Historic Buildings in Halifax County, Virginia
We begin our tour at Glennmary, 2.2 miles west of South Boston on Philpott Road (Hwy 58):
Glennmary was the manor house of the Glenn family on 1003 acres of farmland bordering Dan River.
The following historical article is from the July 22, 1972 The Record-Advertiser.
By Kenneth H. Cook
Glennmary once was a lovely home, set amid orchards and gardens. Today it is rapidly going to ruin. Located a half-mile west of the Westinghouse plant, this antebellum mansion stands as a forceful reminder of what happens to any house that is neglected and unoccupied for any length of time.
Driving down the long, narrow lane, one is confronted with a scene of gradual decay. The thick brick walls of the mansion are cracking, window panes are out, shutters and gutters are failing away. Out buildings are crumbling if not completely gone. The once beautiful grounds have gone wild; the magnificent boxwood is being choked by vines. Inside, bees and birds have taken over. The wallpaper hangs in great strips, while ceilings are beginning to fall. A more depressing sight would be hard to find.
Such, however, has not always been the case. During the days of its builders, Glennmary (or Glenn-Mary, as it is sometimes written) is said to have been one of the finest places in the county, its elegance surpassed only by the homes of the Bruces, the Carringtons and the Clarks.
Glennmary was built by Arichibald Glenn, eldest surviving son of James Anderson and Isabella Wilson Glenn of Bloomsburg. Born September 16, 1806, he was named for his father's youngest brother, Archibald, a Presbyterian minister of Parton Parish, Galloway, Scotland. He was educated first at home under a private tutor and later at the University of Virginia, from which he was graduated.
About 1830 he was married to Mary W. Cunningham, a member of a well-to-do North Carolina family. As a wedding gift his parents gave him a plantation of several hundred acres situated on the waters of Dan River and Lawson Creek near the village of South Boston. It was on thereafter, that Archibald began to build his mansion, which he named to honor both his wife and himself. It has been suggested that he drew upon the talents of Dabney Cosby, Halifax County's master builder of that period, in the designing and construction of the house. This is possible, and indeed probable, as it bears similarities to many of his other works; it is also remarkably like Belle Mont, a Cosby design, as it appeared prior to its being increased in size. It is even more probable that Mr. Glenn supplied the basic ideas, as the main block of the mansion is a near duplicate of his parents' Bloomsburg as it was originally constructed.
Built of brick made by slaves on the place, and of lumber cut from the surrounding forests and seasoned in the river, the mansion rose two full stories over an English basement. Like Bloomsburg,, there were two large rooms on each floor, with the hall to the left side and a small room in front of the second floor hall. Unlike Bloomsburg, a story and a half wing extended left of the hall, and there was no attic over the main block. With its detailed gables and its Doric portico, Glennmary was an excellent example of the Greek Revival style of architecture.
Surrounding the mansion were a variety of outbuildings, including the kitchen-laundry, a brick building with iron-barred windows and huge fireplaces, the smokehouse, dairy, carriage house, two stables, tool shed, coal and wood house, barns and other farm houses and numerous servants' quarters. The ice house and pond were in the woods.
The yard of several acres was enclosed with a white plank fence. Orchards surrounded the whole except on the north. An avenue of tree box led from the edge of the yard to the portico, while English box surrounded the mansion itself. The gardens, containing two acres, were enclosed with a tall paling fence; the gate posts were a favorite nesting place for wrens. Divided into squares by gravel walks, the gardens were filled with all kinds of shrubs, fruit trees, ornamental trees, boxwood, grapevines, roses, crepe myrtles and thousands of bulbs and flowers.
The Glenns appointed their home with the best that was available to them. Brass locks from England were on the doors. Fine carpets, portraits and engravings, and hundreds of books were to be found. Furniture was of walnut, mahogany and rosewood, some of the pieces having been custommade especially for Glennmary. As evidence of a musical bent, the family owned a "rosewood piano," an accordion and a "guitarr." In the dining room there was a wealth of china, cut glass and silver.
Archibald and Mary Cunningham Glenn became the parents of four children. The eldest, Martha Cunningham, was born at Bloomsburg in 1833, died at age 22 and was buried near her grandparents in the family cemetery at Bloomsburg. Isabella, the youngest, died in 1846 and likewise was buried at Bloomsburg; she was only five. Archibald C. Glenn, born in 1838, was a Confederate soldier, serving in the Black Walnut Dragoons, Co. C., 3rd. Virginia Cavalry. A bachelor, he died at Glennmary in 1905 and was buried there. James Anderson, born in 1836, was married in 1857 to Susan J. Major of Halifax County and lived at Glenwood. Isabella Wilson Glenn, who died September 18, 1846 at Bloomsburg, left her son Archibald a one-fourth interest in several farms, including the Horseshoe tract on Hyco River, the Red House tract in Caswell County, North Carolina, and the Edwards and Masons tracts in Halifax County; also one-fourth of all her household and kitchen furniture, stock and crops not otherwise bequeathed.
He did not live to claim his inheritance. He died October 13, 1846, at Glennmary, only 25 days after his mother, and was buried with his parents in the family cemetery. (A little more than two months later his daughter Isabella, mentioned above, joined him in the Bloomsburg square.)
