River Road Driving Tour

Elm Hill
12170 River Road
Elm Hill

This fine old brick mansion is the ancestral seat of the Edmunds family in Halifax.

Elm Hill was built by Henry Edmunds about 1808 - 1810. It was originally built as a rectangular house, two rooms and a hall on each floor. This area forms the back of the present mansion.

It was an exceptionally fine place with interior woodwork carved in the Adam manner and beautiful plaster cornices and ceilings.

The grounds, dotted with the elms trees that gave the mansion its name, sloped gently to the road.

After the death of his father, Thomas Edmunds enlarged the mansion in 1875 by adding an ell at the front.

Nearby was Church Hill, an early post village and site of the original Grace Episcopal Church, established around 1760. A store stood near the church and in it Henry Edmunds made part of his fortune. People came from miles around to trade at Church Hill.

The following article was written by Kenneth Cook,
writing for The Record-Advertiser - South Boston News, September 20-25, 1973

Elm Hill, or Meribrook, as its present owners call it, is a mile beyond Riverside. If ever a list of the five or so "best houses" in Halifax County is compiled, this fine old brick mansion will be near the top.

The ancestral seat of the Edmunds family in Halifax, Elm Hill was built by Henry Edmunds about 1808-10. The land on which it stands was a tract of 2435 acres, "on both sides of Midway River," surveyed March 31, 1793, for Nicholas Edmunds of Brunswick County by order of Council. Nicholas Edmunds willed the land, which he described as lying "on Birches Creek adjoining the land of Benjamin Edmunds and others," to his son Thomas.

Thomas Edmunds gave the land to his son, Henry, in 1809, for $1.00 and for "the consideration of the natural love and affection which I bear to my son." Henry was born in Charlotte County and migrated to Halifax about the time of his marriage to Martha W. Morton in 1808. He was a planter and merchant. He was called "Captain", doubtless for military or militia service of some type.

Elm Hill, as built by Capt. Edmunds, was a rectangular house, two rooms and a hall on each floor. This forms the back of the present mansion. It was an exceptionally fine place, with a front door almost identical to that on the Masonic Lodge in Halifax. The interior woodwork was delicately carved in the Adam manner, while the plaster cornices and ceilings were - and still are - the finest this county has ever seen.

It is said that originally there was a two-story columned portico on the front; this cannot be proved or disproved. Behind the mansion was the kitchen, thought to have been older than the mansion itself, and to the west was a frame office. The grounds, dotted with the elm trees that gave the mansion its name, sloped gently to the road. In those early days, it must have been an impressive place.

On the western edge of the grounds, about on the site of the home presently occupied by the Owen family, stood the Episcopal church later known as Grace. The church was established about 1760, it is said, and functioned until its removal about 1802. Because of it the area became known as Church Hill, a name heard occasionally even today. In Edwards' STATISTICAL GAZETTEER OF THE STATE OF VIRGMA, published in 1855, Church HUI was listed as a post office in Halifax County.

A store stood near the church, and in it Henry Edmunds made part of his fortune. People came from miles around to trade. In that he enjoyed no competition in the area for many years, his profits were great.

When the Mercy Seat Presbyterian Church was organized in 1847, Capt. Edmunds, his son Littleton and daughter Sarah were among the five who were its first white communicants. All of his slaves were communicants as well. He contributed heavily to the construction of the church and was its first ruling Elder and Clerk. His wife joined several years later.

Henry and Martha Morton Edmunds had issue of eight children. They were John Richard, who built Redfied; Elizabeth, who married a Jennings, then a Hales; Susan, who married a Gaines; Sterling, who built Birchland; Sarah, who married Thomas Barksdale of Edgemont; Littleton, who built RueVilla; Charlotte, who married a Read; and Joseph.

Henry Edmunds died in 1857 and was buried at Elm Hill. The Session of Mercy Seat Church adopted a resolution reading in part: "Whereas, on the 12th. of January last the Divine Head of the church did by death remove from among us Captain Henry Edmunds, the Senior Ruling Elder of this church.

"Therefore, Resolved: That we feel deeply bereaved and afflicted by this despensation of God's providence toward us, but at the same time desire to bow with reverence and submission to Him who cannot err, who doeth all things well. That we, the surviving members of this Session, are admonished by this interposition of Providence to redouble our diligence as the servants of Christ to be prepared that when our sommons shall come we may go unto the Father and enjoy His blessed rest."

In his will, Capt. Edmunds gave Elm Hill to his son Thomas, along with five slaves, the sum of $600 and "the lot with the store house and the shop and the small tenement in the fork of the Milton and Danville roads." His estate was valued at $50,000.

Thomas Edmunds made his home at Elm Hill after his father's death. About 1875 he undertook to enlarge the mansion by the addition of an ell at the front, and in doing so changed the total aspect of the place. Among the results was a roof deck complete with railing and trap door. During the remodelling the beautiful plaster cornices on the main floor of the original house were so badly cracked that they had to be taken down. Fortunately, those on the second floor were undamaged.

At his death in 1879, Elm Hill passed to his wife, Nannie Coleman Edmunds. In 1894 she and her children sold the 1017 1/2 acre estate for $12,000 to Mrs. Mary E. Morris of Colorado. Her husband Oscar did not join his wife in the purchase; he signed the deed, it was stated, only to conform to standard practices, and not because he was otherwise involved. Mrs. Morris was the sole purchaser.

Reserved by the Edmunds family at the time of the sale was the family cemetery "as at present enclosed, containing not more than one acre of land, for the use of the family of the said Thomas Edmunds and their descendants, and with rights of ingress and egress as occasions may require."

When Mrs. Morris died she willed Elm Hill to her children, who in turn gave it to their father. Only a month later, in March, 1908, Mr. Morris gave the estate to his two unmarried daughters, Reba and Judith. They held it until 1938, when they sold it to J. Dale Dilworth of New Jersey. He willed it to his son in 1949, and in 1951 John R. Dilworth sold it to the present owners, Mr. and Mrs. Brooke Temple.

Miss Judith Morris died at Elm Hill in 1939. Her sister Reba lived on there for many years before moving to the Chastain Home in Halifax, where she died in 1967. Both were buried with their parents and other family members at Grace Church. Their mother originally was buried in the boxwood garden at Elm Hill, but her remains were moved to Grace, also.

Mr. and Mrs. Temple changed the name of Elm Hill to Meribrook. It is a working farm, but they only use the place as a country home. The mansion is kept in repair, but is not occupied. The Temples only use the office, which has been remodelled and enlarged.

The family cemetery is so badly overgrown that access is now almost impossible, even in the winter. In it are many graves, but only those of Mr. and Mrs. John R. Edmunds of Redfield are marked. Once, 79 years ago, it was a sacred spot, worthy of being reserved forever for the use of descendants. Today, like most other family cemeteries scattered over the county, it has been abandoned. The relatives and descendants of the present generation, most of them people of means, no longer care.

After 2 miles is the village of Elmo, which may not look like much today, but in antebellum times it marked the eastern edge of what was then known as the thriving community of Brooklyn

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