Long Branch, subject of this article, stood off U. S. 360 between Barnes' Store and the Musterfields (or between county roads 610 and 750). It was most closely associated with the family of the late Dr. John Clark Coleman, even though it had many owners over the years.
It was a large house, containing more than a dozen rooms, and was of extreme interest in the way it grew with successive occupants and their needs. Even in its last years, ravaged by time and man, it stood with an air of dignity.
Most of the rooms were large, with rather plain woodwork. An exception was in the parlor, where the mantel was highly carved and decorated with sunbursts, dentil work and reeded columns. Similar mantels are found in several other houses that were built c. 1800-1820.
A farm road came up the hill from the main road, past the front yard and on to the back of the place. The formal gardens are said to have been at the front of the house. Double rows of boxwood lined the walk from the porch to the gate. Huge holly trees dotted the yard, which was outlined in osage orange trees.
The Long Branch lands can be traced in the Halifax County deed books to June 24, 1815, when John R. Cocke and his wife Polly sold 497 1/4 acres to Allen Love, also of Halifax. The tract of land, lying on both sides of Long Branch and on Britton's Mill Road, sold for $4,357. No appurtenances were mentioned.
There are no records to indicate when or from whom Mr. Cocke acquired the property.
On March 10, 1814, he was married in Halifax County to Mary A. M. Pannill of Campbell County. Eighteen months later, September 18, 1815, he was granted license to practice law in the county and superior courts of Halifax.
Whether the Loves lived at Long Branch is not known. When his will was written April 12, 1814, a month after his marriage, he was living in Lunenburg County. Proved in Halifax court on February 24, 1817, he left his whole estate to his wife.
From 1815 through 1838, Mary A. M. Love, whose residence was in Pittsylvania County, was taxed with 497 1/4 acres on Long Branch, the identical tract that her husband purchased from the Cockes. Throughout the entire period it was valued at $5071.95.
On October 11, 1838, Mrs. Love, then "of Halifax County," conveyed to Thomas Stanhope Flournoy, also of Halifax, "a certain tract or parcel of land called the Long Branch Plantation," containing 600 acres, on the waters of Long Branch Creek.
The consideration was $1 plus her "natural love and affection" toward him. And for good reason. On December 30, 1834, he was married to her daughter and only child, Susan Ann Love, in a ceremony performed at Berry Hill, then the home of Gen. Edward Carrington, their bondsman.
The deed from Mrs. Love to her son-in-law mentioned appurtenances, indicating that buildings were then (1838) on the place. Since it is thought that the couple made their home here until 1841, one must assume that in the four-year period between their marriage and acquisition of the estate at least the back section of Long Branch was completed.
A lawyer, Mr. Flournoy was born December 15, 1811 in Prince Edward County. An 1831 graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, he engaged in private teaching for a short period, then studied law at the University of Virginia. He was admitted to practice in Halifax County in 1834.
Mr. Flournoy was taxed with the 600-acre tract in 1839 and 1841, it being valued at $6924.
In 1841 the Flournoys purchased what is now the back part of Seven Oaks (the Allen Fuller home on Mountain Road), in Halifax, and on December 15, 1843, sold Long Branch to Thomas Gordon Coleman.
After 1843 Susan Love Flournoy died; her place of burial is not known, but there is a possibility she is buried at Seven Oaks along with several of their children. There are no stones, only boxwoods, to mark the grave sites.
Mr. Flournoy married secondly Mildred Coles, daughter of the Hon. Walter Coles and Priscilla L. Carrington Coles of Coles Hill, Pittsylvania County. They sold Seven Oaks in 1857 and apparently moved to Sleepy Hollow, the 800-plus acre farm he had purchased years before.
Mr. Flournoy was a member of the Virginia Secession Convention of 1861. He served in the Confederate army, raising a company of cavalry which he served as captain. Promoted to corporal, 6th Virginia Cavalry, he took part in many battles before being wounded in June, 1864.
Following the war the Flournoys moved to Danville, where he resumed his law practice. He served on the aboard of Visitors at the University of Virginia in 1864-65 and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention at St. Louis in 1876.
According to the BIOGRAPHICAL DIRECTORY OF THE AMERICAN CONGRESS, Thomas Stanhope Flournoy "died at his residence in Halifax County" March 12, 1883, and was buried there in the family cemetery.
Thomas Gordon Coleman purchased Long Branch, 630 acres "with appurtenances," from Thomas S. and Susan A. L. Flournoy on December 15, 1843, for $12,600. He was taxed with the land in 1844, it being valued at $7270.
