The Stone House, Part 1

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Last update
Jul 13, 2005

Photo of the Stone House

From the pamphlet entitled
The Stone House,
Silent Sentinel at the Crossroads of History
By Michael D. Litterst

The not so sober Inn keeper

A Traveler

In 1865, while visiting Prince William County, Virginia, a traveler stopped at a farm house on the Manassas battlefield. Hoping to gain some information on the conflicts fought just four years earlier, the traveler sought out the owner of the house, who operated a tavern in the structure. Impressed with neither the owner, whom he described as "one of those two-faced farmers, Secessionists at heart, but always loyal to the winning side," nor the barroom, which he considered "as barren as the intellect of the owner", The visitor described in detail only "a most extraordinary cider" served there, while making no mention of the house or the role it had played during the War.
(Photo by Chris Bryce. Our thanks to Don Johnson for portraying the Stone House innkeeper.)

Despite the unfavorable impression the house and its owner made on the traveler at the time, the house known simply as the "Stone House" has survived, becoming an enduring landmark of the Manassas Battlefields. Unlike the Henry House and the Unfinished Railroad, which are identified specifically with the First or Second Battle of Manassas (or Bull Run, as they were known in the North), the Stone House had a role in both conflicts.

Early Settlement of the Area

The history of the land on which the Stone House was built extends well back into Virginia's colonial period. The tract has its roots with Virginia's tobacco magnate, Robert "King" Carter. As an agent for the royal proprietor of the region, Carter was able to patent (legal ownership given by the Government) extensive land holdings that would eventually include over 300,000 acres. In 1729, "King" Carter patented to his son, Landon Carter of Sabine Hall, a tract of 2,823 acres, known as the Middle Bull Run Grant. Present day Young's Branch (then known as Licking Run), just south of the Stone House, formed the southern boundary of the tract, which included the present-day Stone House property.

Not until the latter half of the 18th-century, however, was the area settled. Landon Carter, son of Landon Carter of Sabine Hall and grandson of Robert "King" Carter, received the tract as part of his father's estate. By 1770 he had "seated" the estate at "Pittsylvania," located between Young's Branch and Bull Run, just northeast of the present-day intersection of the Warrenton Turnpike and Manassas Sudley Road. Pittsylvaina was an impressive mansion house with out-kitchen, school, weaving house, meat house, ice house, carriage house, barns, slave quarters, formal herb garden, bowling green, and cemetery.

With the death of Landon Carter in 1801, the original Middle Bull Run Grant was split between his four sons, with the eldest, Wormely, receiving what would become the Stone House tract and all other lands in Prince William County. By 1805 , Wormeley Carter's inherited estate had grown to some 2,600 acres. Poor health and fiscal problems, however, forced him to sell off parts of the tract to obtain cash. At the time of his death in 1815, the estate had been reduced to just over 1,900 acres.

During the first decade of the nineteenth century, Prince William County grew and flourished. Its proximity to both the new capital city of Washington, D. C., and the lush Shenandoah Valley brought settlers and traffic through the county in increasing numbers.

In an attempt to help Alexandria compete with Fredericksburg for the trade with Fauquier Court House (present-day Warrenton) and Culpeper, the Fauquier and Alexandria Turnpike Company was formed in 1808. The Fauquier and Alexandria Turnpike (later known as the Warrenton Turnpike) was designed to run a total of 28 ½ miles, from the Little River Turnpike at Germantown (outside Fairfax Court House), through Centreville and Buckland, terminating at Faquier Court House. The road was to be a modern thruway, 16 ½ feet wide and paved with crushed stone of a size that would pass through a three-inch ring. Travelers and teamsters would have to pay for this modern and convenient route. Six toll gates were located along the route, each approximately five miles apart.

However the contract for the construction of the road was not let until December 30, 1812. Though the work proceeded more slowly than expected, by 1815 the turnpike extended from the Little River Turnpike to Buckland, some eight miles short of Fauquier Court House (by then known as Warrenton). However, due to the death of the contractor and financial difficulties in the Fauquier and Alexandria Turnpike Company, thirteen more years would pass before the road reached its terminus.

Construction of the Stone House

With the building of the Warrenton Turnpike, there arose a need for lodging and food services along the route. As a shareholder in the Fauquier and Alexandria Turnpike Company, Wormeley Carter undoubtedly recognized the need. Additionally, the new thoroughfare would form a major intersection at the Sudley Manor Road on his property. This would make his land a prime site for such services.

The plans for such a facility, which would also serve as one of the six toll stops along the turnpike, led to the erection of the large, stone, two-and-a-half-story structure that would come to be known popularly as the Stone House. Almost nothing is known definitely about when or by whom the Stone House was constructed. An examination of Prince William County tax, court, and deed records reveals only that the house was built sometime between 1813 and 1828, by either Wormeley Carter or, more likely, his son, Thomas Otway Carter. The first record of the existence of the Stone House occurs on a tax return for the year 1830, two years after the tract of land had been sold by Thomas Otway Carter to John Lee in 1828. Opposite the entry for the 148 acres exchanged in the transaction is the significant entry, "Building added & By and From T.O. Carter." As to who built the house, credit is given separately to both a Mr. Palmer and "an Irishman named Breton" (possible George Britton, contractor for the construction of the Warrenton Turnpike). Neither of these claims is supported, however, by any historical documentation.

