Historic Buildings in Halifax County, Virginia
"Elwood" was built in 1841 by the Hon. William L. Owen
By Kenneth Cook, News & Record
Elwood, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Andy Anderson, is one of the loveliest and most interesting of the Cluster Springs houses. It remains much as its most noted owners, the Andrew Easleys, knew it.
The house was built in 1841 by William Lee Owen, a wealthy merchant and planter who represented Halifax County in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1876 to 1881. Born April 29; 1809, a son of John and Nancy Easley Owen, he owned 45 slaves in the 1860 Census of slaves and left an estate valued at $999,999.00 at the time of his death on July 22, 1881.
Mr. Owen was married on September 3, 1842, to Harriet Amanda Easley, who was born August 14, 1825, died August 17, 1901.
The Owens moved to Elwood following their marriage. They were the parents of 11 children, who were:
1. Mary Ann Owen, born 1843, married Dr. John Venable Brookes.
2. Robert Lee Owen Sr., born 1846, married Mary G. Barrington.
3. Thomas Easley Owen, born 1848, died June 19, 1865 at Point Lookout, while a Union prisoner.
4. Hallie B. Owen, born 1849, married Thomas Easley.
5. Daniel William Owen, born 1852, married first Ann Elizabeth Hundley, second Emma Belle Morton.
6. Fannie Craddock Owen, born 1853, married Dr. Thornton S. Wilson, D.D.
7. Archibald Alexander Owen, born 1856, married Bettie Atkinson.
8. Charlie H. Owen, born 1857.
9. Helen Owen, born 1860, married Dr. Frederic Seymour Whaley.
10. John Bailey Owen, born 1863, married Eva Currin.
11. Rufus Owen, born 1867, married first Lizzie Owen, second Belle Pointer Ficklin.
Their growing family forced the Owens to do one of two things, enlarge Elwood or build a new house. They chose to do the latter, and in 1866 sold Elwood to relatives, Dr. and Mrs. Andrew Easley.
William L. Owen was opposed to the Civil War. He was a businessman with extended contacts, and he thought that the South could not win against the industrial power of the northern states. As the war became inevitable, he managed to protect some of his assets; as a result, he was not as impoverished by the war as many people were. At some point after the war, I think he owned (established?) a canning company and a telephone company though I may be mistaken. I find that I am not sure whether those belonged to him or to his son, Rufus. He also had a little country store on the site next to his first home where there is still a store. He also owned a small railroad. I think that Rufus knows the name of it.
After the Civil War, William L. Owen was appointed to the Committee of Nine. The Committee of Nine was formed after the war to negotiate the terms under which the State of Virginia reentered the Union. (I think that is an accurate way to say it.)
Reconstruction was easier for Virginia because of this judicious and timely agreement. The vote and all privileges of citizenship were established quickly both for the men who had supported the Confederacy and for African-Americans. Rufus has the book about the work of the Committee.
At some point after the war, either he or his sons recognized the plight of the African-Americans in the community who had been left with nothing. Many were immigrating to cities to find work. Small tracts of land were made available to them for purchase under generous terms.
I do not know who any of the people were who acquired land in this way, but it is possible that one was Mitch (Mitchell?) Spraggins (sp?), who was our grandfather's overseer and who owned land and built a home on it. (Our grandfather was Rufus Owen, son of William L. Owen.) It might be possible to trace the Spraggins family.
One of Mitch Spraggins' sons moved to Williamsburg and worked for the restoration foundation. When I was a child, he was the carriage driver who was pictured in many of the Williamsburg photos and publications. I think his son established some successful sporting goods stores in a northern city.
(From a letter written by Sue O. Potter to Kenneth Cook.)
Dr. Easley was born March 18, 1843 at Black Walnut (now Cluster Springs), eldest of 13 children of Dr. Henry Easley and his second wife, Mrs. Ann Louise Rebecca Watkins Easley. In addition to his medical practice, the elder Easleys owned and operated the Cluster Springs Hotel, a noted resort in its day.
Andrew Easley had already started his medical education when the Civil War began. He volunteered in the Confederate Army at age 18 because his father was old and deaf, and served in Co. C, 3rd Virginia Cavalry, Stuart's Brigade,Fitzhugh's Lee's Division.
He was wounded June 24, 1864, during a skirmish on the James River, having been hit on the forehead. A deep scar was left, and he suffered from it the rest of his life.
