River Road Driving Tour

Bolling Eldridge House
Birch Elmo Road



Photos provided by J. Daniel Pezzoni





This house, also known as Ridgecrest, was located 1-1/2 miles north of Elmo Store and was dismantled in 2001 and relocated to Lynchburgh - see current photos. All that remains is the cemetary wall.

This historical information provided below has been taken from the registration research report.

United States Department of the Interior
National Park Service
National Register of Historic Places


NARRATIVE STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE

Summary

The Bolling Eldridge House is a well-preserved example of a Halifax County plantation seat dating to the early nineteenth century. The two-story frame house features sophisticated Federal styling such as a dentil cornice, remnants of a two-tier pedimented portico, intricately carved mantels, trim, and stair detailing, and several six-panel doors with superb, graining. The house was built in 1822 or 1823 by tobacco planter and mill-owner Bolling Eldridge (1786-1850) and his wife Mildred Baker Gaines Eldridge (1794-1868). At its peak in the mid-nineteenth century, the Eldridge plantation included nearly a thousand acres and was sustained by over seventy slaves. Following the Civil War, after the last Eldridge family member moved to Texas, the house entered a century-long period of neglect as a tenant house on an absentee-owned farm. In the 1960s the house passed back into Eldridge ownership, and it is presently being stabilized in preparation for restoration.

Justification of Criteria

The Bolling Eldridge House is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion C in the area of architecture. The house is eligible for the fine Federal-style detailing of its exterior and interior and for certain plan and structural features. The period of significance for the property encompasses the 1820s, the decade during which the house was built. The house is eligible at the level of local significance.

Historical Background

Bolling Eldridge was born to Aristotle and Nancy Eldridge of Brunswick County, Virginia, in 1786. In 1809, Eldridge married Mildred Gaines. Bolling and Mildred Eldridge moved to Halifax County in December 1814 or January 1815 when Eldridge purchased two large tracts adjoining the town of South Boston on the Dan River. Eldridge purchased the Birch Creek property on which he later built his house in 1816 from James and William F. Edmunds of Brunswick County. Halifax County tax records indicate that Eldridge built his two-story frame dwelling in 1822 or 1823, when the value of buildings on his 616-acre holdings jumped from zero dollars in 1822 to $1,232 in 1823. The value of buildings jumped again to $1,850 in 1828, an increase that may represent the construction of other buildings on the property or possibly the addition of the two-story ell to the Eldridge House.

In 1820, according to the federal census of that year, the Eldridge household included Bolling and Mildred and their first four children, as well as thirty-one slaves. The Eldridge household grew steadily over the following decades. Bolling and Mildred's eleventh and last known child was born in 1835, and all but one child apparently outlived their father. The Eldridge slaveholding also increased, to fifty-eight slaves in 1840 and seventy slaves in 1850. An 1849 draft of Bolling Eldridge's will may list as many as seventy-nine slaves, although the final 1850 version of the will lists sixty-seven or sixty-eight slaves.

Bolling Eldridge's two wills list his slaves by name, as do various deeds and court proceedings concerning the purchase or infractions of his slaves. Deed records suggest that Eldridge's slaves were generally purchased in family groups of three or five individuals from neighboring landowners. Most slaves remained on the Eldridge plantation for many years; a slave woman named Nancy and her son William were purchased by Eldridge in 1837 and may still have been living on his plantation in 1850. The one slave for whom the 1850 will listed an occupation was Lafayette, a blacksmith. Bolling Eldridge willed Lafayette to his son Richard F. Eldridge; interestingly, a slave named Lafayette belonging to Richard had been accused of breaking into Richard's store in 1843. In his will, Eldridge also stipulated that his heirs make an effort to keep the family of his slave Moses together in any future sales or inheritances.

The 1850 and 1860 censuses record the ages and sex of Eldridge slaves. In 1850, of a total of seventy slaves, thirty-one were aged thirty and over (the two oldest--a man and a woman-- were aged seventy), twenty-one were aged fifteen to twenty-nine, and eighteen were younger than fifteen years old. Forty-one of the Eldridge slaves were male and twenty-nine were female. In 1860, after the Eldridge slaves had been divided among Bolling Eldridge's heirs, twenty-eight slaves resided on Mildred Eldridge's plantation.