Mr. Coleman was taxed for 642 1/2 acres in 1846, its value lessened to $6766, but there was a new item, Four thousand dollars ($4000) was added to the land's value because of new buildings. What does this indicate? Surely it represents the construction of part of the front section of the house, but which?
There was clear indication both inside and out (see photo of the front of Long Branch) that the front section was built in two stages, and that the part to the left of the porch came last. If this be true, which part is represented by the $4000 increase?
At this point in time it is all but impossible to say. The only clue may lie in the woodwork. That in the parlor, the room to the right of the porch in the front view, was of a style much older than c. 1846. Does this mean it was the older part of the front? Probably so, and that the part to the left is the 1846 addition.
Thomas Gordon Coleman was born March 22, 1802, at Woodlawn, Halifax County, 4th of 12 children of Col. Henry E. Coleman and Ann Gordon Coleman. Col. Coleman was a member of the Virginia General Assembly and a juror in the 1807 trial of Aaron Burr for treason.
A member of the House of Delegates, Thomas was married May 3, 1828, to Ann Sims Clark, by whom he had four children--Henry E., Thomas G., John C. and Martha E. (Coleman) Ambler.
During his life Thomas held a number of positions of public trust. He was appointed a Commissioner of the Peace in May, 1830, and the following March, 1831, he was named an Overseer of the Poor for the Southern District of Halifax County.
He received three appointments to the School Commission, in 1833, 1836 and 1837. In July, 1852, he was named Justice of the Peace for the 4th District, and in August, 1856, was named Presiding Justice. When he resigned the position in December, 1856, the Court adopted this resolution:
"Resolved, that the fidelity and impartiality with which Mr. Coleman uniformly discharged the duties as presiding officer of this Court eminently entitles him to the respect and confidence of his fellow associates and of suitors and officers of the Court generally which he doubtless enjoyed in a high degree.
Resolved, that this Court deeply sympathizes with Mr. Coleman in the affliction which induces his resignation and cordially hopes that he may be blessed with a speedy recovery and be again restored to his health and his usefulness."
When the "Census of Inhabitants" of Halifax County was taken in 1860, Thomas G. Coleman, 58, gave his occupation as a planter. His wife, Mrs. Ann S. Coleman, was 54 and a housekeeper. Their son, John, 31, was listed not as a physician but as a planter. Real estate was valued at $30,000, personal estate at $69,369. Mr. Coleman had 74 slaves.
The "Census" gave Mr. Coleman ownership of some 1700 acres of land, 1000 acres improved and 700 unimproved. His farm equipment was valued at $650.
Mr. Coleman's livestock was worth $3384. Included were 15 horses, 8 mules, 15 cows, 13 working oxen, 32 other cattle, 61 sheep and 95 hogs.
Plantation production during the year ended June 1, 1860, included: 1850 bushels of wheat, 1750 bushels of Indian corn, 800 bushels of oats, 65,000 pounds of tobacco, 183 pounds of wool, 50 bushels of peas and beans, 10 bushels of Irish potatoes, 100 bushels of sweet potatoes, 700 pounds of butter, 4 pounds of hops and one ton of hay.
Orchard products were valued at $50, while "homemade manufacture" amounted to $350. Animals slaughtered during the year were valued at $1000.
Thomas Gordon Coleman died at Long Branch in 1862.
On October 5, 1858, Thomas Gordon Coleman and his wife Ann gave to their son, John, for "their natural love and affection," and for the further consideration of $1, a tract of land on the Hundley's Mill and Moseley's Ferry Roads, containing approximately 700 acres. (This included a tract of 100 acres which they had previously deeded to him on October 1, 1849.)
Five months earlier, on May 10, 1858, his father had given him title to a number of slaves--Park, Christian- Woodson, Mary and her four children, Cate, Fox, John, Saluda, Jim, Lethe and her five children, Nancy, Lot, Wilson, Amanda and her two children-- and all their future increase.
John Clark Coleman was born March 29, 1829, at Long Branch. He was educated at home by private tutor until age 9, when he was sent to the Episcopal High School at Alexandria. Graduating at 12, he had to wait several years before entering the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he received an A.B. degree in 1847. He graduated from the University of Virginia and studied surgery at Philadelphia's Jefferson Medical College.
After graduation from medical school young Dr. Coleman was appointed an assistant surgeon in the U. S. Navy, and was to serve on two of the most famous of all American ships, the "Constitution" and the Merrimac." While stationed in the British Isles he saw both Queen Victoria and her husband, Albert, several times. He described the Queen as fat and rather Dutch looking!