After the war he borrowed $1,100 and went to continue his education at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. During the summer he studied with his father and with his uncle, Dr. Marcus A. Harris. Andrew Easley graduated in 1866, said to have been the first Southerner to finish after the war.
At the age of 23 he was a Confederate veteran, a doctor and a newlywed.
Young Dr. Easley was married December 6, 1866 to Elizabeth Hunt Owen, daughter of Robert Easley Owen and Mary Ann Frances Howerton Owen of Mayo Plantation, where she was born January 28, 1843. She was a graduate Queens College, Raleigh, NC. They spent their married life at Elwood, and nine of their ten children were born there (the eldest was born at Mayo).
The following description of Elwood during the early days of the Easley ownership is taken from OUR KIN, the genealogy of the Easley and allied families.
"After entering the gate to the front of the place, to the left was the Lodge, built by Dr. Easley for sleeping visitors (men) and which contained two rooms upstairs and two rooms downstairs. The Lodge was moved to the left of Dr. Easley's home (and is now a residence, still standing in 1956). Bordering the walkway were boxwoods. On the right stood the office, by which Negroes were afraid to go near late in the afternoon or at night because there was a skeleton hanging there. White children were also a little dubious of this building for the same reason. Behind the house, to the right, was the smokehouse, and further back the "pest" house and stables.
"Immediately behind the house was the flower garden, then a small orchard with damson, plum, apple and peach trees. etc., and then the vegetable garden. To the left of the house was the building for the carriage, buggies and wagons. Underneath, in the center part of the building, was an excavation about ten feet deep and twelve feet square with a ladder leading down to it, the overhead being ceiled and used for the floor of the carriage house. This cellar was called the ice house. When a good, clean running stream froze over in winter, Dr. Easley would have his labor cut the ice from the center of the stream and fill the ice house all the way to the top, using a layer of pine straw or sometimes oak leaves between the layers of ice. In that day it was not possible to buy ice, but you could always go to Dr. Easley's home on the hottest summer day and find iced tea.
"The house itself was built of wood and had a tin roof (very modern for that day). There was a long front porch with a joggling board on it which the children greatly enjoyed. This two story dwelling, with ten rooms, had also a long back porch. At the back the house it was three stories high, the basement floor being used as a day nursery where the children and grandchildren played when the weather was bad. Shortly after Dr. Easley bought the place from William L. Owen, uncle of his wife and a member of the Legislature, he remodeled it from cellar to roof. A Mr. Carter did the work.
"'Aunt' Cinda was the boss of the kitchen. 'Miss Betty,' as Mrs.'Easley was called by the servants, gave Cinda instructions as to what to cook And then she had no further business in the kitchen unless she had a special dessert she wanted to prepare herself or watch being prepared. As the grandchildren came along they would ask Aunt Cinda for tea cakes and she would say, 'Help yourself, then scream, 'cause I ain't got no time to bother with chillun'"
Dr. Easley practiced medicine as a country doctor for 45 years, taking care of patients up to 30 miles away, regardless of the weather. There were times when he was away from home, for a week or more.
A Master Mason of South Boston lodge No. 91, he was raised as both a Presbyterian and an Episcopalian, but joined the Presbyterian Church after his marriage. He contributed liberally to religious causes. He was awarded several contracts when rural free mail delivery was started.
Dr. Easley played the violin, while his wife and daughters were excellent pianists. Mrs. Easley, it is said, played "Dixie" at the age of 90 with as much enthusiasm as her grandchildren.
Dr. Easley died June 27, 1909, leaving his family a handsome estate. A provision in his will directed that if any heir sought to break the will, the entire estate was to be divided between the Baptist Orphanage at Salem and the Presbyterian Orphanages at Lynchburg and at Barium Springs, N.C. Needless to say, no heir tried. Mrs. Easley died January 16, 1935.
Elwood was sold in 1911 to W.A. Penick, from whom it was acquired by the Charles Duncan family in 1914. They owned it until 1964 when it was sold to the David Duncans. Floyd Lowery purchased it in 1973 and sold it to the Andersons in 1974.
The Andersons make their home there, and are restoring the house.
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The transcription and the updated photos are the work of Dan Shaw. In some cases modifications to the original text have been made to improve the flow of the story, correct typos, and insert new or clarifying information. Additional facts or further corrections are welcome. This author takes no credit for the original publications and its research. These local historians should be honored for the their endless hours of efforts to document this county's history for posterity.