Bolling Eldridge expanded his landholdings over the decades of the 1830s and 1840s; by the mid-1840s he owned 950 acres on Birch Creek. One acquisition is particularly noteworthy. In 1834, Caleb Dodson, Jr. deeded a thirty-five-acre parcel on Birch Creek to Eldridge in order to secure a debt. On the parcel were a grist and sawmill that had been built by Dodson in the early 1830s. The mill was referenced in Eldridge's 1850 will, although it may not have been operational that year or its value of product may have been under $500, too low to register in the 1850 census of industry. The 1850 and 1860 census population schedules do not list a Miller living in the vicinity of the Eldridge plantation. The 1850 and 1860 censuses provide detailed information on the agricultural production of the Eldridge plantation. As might be expected, tobacco figured prominently; 20,000 pounds were raised in 1860.' Wheat and corn were also raised in quantity, and some oats were grown. In terms of types and number of crops and livestock raised, the Eldridge plantation was typical of the larger farms in antebellum Halifax County.

As Bolling and Mildred Eldridge's sons gained adulthood, they too purchased farms or pursued business careers. The eldest son, John Caleb Eldridge (1811-1899), appears to have entered with his father into several business ventures. In 1831, 1832, and 1833, father and son applied for ordinary licenses. Considering John C. Eldridge was only twenty in 1831, it seems likely that the ordinary was kept on the Eldridge farm, perhaps in the Bolling Eldridge House. In the early 1840s, after he had acquired 438 acres on Birch Creek from his brother-in-law, William M. Cabaniss, John C. Eldridge applied for ordinary licenses on his own." John C. Eldridge's 438-acre tract surrounded or included the village of Brooklyn, which boasted twelve dwellings in 1836." From 1838 to 1848, John C. Eldridge is believed to have operated a mercantile business out of a two-story store building that still stands at Brooklyn. He styled his business "John C. Eldridge & Company." Bolling and Mildred Eldridge's youngest sons, Caleb Baker Eldridge (b. 1833) and Daniel B. Eldridge (b. 1835), were apparently enrolled in the high school at Randolph-Macon College at the time of their father's death."

In the year before his death, Bolling Eldridge contemplated moving to Texas, where two of his sons had already relocated. The Eldridges were not alone; many Halifax County families moved to the Southwest between 1830 and 1860, contributing to a decline in the county's population. Henry B. Eldridge may have been the first son to move; in 1848 he was married in Washington County, Texas." John C. Eldridge moved to Washington County in 1849, and Alfred Bucker Eldridge made a trip to Texas during the same period and returned to Virginia, apparently not pleased with what he had seen."

The Eldridge family's movements to and from Texas are the subject of a letter written in March 1850 by the youngest daughter, Ellen M. Eldridge (b. 1830), to her niece Virginia, daughter of John C. Eldridge." On her father's plans, Ellen wrote, "Much to my gratification, I heard Papa had almost abandoned the idea of going to Texas. How true this news is, I know not . . . knowing how anxious he is to live in Texas, the last place almost in creation." Ellen also enquired as to her brother John's opinion of his new home. "John is so silent on the subject we have all concluded he is prodigiously disappointed and dreadfully displeased with the sunny climes and rich bottoms of Texas."

Bolling Eldridge died in 1850, leaving a life right to his 930-acre plantation and twenty-eight slaves to Mildred Eldridge. His children and selected grand-children received slaves, personal items, or cash." Bolling Eldridge is believed to be buried in the walled family cemetery located a short distance to the north of his house, just outside the nominated parcel, although his memorial as well as all other formal gravestones are missing from the plot.

After her husband's death, Mildred Eldridge managed the plantation, probably with the assistance of one of the overseers that the 1860 census lists as living in the vicinity. In 1860, Mildred's daughter Sarah A. Cabaniss lived with her mother, as did Sarah's son William and her daughter Mary. A fifth member of the household was an eleven-year-old mulatto girl named Patty."

