A Story of Old Stone Homes in Tennessee

A Pennsylvanian by birth, I came to live in Eastern Tennessee in 2008. A job planted me there for about five years. Quite lovely country, I thought, but it’s a land of log cabins, not old stone homes. After exploring the countryside, I realized I was wrong.

Ramsey House was my first real experience with a stone home in a Southern state. Breathtaking, it reminded me of many federal-style homesteads I had toured back home. And rightly so. Its original owner, Pennsylvania-born and of Scots-Irish heritage, hired an English-born architect to design and build the house of locally sourced pink marble and grey limestone – most likely in keeping with manses in his home state. Everything I love about old stone homes – intricate interior woodwork, a big walk-in cooking hearth and cozy fireplaces and a grand winding staircase – you’ll find at Ramsey House. Even a ghost or two (wink)!

So I was sitting at my computer today, pondering what to write. And Tennessee, for some reason, popped to mind. I did a search and – boom – up popped two gorgeous old stone homes for sale. Minus some columns and an odd architectural detail or two, these homes would look right at home if nestled on a country back road in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania or Maryland.

Wills-Dickey Stone House, Kingsport, Tennessee
Two-foot-thick stone walls. Can you imagine? This graceful lady was built around 1790 by Jacob and Mary Wills in a portion of Tennessee that was once part of Virginia. A two-story limestone dwelling, this mansion sits on over an acre of riverfront property, boasts its own barn, a guest house and four fireplaces and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Inspiration for this home’s design? Jacob was born in Pennsylvania and no doubt learned the art of stone masontry in his home state.

The Peter Range Sr. House
Imagine living in a home built by a Revolutionary War soldier! Peter Range Sr., of German descent and born in New Jersey, moved to present-day Johnson City (lower Knob Creek), Tennessee, with his wife Elizabeth and first child in 1777. He built his first home, a two-story log home, in 1796. That primitive structure forms part of the full basement of the present-day, circa 1804  home, constructed of hand-cut blue limestone. It was built along with a grist mill (Twin Falls), which is now but a memory. The home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, boasts four fireplaces, interior exposed-stone walls and original wide-planked wood flooring.

Real-Life Haunted Houses: Stone Homes That Will Spook You Senseless

It’s that time of year, the season when nights turn chilly, leaves change hues and our thoughts turn to harvest, the ethereal glow of carved pumpkins and things that go bump in the night. We couldn’t let October slip by without announcing a list of our favorite real-life haunted houses in the United States. (All stone, of course!)

Most Haunted House in Pennsylvania: Jean Bonnet Tavern, Bedford

The wayside stone tavern was constructed sometime during the 1760s by Robert Callender, a famed fur trader and scout for General George Washington. During its storied history, the structure served several purposes: as a fort, trading post, tavern and inn and private residence. Public hangings were also known to have occurred on the property. Stories of ghostly encounters were made public in the late 1950s by the Enyeart family, owners who discovered the remains of a Colonial-era man in the basement during a renovation. The remains of a second body were discovered in the 1980s, during a floor restoration project. Tavern guests and staff members have reported sightings of several apparitions, including a wagon master, a horse thief, an officer, a soldier and a forlorn young woman (some say the mistress of Callender, abandoned and forever morning the loss of her lover).

Most Haunted House in New York: Beardslee Castle, Little Falls


Constructed in 1860 by New York lawyer and legislator Augustus Beardslee, this stone castle, built atop the site of a circa-1700s fortified homestead, is heavily inspired by the design of ancient Irish castles. Now a wedding venue, the former family manse is said to be haunted by the ghosts of French and Indian War soldiers (and their victims), a woman named “Abigail”, who is dressed in white and awaiting a wedding she died the night before, and Pop Christensen, a former owner who, broken and weary from prolonged illness, hung himself in the building.

Most Haunted House in New Jersey: Olde Stone House, Washington Township

The oldest structure incorporated in the Olde Stone House Village, this circa-1730 Jersey brownstone home sits along Egg Harbor Road, an old stagecoach route to the shore. Originally home to early settlers in the Morgan family, the home is presently used as a wedding, party and meeting venue. Several paranormal research groups have investigated the home and the village over the years, and suggested that the site is haunted by the ghost of a little girl, whose giggle can be heard on rare occasions, and the ghost of a Civil War solider, who walks up and down the home’s interior staircase.