During his stay in the Mediterranean Sea Dr. Coleman visited Rome, Venice, Naples and Pisa, where he climbed the "Leaning Tower." He climbed to the top of Mt. Vesuvius, dropped coins into the lava and brought several pieces hime - rough, black slabs about the size of a dinner plate with the coins embedded in them.
For a year Dr. Coleman was stationed along the African coast on a ship trying to stop slave ships from bringing natives out of the dark continent. While there one of the local chiefs, or kings, on whom he operated, showed his appreciation for being cured by offering to let Dr. Coleman visit his harem and select one of his wives as a gift. If he did not want the wife, then he could have a cow instead! He took neither.
When the first Trans-Atlantic cable was to be laid the U. S. and British governments each lent the cable company a ship to help transport the cable. The company itself furnished the other ships necessary, including the one with the windlass for laying the cable.
When the ships got within 300-400 miles of Newfoundland they discovered that the amount of cable needed had been miscalculated and that they would come up some 100 miles short. The cable was cut and the ships headed back to England, where the U. S. and British ones reloaded the guns that had been removed to make way for cable. Dr. Coleman was one of the crew of the U. S. ship, the "Susquehanna."
The next year the Great Eastern fished up the broken cable, spliced it and carried it on to Newfoundland. It soon began to function.
Dr. Coleman's son Henry recalled that during his childhood there were several pieces of the first cable at Long Branch. They were about three-fourths of an inch thick, a woven wire rope with a center of tar or oakrum around six or eight small copper wires. The tar or oakrum was for waterproofing. The copper wires did not touch, and all could be used at once.
Dr. Coleman's granddaughter, Mrs. Frances Coleman Toms, says that "the most interesting and distinguished part of his life was his service to the sufferers from the yellow fever epidemic in the town of Portsmouth in 1855."
Portsmouth was hit by the epidemic in the summer and fall of that year, during which 732 died. June, July, August and September were unusually hot, with the average temperature at 88 degrees. During June the lowest temperature at sunrise recorded was 60 degrees; on July it was only 70.
The town was nearly deserted by panic stricken citizens, with very few left to care for the sick. The United States Naval Hospital was pressed into service in treating the victims.
In its report issued afterward, the Portsmouth Relief Association made the following statement: "Very fortunate was it for the sick who sought an asylum there that the medical corps attached to the hospital was composed of men of such intelligence and humanity as the officers constituting that body."
One of those officers was Dr. John Clark Coleman, an assistant surgeon.
"It would be supererogatory," the Report continued, "for us to speak of the high reputation of these gentlemen; their manly bearing, humane disposition, fine attainments, practical skill and enlarged experience are too well known to require any commendations at our hands."
On February 5, 1856, Resolutions of Thanks were adopted by the Common Council of Portsmouth. Among those noticed for their work were the head of the naval hospital, Dr. L.W. Minor, and his "able and humane assistants."
"These excellent men and skillful physicians were in seacon and out of season, at the beds of our sick and dying people, ministering to their necessities and smoothing their pillows in the solemn hour of death. Their kindness to the sick and their urbanity to all during the trying times when their labors were so accumulated, ennobled their positions and dignified their honorable profession."
Each received a letter of commendation and a gold medal from the city.
After his service at Portsmouth Dr. Coleman resigned from the Navy and returned to Halifax County. Two reasons for his action stand out. First, his father had had a stroke and he was needed in Halifax; and second, at that time, all signs were pointing to trouble between the North and South. Fighting seemed inevitable, and he did not want to fight against kin and friends.
During this retirement period at home, Dr. Coleman was one of the agents named by the Hon. Thomas Stanhope Flournoy, president of the Norfolk and Great Western Railway Go., to sell bonds in Halifax County to raise money to survey the railroad through the county. (Mr. Flournoy, discussed earlier, was a former owner of Long Branch.)
On January 22, 1861, Dr. John Clark Coleman was married to Ann Lightfoot "Nannie" Edmunds, daughter of John Richard and Mildred Carrington Coles Edmunds of Redfield. She was born March 30, 1841, their second child.
The Colemans were the parents of four children: John and Henry Edmunds Coleman, who were tobacconists, and two daughters who died young.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Dr. Coleman helped to raise and equip a company of infantry, Co. H, 20th Virginia Infantry, known locally as the "Clover Rifles" but nicknamed by Dr. Coleman the "Blue Hen Chickens".
He served as Captain of the company, composed of men from the Scottsburg and Clover areas. By June 1, 1861, a full compliment of 85 men had been assembled and offered to the Commonwealth for duty at the front. The company was ordered to Richmond, along with the "New's Ferry Rifles" (Co. K, commanded by Capt. William Ballard Bruce), where they were assigned to the 20th Virginia Infantry under the command of Pegram.