Antebellum History of the Stone House

On July 12, 1828, Thomas Otway Carter sold the Stone House and 148 acres of land to John Lee for a sum of $633.55. This transaction ended five generations and more than 100 years of Carter family ownership of the land.

Very little is known about John Lee. Originally from New jersey, the son of Matthew and Sarah Lee, he first appears in Prince William County tax records in 1810. In that year, in partnership with Henry Dogan, he purchased one hundred acres of land from Wormeley Carter. This would be the start of a farm that, at its peak, would approach 1,000 acres. Included in his lands were a 230-acre tract purchased from the estate of Dr. Isaac Henry and a 170-acre parcel that Lee would later sell to James Robinson, a free black whose property would see heavy action during the first battle of Manassas.

Though no descriptions of the antebellum Stone House exist, in all likelihood it did not differ greatly from the typical rural American inn or tavern. Furnishings were probably sparse, with a few crude tables and benches in the tavern room. Decorations were in all likelihood scant as well. Perhaps a few handbills were posted on the walls, indicating turnpike and tavern fares. A crude map of the local area may have been posted on the walls, for the benefit of the patrons.

The operation of the Stone House as a tavern and toll stop are generally unknown and open to conjecture. According to oral histories of the area passed down over the years, a wagon stand was kept at the Stone House during John Lee's ownership. This would suggest that the house served the needs of numerous passing teamsters. Being required to stop at the Stone House to pay a toll, teamsters would be the most likely to take advantage of the food, drink, and overnight lodging services being offered.

Located on the major thoroughfare through the area, the Stone House no doubt was witness to much activity from the time of its construction until the middle of the nineteenth century. In addition to the teamsters transporting products back and forth from Alexandria and Warrenton, the turnpike also carried mail service between the capital city and Culpeper. From the mid-1820's until 1836, this route was handled by William Smith, future Governor of Virginia and brigadier general for the Confederate States of America. Because of his rapid expansion of the mail route (eventually extending as far away as Milledgeville, Georgia) and the frequent extra payments he charged the Federal government for his services, Smith earned his enduring nickname of "Extra Billy."

Unlike Governor Smith's nickname, however, the financial success of the Warrenton Turnpike was short-lived. By the late 1830's the fortune's of the Fauquier and Alexandria Turnpike Company were starting to dwindle. An entry in the company's return for the year ending October 1838 read, "The returns for this year are less than the previous year, due it was thought to diminished number of agricultural products being carried to market." This decline, combined with his advancing years, compelled John Lee to sell the Stone House and surrounding land in 1847 for the sum of one dollar to his son-in-law, Thomas O. Clarke.

The expansion of the railroads was also a major cause of the diminished use of the turnpike by farmers and agricultural merchants. By 1836, the Winchester and Potomac Railroad Company had completed a line running from Winchester to Harpers Ferry and a junction with the Baltimore and Ohio. This signaled the beginning of the end for wagon trade in Northern Virginia. Within 20 years, two more lines would be built in the vicinity of the Stone House, further depleting the already dwindling vehicular traffic on the turnpike. The Orange and Alexandria (O & A) Railroad, extending from Alexandria to Gordonsville, had reached Tudor Hall (eventually Manassas Junction) by October of 1851. Only a month before this milestone was reached, construction was begun on the Manassas Gap Railroad. This line would originate from the O. & A. at Manassas (thus the genesis of the new name of Manassas Junction), and extended westward to Woodstock and the Shenandoah Valley.

The Stone House on the Eve of Civil War

With the rapidly expanding railroad network in Northern Virginia and the steadily declining fortunes of the Warrenton Turnpike, Thomas Clarke and his wife apparently decided to dispose of the Stone House property. Having owned the property for less than three years, they sold it on February 14, 1850 to Henry P. Matthews for $2,500. Matthews, a forty year old planter, and his wife Jane received 137 acres surrounding the house. With the Stone House toll stop no longer a viable source of income, Matthews purchased the property with intention of farming it.

For the next decade, Henry Matthews farmed the land around the Stone House and managed to carve out a comfortable living for himself and his wife. Census records for 1860 show the Matthews' with a real estate valuation of $1,600 and a personal estate at $600. With the dividing and selling of various tracts of land, the number of homes in the area had dramatically increased in the previous 50 years. North of the Stone House was the residence of Martin and Edgar Matthews (no relation to Henry and Jane Matthews), two brothers for whom Matthews Hill was named. To the northeast lived Abraham Van Pelt, his wife Jeminia, and their three children. Jamse Robinson, a free black, and his wife Susan lived to the east, on the south side of the Turnpike. To the southeast of the Stone House, lived the survivors of Dr. Isaac Henry, including his widow, Judith Carter Henry, and her four children. To the west of the Matthews lived John D. Dogan, his wife Anne, and their daughter Mary. The swirling events of 1861 and 1862 would have a profound impact on all of these families and their properties. Of these, however, the Stone House remains alone as the sole remaining witness to the tragic events of the Civil War.

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