Most Haunted House in Maryland: Jonathan Hager House, Hagerstown


A young German immigrant eager for adventure, Jonathan Hager purchased 200 acres of land in what was then considered Maryland wilderness and built, in the 1740s, his German-style fieldstone home atop a freshwater spring. A noteworthy citizen for his efforts in settling the area (now known as Hagerstown), Hager was elected to the General Assembly at Annapolis in 1771 and 1773. His homestead, “Hager’s Fancy,” is now owned by the city of Hagerstown and open to the public. The home is believed to be haunted by former owners of the property, and visitors have reported seeing a man dressed in black who paces the porch as well as the sounds of footsteps and disembodied voices on the second floor.

Most Haunted House in Virginia: Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown


Construction of this elegant Classical Revival-style manor home began in 1794 and continued for three years. Built of locally quarried limestone, the manor was originally home to Revoluntionary War veteran Major Isaac Hite, Jr. (President James Madison’s brother-in-law), his wife and their children. In the early 1800s, the home was sold out of the family and, during the Civil War, was occupied several times. Today a National Trust Historic Site, Belle Grove serves as an educational center and remains a working farm. The plantation is said to be haunted by the ghost of Hetty Cooley, a former owner’s young wife who was murdered in the 1860s by a resentful servant. She is often spotted, dressed in white and moving silently as she relives the very last moments of her life at Belle Grove.

Old Stone Homes of Southern California

My sister and her husband are in the first phases of a new home search near their current digs in Laguna Niguel, California. A few weeks ago, she directed my attention to a certain Zillow listing. I assumed, at first, that I’d click the link to see another perfect-for-two townhome. But no. This was different. The property, surrounded by live oak and sage brush, was perfectly nestled in picturesque Trabuco Canyon. And right smack dab in the middle? A simply adorable circa-1907 cobblestone cottage.

“See! There are old stone homes in California,” she said. “You could move out West, be close to me and still live your dream!” I have to admit, the notion of old stone homes in California intrigued me: Was this home an anomaly or some sort of regional vernacular that to this point had escaped my notice.

I’ve always assumed that those who moved West in the mid to late 1800s constructed shelters of log, timber, sod brick or adobe. But a quick google images search surfaced pictures of stone ruins — a foundation here, walls there — mostly in the arid desert regions of California and Nevada. The story continued to unfold: Ranchers, gold and silver prospectors and then homesteaders staked their claims in the Southern California deserts and built their first homes with materials easily accessible to them. And that meant lots of rock. From what I could tell, homesteads were often destroyed by fire or slowly crumbled to dust, abandoned by prospectors who moved on to bigger and better things.

My sis was apparently on a roll. A few weeks later, she sent another Zillow listing, a plot of land in Modjeska Canyon. I couldn’t resist the note attached, “Would love to know the history … stone foundation, fireplace.” Game on!

I first reached out to the realtor, who knew only a legend shared by locals: Sometime during the 1960s, hippies living in the area started a fire that destroyed the homestead. Interesting, but who knows if it’s true. I next reached out to the Orange County Historical Society. History buff and Silverado Canyon resident Mike Boeck asserted that the remains sit on land that was once homesteaded by beekeeper Joseph Pleasants in the late 1800s. Could the stone walls and chimney be the remains of some early shelter? I love that theory! But archivist Chris Jepsen noted that Pleasants’ homestead was incorporated into the estate of famed actress Helen Modjeska in 1888. Clearly as curious as I, Jepsen took a closer look at deeds and tax records and found that in 1937 there was no home listed on the site. By 1939, one appeared. And it’s hard to say if the home was made entirely of stone or stone paired with timber, sourced in the Riparian forest that surrounds the site.  Regardless, the remains could easily be incorporated into a new build. An exciting prospect!

Thanks to my sis, I am now keeping a close eye on California real estate listings, hoping that a property pops up with terribly old stone ruins — and a wickedly interesting story to tell.

Colonial-Era Stone Homes of the Mid-Atlantic

What would it be like to live in a home built during America’s colonial period, before the signing of the Declartation? Would the home’s rich past compensate for the mysterious creaks and cracks, the occasional draft and “improvements” that have done more harm than good?