From Richmond the troops were sent to Rich Mountain, about 60 miles northwest of Staunton in what is now West Virginia, to help defend vital rail lines leading into the valley against U. S. Gen. McClellan. They were entrenched by July 9.
When Co. K left the mountaintop to meet the enemy in another area of the mountain, on the morning of Rosecran's attack, the Clover company remained on duty in camp on the crest. The entire command was captured after being driven from its position and surrounded in the woods by overwhelming odds.
According to Capt. Coleman the company was disbanded before the men were exchanged in August, 1862, with most joining other Companies. Capt. Coleman himself became a surgeon in Gen. Jubal Early's division. Following the war's end he returned home to Long Branch.
Several days after the surrender Gen. Sheridan's 6th Corps rode through Halifax County on their way to join Gen. Sherman, and camped for a day and a night at Scottsburg. Many farms were plundered and numerous horses taken.
Because he was an ex-U. S. Navy officer, Sheridan dispatched a captain and detachment of soldiers to guard Dr. Coleman and Long Branch from marauding troops. Sheridan thought he might be in danger, as some Union men claimed he might have deserted instead of having resigned his commission.
The captain left to guard the Colemans became quite fond of the doctor and one day brought him a mule as a gift. A few weeks later a neighbor who lived a few miles away came to call, and immediately recognized it as his own, stolen by the "damn Yankees." He took it home.
When the Union soldiers finally left Long Branch they took some livestock and food for provisions, and might have taken the family's silver and jewelry had it not been for a colored house- boy who buried it all in the garden. He himself followed the Union troops and was gone nearly two years.
The Colemans had no idea where it was buried, and when they could not find it resigned themselves to never seeing it again. The former houseboy returned, however, and immediately dug the valuables up. Some pearls were ruined by the damp earth, but the silver, though somewhat stained, was otherwise unhurt.
During the war, Dr. Coleman, like other slave owners, was required to furnish negroes to work on the "public defenses" near Richmond. He furnished 6 in 1862, 6 in 1863 and 3 each in 1864 and 1865, for a total of 18.
While at home on furlough in 1862 he was named as an agent to solicit funds for the suffering soldiers.
Following the war, in 1865, he was named as Overseer of the Poor for the 5th District, as well as a Justice of the Peace.
Following the war the lack of adequate protection resulted in the organization of the "public guard." Recruited in 1866, the officers were E. S. Gay, captain, and Dr. John C. Coleman, lst. Lieutenant.
In a letter to Gov. H. H. Wells, dated May 29, 1868, Adj. Gen. William H. Richardson wrote: "The state having no military force, the formality of mustering into service could not be gone through. It was believed that each officer qualified to his commission on receiving it, and entered upon duty. The term of service was indefinite."
Returning to Long Branch after the war, Dr. Coleman virtually gave up his medical practice, turning instead to farming. Like so many others of his fellow Virginians, however, the decade brought not prosperity but hard times.
By the late 1870's Dr. Coleman found himself being sued in Halifax County Circuit Court by his creditors. Indebted to John Booker of Richmond and others for more than $5000, his principal asset was found to be the Long Branch estate, containing 1550 3/4 acres.
At its April, 1880, term, the court ordered that Littleton Edmunds, as special commissioner, proceed to sell Long Branch after first giving due advertisement of the sale in the Halifax Record.
Mr. Edmunds, as special commissioner, found himself in a position which today would surely disqualify him for conflict of interest. He was Dr. Coleman's wife's uncle, being a brother of her father, John R. Edmunds.
The sale was advertised, a facsimile of which is included in this article. According to the ad, "Dr. Coleman will take pleasure in showing the lands, and the surveys and plats, to anyone who will call on him."
It is hard today to imagine an aristocratic gentleman such as Dr. Coleman actually showing the land personally, especially since the Court had ordered it sold for debt!
The sale of Long Branch took place on the estate on Thursday, June 10, 1880. The mansion tract, designated as Lot A, and containing 521 acres, was purchased by Mrs. Nannie Coleman at $3 per acre ($1563). The sale was approved by the Court and the deed to Mrs. Coleman drawn on November 22, 1880.
Dr. and Mrs. Coleman lived their last years together at Long Branch, and there they died, Dr. Coleman on June 12, 1898, Mrs. Coleman seven months later on January 17, 1899. Both are buried in the family cemetery. They were the last owners to actually occupy the mansion.
Henry Edmunds Coleman was named to administer the estates of both his parents, all of which passed to he and his brother John. In both instances John served as his brother's surety.