During the Civil War, Mildred Eldridge furnished slaves to the Southern war effort. In 1862, 1863, and 1864, one to two Eldridge slaves each year were sent to work on the defenses at Richmond. In the Spring of 1865, C.S.A. Lieutenant Bolling Eldridge of Texas stopped at his grandmother - Mildred Eldridge's farm on his way home from Appomattox, and it was apparently he who announced to the Eldridge slaves that they were free. Afterwards, several of the former slaves remained in the Birch Creek area, whereas the others appear to have dispersed to other counties or states, or to have taken last names other than Eldridge. At least four slaves listed in Bolling Eldridge's will appear to have remained at Birch Creek: Aaron Eldridge (b. ca. 1810), Freeman Eldridge (b. ca. 1800), Milton Eldridge (b. ca. 1820), and Sallie Eldridge (b. ca. 1795). Whether these four--all fifty years or older in 1870--lived on the Eldridge farm or not is unknown.

The Civil War brought an end of the slave-based plantation economy of which the Bolling Eldridge House was a product and symbol. As one historian of Halifax County has noted, "Lands which before the Civil War were worth four or five times their present rating, after the war were thrown out of cultivation, because neither capital nor labor was to be had for the proper working of them. " Perhaps in part because of these profound changes, but more likely because of a desire to be near her family, Mildred Eldridge moved to Texas in 1868 and died shortly thereafter. In November 1869, John C. Eldridge, acting as the executor of his father, sold 1,026 acres less a half acre reserved for the Eldridge Cemetery to James S. Easley and John R. Edmunds. Easley and Edmunds paid $7,229.78 for the plantation, less than the $18,600 county tax valuation for 1869 and far less than the $40,000 value given in the 1860 census.

With Easley and Edmunds began a century-long period during which the Eldridge farm was owned by absentee landowners and gradually reduced in size. Many tenant families probably lived in the house, of whom there is no record except the carved and scribbled initials of their children on the front porch and upstairs walls. After 1875 the property was owned wholly by James S. Easley, and in 1881 it was sold to H. A. Edmundson, a prominent Halifax County land speculator.

In 1912, Fdmundson's heirs had the farm subdivided. A map entitled "The Eldredge [sic] Farm, Paces, Va.' was produced that depicts the Eldridge House and its outbuildings as a row of four square-shaped symbols running east and west. The Fdmundson heirs sold a 107.66-acre parcel including the Eldridge House to L. A. and Susan M. Chaney in 1913. The Chaneys were probably the first owner/occupants of the house after the Eldridges. The Chaney children Emma and Willie left some of the graffiti appearing in the upstairs east room of, the house. After the Chaneys, the house passed from owner to owner until its purchase in the 1960s by the Rev. Barney L. Davidson of Fayetteville, N.C., an Eldridge descendent. Davidson worked to salvage the neglected house, stabilizing the chimneys and foundation and temporarily replacing deteriorated window sashes with new sashes (the old sashes are stored in the house). In January 1992 the house was acquired by Lester and Janet Welch, also Eldridge descendants, who have undertaken further stabilization of the house.

Enndnotes

1. A number of individuals assisted in the preparation of, this report. Lester and Janet Welch, the present owners of the Bolling Eldridge House, initiated the project and provided genealogical and historical information on the house and the Eldridge family throughout the course of the project. Carol Tuckwder of the Roanoke Public Library and the staffs of the Halifax County Courthouse and the Virginia State Library provided assistance. Kendeal Chisholm helped the author measure the house.

The name assigned to the property for the purposes of this report--the Bolling Eldridge House-- is chosen because it recognizes the role Eldridge had in realizing the construction of the house. The property is first referenced by name in county records of the late nineteenth century as "the Eldridge farm" or "Eldridge's." In the mid-twentieth century the house acquired the name Ridgecrest." Whether this name is historic or of recent invention has not been determined.

2. Welch research.

3. Halifax County Deed Book 25, pp. 295 and 430. Hereafter, Halifax County deed records will be abbreviated as in the following example: DB 25.295.

4. . . .


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