These Mid-Atlantic homes are looking for new owners. You up for the challenge? Take a look and tell us which one you’d pick.

Year Built: 1705


Known as Holland Hall, this circa-1705 stone home, located in Saugerties, New York, boasts stunning views of the Catskills. The home features three bedrooms and three old hearths that could easily be put back to use.
Most outstanding feature: Original open hearths
Colonial happenings of the year: Virginia became the first colony to establish a comprehensive slave code. The code asserted that slaves were real estate. Benjamin Franklin was born the following year.

Year Built: 1730


This Ellicott City, Maryland, farmhouse, circa 1730, has been passed down through Maryland’s Carroll family (Charles Carroll was a signer of the Declaration of Independence). The home includes exposed stone interior walls and cottage gardens awaiting a green thumb’s touch.
Most outstanding feature: The rustic barn with stone foundation
Colonial happenings of the year: Baltimore was founded in the Maryland colony. The Great Awakening, an evangelical religious movement, swepted through America.

Year Built: 1740


Built in 1740, this Georgian-style millhouse, located in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, is nestled along a babbling stream. An extensive renovation in 2003 melded the best of old and new.
Most outstanding feature: Proximity to stream
Colonial happenings of the year: The King George’s War erupted overseas. Famine in Ireland sent many settlers to the Shenandoah Valley area.

Year Built: 1750


This Bloomsbury, New Jersey, stone home, constructed in 1750, comes with an attached rancher that you can live in while restoration work is under way.
Most outstanding feature: Lush 1.5-acre lot
Colonial happenings of the year: The population of the American colonies reached one million. The flatboat and the Conestoga wagon improved transportation.

Year Built: 1770


Lagrange Farm, a circa-1770 stone estate located in Stephens City, Virginia, has successfully stood the test of time. With a timber bank barn and over seven acres of land, this property is the perfect place to establish a business – or family retreat.
Most outstanding feature: Acres of pasture
Colonial happenings of the year: The population of the American colonies reached just over 2.2 million people. The Boston Massacre occurred.

Pave Paradise and Put up a Parking Lot

That’s exactly what a company called Hillwood Enterprises LP would like to do in Lower Swatara Township in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. The company is attempting to rezone 500 acres of what is now some of the most picturesque farmland in the area and replace it with a mega warehouse, in and out of which hundreds of trucks would travel per day.

And right in the center of this parcel of land? You guessed it: An old stone home, now slowly fading away. Sadly, this home was once a stunning mansion, built by one of the earliest settlers of Dauphin County.

Residents who surround the property have banded together in an effort to sway local commissioners and stop rezoning. To learn more about the stone mansion and what an industrial warehouse might do to the environment and the community, please visit the Save Lower Swatara Agriculture blog. If you live in the area and wish to protect vanishing Pennsylvania farmland, please show your support by joining the Save Lower Swatara Agriculture group on Facebook and signing the petition to stop the rezoning. And, last but not least, if you have super-deep pockets (all the Jay Zs and Bill Gates of the world), consider buying the land and preserving it for future generations.

The Mystery of the John Shopp Farm

John Shopp Farm, abandoned farm house, Camp Hill, Industrial Park Rd., Route 581

The John Shopp Farm, located along route 581 in Camp Hill, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, dates back to the late 1700s. After passing through several members in the Shopp family, the property was acquired by the Bohn family.

If you live in south central Pennsylvania (Camp Hill, to be exact) on what’s called the West Shore, you’ve probably traveled along Route 581 more times than you care to remember. And if you’ve traveled east-bound, you may have seen the crumbling limestone home that abuts the beltway as you near the 83 and 11/15 split. If curiosity gets the better of you (as it did this blogger), you probably go home, do a bit of research on Google Maps to discover that the home actually sits on Industrial Park Road, a quick turn off of St. John’s Church Road.

If you make the trip to the home site, you notice first that the property is overgrown, shaded by pine and oak trees. But the home, springhouse and adjacent barn seem at peace in this protected setting. Cedar Run meanders right through the property, fed by a spring that bubbles up from beneath the ground. The mind then wanders: Who built this home? Was it a dairy farm? Who owns it now? Are there plans to restore? And then comes that sad realization that property may be too far gone and the home razed by the time you pass by this way again.