On April 7, 1899, Henry E. Coleman sold his interest in the Long Branch estate to his brother John for $1900. Two weeks later, on April 20, John Coleman and his wife, Mary, then of Forsyth County, North Carolina, gave a deed of trust to Long Branch to William Leigh, trustee. This was to secure debts owed by Mr. Coleman to E. L. Wright, amounting to $3284.40.
Having defaulted in payment of the debt, the Colemans lost Long Branch in 1904. As provided for by the deed of trust, Mr. Leigh, as trustee, sold the 521-acre estate on February 19 to the Hot Springs Savings, Trust & Guaranty Co. of Hot Springs, Arkansas. The purchase price was $3550.
The Hot Springs Co. held the property only a matter of weeks, selling it on March 2, 1904, to John Lonsdale of New York for $4000. In this deed the estate was referred to by the name of Long Branch for the first time.
Mr. Lonsdale and his wife, Aileen B. Lonsdale, sold Long Branch to Benjamin Watkins Leigh of Halifax for $2850 on December 21, 1905. (Mr. Leigh was the trustee in the Coleman sale of 1903-04.)
Long Branch remained in Mr. Leigh's possession until his death on March 31, 1941. His executors, the Bank of Halifax and Judge Henry C. Leigh of Danville, offered the property, then containing 587 acres, for sale on October 29, 1941. It was purchased by S. S. Spencer for $16,250.
Mr. Spencer died in 1943, devising a life interest in the property to his widow, Mrs. Rozelle Spencer (now Mrs. Robert Greenwood of Halifax), with remainder to his sons, John L. and Ernest F. Spencer. It remained in the Spencer family until April 20, 1974, when attorneys representing Mrs. Greenwood and Mrs. Ernest F. Spencer, then the owners, sold it at public auction. The purchasers were James M. Martin, Wesley D. Martin, Charles H. Wilkerson, Jr. and Donnie G. Green.
These four men held the property until March 21, 1975, when they sold it to its present owners, Macon and Linda Fears.
Long Branch is, in 1978, a working farm, but the house is gone. When the Fears bought the place it was dilapidated to the point that restoration was out of the question. Afraid that someone would enter the house without permission and be injured, they reluctantly pulled it down, in June, 1976. Some materials were salvaged.
Today a lone chimney remains, along with the ragged remnants of the garden--aged holly and osage orange trees, some shrubs and boxwoods.
As one enters the property from county road 750, a sign proudly announces the name--"Long Branch."
According to family sources, Dr. and Mrs. John Clark Coleman are buried in the family cemetery at Long Branch, along with numerous other members of the Coleman family. An attempt was made to locate the cemetery in the winter of 1978, but without success.
An interesting story about the cemetery is told by a local lady. A number of years ago a colored lady who was raised on the place, and who later lived in Long Branch itself, told her that as a child the cemetery was a favorite play area. She and her friends would climb atop Dr. Coleman's monument, but before jumping off would call out, "Dr. Coleman, we's coming down!"
A gentleman named Thompson is supposed to be buried in the cemetery, his grave covered with a marble slab. His sister, Miss Thompson, is said to be buried on a nearby farm referred to as the "Hamp Newbill place." Just who the Thompsons are is not known.
On the side of the farm road that leads from county road across Long Branch and up to the front of the house, there is a cemetery, but who is buried there no one knows. There are numerous graves, some still marked with field stones. Around the perimeter of the cemetery there are huge old cedars and holly trees, and the remains of a wire fence. Are these slaves or earlier owners? No one knows.
My sincere appreciation is expressed to Mrs. Frances Coleman Toms of Richmond, granddaughter of Dr. and Mrs. John Clark Coleman, for her generous assistance--answers to my many questions, the recollections of her uncle, Henry E. Coleman, and the copy of Dr. Coleman's obituary, among other things.
My thanks also to W. and Mrs. Macon N. Fears, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Greenwood, Mrs. Pocahontas W. Edmunds and Miss Anne Page Brydon.
Records of the Halifax County Clerk's Office.
REPORT OF THE PORTSMOUTH RELIEF ASSOCIATION To THE CONTRIBUTORS OF THE FUND FOR THE RELIEF OF PORTSMOUTH, VIRGINIA .DURING THE PREVALENCE OF YELLOW FEVER IN 1855.
CALENDAR OF VIRGINIA STATE PAPERS.
VIRGINIA MAGAZINE OF HISTORY BIOGRAPHY.
WILLIAM & MARY QUARTERLY.
HALIFAX VOLUNTEERS IN THE CONFEDERATE ARMY.
HISTORY OF PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY, VIRGINIA.
HALIFAX COUNTY HANDBOOK.
BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF THE AMERICAN CONGRESS.