Mr. Glenn's estate, appraised on January 15, 1847, but not recorded in the Clerk's Office for more than three years, was valued at $30,387; this amount did not include the inheritance from his mother. It did, however, include, besides the household and kitchen furniture, 83 slaves, a carriage, a buggy and "three bee hives," the latter valued at $3.
Four years after her husband's death, Mary Cunningham Glenn was married to Emanuel Gerst of Halifax County. Making their home at Glennmary, they became the parents of one son, Emanuel Gerst, Jr., who died at age seven months and was buried at Bloomsburg. Mrs. Gerst herself died August 6, 1878, at Glennmary, and was buried with her first husband and three deceased children.
Emanuel Gerst, who had been a sergeant in the Cluster Springs Cavalry during the Civil War, fell heir to his wife's estate. In 1879 he sold Glennmary to the South Boston firm of Stebbins & Lawson. Following the sale he apparently left the county, as nothing further is known of him.
Glennmary remained out of the family for nearly 20 years, but it is thought that possibly Archibald C. Glenn lived there during the period. His brother James bought the place back from Stebbins & Lawson in 1898; for $3286.50 he acquired, according to the deed, "a tract of land lying south of Dan River on the north side of the public road leading from South Boston to Bloomsburg. . containing 128 65-100 acres . . . together with the brick residence, yard, gardens land outbuildings formerly occupied by Emanuel Gerst."
Mr. Glenn, a well-known South Boston tobacconist, was a member of the county school board and a two-term member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He and his first wife, Susan Major, had ten children. She died in 1904 and was buried at Glennmary. less than a year later he married Florine Daniel, a native of Kentucky who lived on a neighboring farm. They had two daughters, Dorothy and Florine.
James A. Glenn died in 1913 and was buried at Glennmary. His widow, to whom he left the mansion and 100 acres her lifetime, lived there until 1930. She died in California in 1970 and was buried there.
Many changes have been wrought at Glennmary, both before and since the departure of the Glenns. The stables were burned prior to 1900; other outbuildings, like the ice house, have disappeared over the years. The walls of the north room of the kitchen-laundy fell down; the bricks have been removed. As for the mansion itself, well, as mentioned before, it is fast becoming only a shell of its former self. It has received little attention since the Glenns left. The Gravitt family occupied the mansion as renters for more than 30 years, but since they moved it has been unoccupied. Watkins Fulp farms a part of the land.
There are no longer any graves in the Glennmary cemetery, which was east of the the mansion beyond the gardens. The graves were moved to Oak Ridge Cemetery in South Boston during the 1920's. The iron fence which enclosed the square was left to mark the site, but like so much else, it, too, has been removed.
With the death of Florine Glen the estate fell into the control of the Virginia Trust Company, to be sold sometime this year. It is this situation that makes very uncertain. Resting as it does on the fringe of a developing commercial area anything could happen.
It has been rumored that several people are interested in Glennmary, not just the land but the mansion as well, with an eye toward restoration. Such a project would be costly, but would be worth it. It once was a magnificent place; it has possibilities now. It has so many of the things which most homebuilders of this century came to consider as dispensable - a big lawn, nice porch, halls, and rooms large enough to accomodate fine antiques. But most of all there's privacy, something sorely lacking in modern life. The mansion is less than a half mile off heavily travelled 58, but noise is no problem. It's hardly audible. If the estate were restored to something approaching its original condition it would be cause for rejoicing.
But, again, anything can happen. Who would have thought, less than ten years ago, that the nearby Jones place, standing so stately at the end of a lovely avenue, would within the decade be replaced by the sprawling Westinghouse plant? More often than one would care to think about, counties and cities have lost their beautiful old homes and buildings, real landmarks, in the name of progress. One can only hope that the same "progress" does not replace Glennmary.
Both this article on Glennmary and the previous one on Bloomsburg were written from material gathered from a number of sources. They were: Records in the Clerk's Offices of Halifax and Pittsylvania Counties, Virginia; material in the Virginia State Library, Richmond, and in the Danville, Virginia, public library;
Genealogical and historical notes on the Hunts and their allied families prepared by Robert S. Phifer of Jackson, Mississippi, and lent to me by Mrs. Virginia H. Roberts; similar notes compiled by Mrs. A. V.D. Pierpont of Petersburg, Virginia, also lent by Mrs. Roberts; a two-page history of Glenmary written by the late Mrs. Florine D. Glenn and lent by Watkins Fulp, files on Bloomsburg prepared by the Works Progress Administration (1937) and the Historic American Buildings Survey (1958);
Tombstone inscriptions from Bloomsburg, Hunting Glenn and Oak Ridge Cemetery; material in several books, including THE NORTH CAROLINA GUIDE. WHO WAS WHO IN AMERICA -and the DICTIONARY OF AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY;
Several individuals, namely, Mrs. Dorthy Glenn of Las Cruces, New Mexico, Mrs. Elizabeth W. Hunt of South Boston, Edwin H Booth of Danville and John F. Satterfield of Bloomsburg.
The three photographs of Bloomsburg are from the Virginia State Library; the interiors of Glennmary were made by Henry C. Zenke of Greensboro, North Carolina.
From Glennmary, continue west about 4 miles to 7040 Philpott Road, Glenwood.
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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.