Getting to the bottom of the home’s history took some digging through old deeds, an email to the Cumberland County Historical Association and a quick note to the folks at Hampden Township. Finally, some concrete info, via a Pennsylvania Historical Resource Survey Form! The property is known as the John Shopp Farm. The Georgian-style limestone and brick home was built in stages. The stone portion came first, circa 1775-1800, and the three-bay, side-passage double-pile house with a six-bay brick ell came next, circa 1850-1875. And then there are the outbuildings: A two-story brick kitchen sits behind the home, a stone springhouse with brick cellar sits to the south of the house and, across a gravel path, rests a large frame bank barn (which once served as a furniture store).

John Shopp House, Camp Hill, PA, Abandoned Farmhouse, 3824 Industrial Park Rd.

The John Shopp farm comprises an original limestone home and an addition. Outbuildings include a kitchen, barn and springhouse.

So who was this John Shopp? John was the son of Ulrich Shopp of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Ulrich purchased 209 acres of  the original Louther Manor in 1774 from Conrad Manismith. John inherited the land from his father and most likely built the stone structure himself. The home became a center of United Brethernism in the area until a church was built in 1827. The property was passed down through several members of the Shopp family, some of the earliest settlers of Cumberland County. The property then passed through the hands of a few development/mortgage companies and landed, finally, in the possession of the Bohn family, which owns it today.

What will family members do with the land? No one seems to know the answer to this burning question. In the meantime this lovely old stone mansion sits (quite sadly, might I add), waiting for someone to make a decision.

If you can fill in some blanks or know a bit about the farm’s history — or future — please share with us!

A Pro Stone President?

Thomas Jefferson, architecture, brick and stone construction

Founding father and third president Thomas Jefferson was a proponent of stone and brick home construction.

…We … will produce no permanent improvement to our country while the unhappy prejudice prevails that houses of brick or stone are less wholesome than those of wood … A country whose buildings are of wood can never increase in its improvements to any considerable degree. Their duration is highly estimated at 50 years. Every half century then our country becomes a tabula rasa, whereon we have to set out anew, as in the first moment of seating it. Whereas when buildings are of durable materials, every new edifice is an actual and permanent acquisition to the state, adding to its value as well as to its ornament.”

Thomas Jefferson was quite dismayed by colonists’ insistence on building timber-framed homes, of which he wrote, “It is impossible to devise things more ugly, uncomfortable, and happily more perishable.”

Ouch! Harsh words. But why all the masonry haters in early America? Back in the day, stone homes were considered a big no-no, at least if you spoke to early colonists who migrated to New England and the Tidewater region from southeast England. The reasoning was thus:

  • Stone and brick were considered poor insulators that let in cold air and damp conditions unless packed tightly together to form 2 to 3-foot-thick walls. Dew that gathered on thin interior stone or brick walls created an unhealthy living environment.
  • Lime used to make mortar was scarce, as were stone masons.
  • Lumber! Trees had to be cleared from a home site before construction could begin so why not use what was readily available?
  • Timber framing was familiar to this group, homesick and longing for reminders of the Old Country.
Cuckoos Farm Little Baddow, timber framed home, England

English colonists built homes to resemble those they left behind, like this 17th century home located near Chelmsford, England.

Parson Capen House, Topsfield Massachusetts, timber framed colonial home

The Parson Capen House, located in Topsfield, Massachusetts, is a fine example of 17th century New England architecture. The home bears a strong resemblance to houses in Toppesfield, England.

Who loved a cozy, solidly built stone home? Dutch settlers in the Hudson valley of New York and northern New Jersey, and German, Quaker and Scots-Irish settlers in eastern Pennsylvania. Each group constructed homes in farm styles similar to those they left behind in the Old Country. The best way to cure the damp caused by condensation, wrote Jefferson? Light a fire!

English stone cottage

This all-stone cottage, located in Northern England, would have served as a farmer’s home.

Samuel Fulton Stone House, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Irish settlers

The Samuel Fulton Home, originally located in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was patterned after old stone farmsteads that dotted the countryside in Northern England, Scotland and Ireland.

References:
Notes on the State of Virginia by Thomas Jefferson
Domestic Architecture of the American Colonies and of the Early Republic by Fiske Kimball
Early American Architecture: From the First Colonial Settlements to the National Period by Hugh Morrison