Pittsylvania Stories: A Look At Local Historical Sites
While it was officially formed in 1766 from portions of Halifax, Pittsylvania County’s history started long before that. Part of the society’s mission is to draw attention to pieces of that history still standing, structures and locations where you can visit.
Pittsylvania gets its name from William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham. The connection is just about timing. At the time locals formed Pittsylvania County, Mr. Pitt was serving as Great Britain’s Prime Minister. The locals wanted to honor the prime minister, so the name stuck.
We still have structures in the county from that time period, as well as the 1800s. Here’s a look at some of them.
1770 Callands Clerk’s Office
Small, but boasting the charm of Williamsburg, is the Callands clerk’s office 11 miles west of Chatham.
The clerk’s office was built around 1770 after Pittsylvania County was cut from Halifax County in 1767. In 1966, the building was given to the people of Pittsylvania County by owners Landon E. Oakes and J. Clyde Oakes to be maintained for all to enjoy as the first official building after Pittsylvania became a county in June 1767.
Measuring 19 by 24 feet, the story and a half brick structure has a steep-pitched roof, side chimney and a corbel, or four rows of stepped-back brick under the eaves. The brick is laid in Flemish bond (a stretcher and a header, a stretcher and a header) on the main facade and in English or common bond (five rows of stretchers sandwiching one row of headers) on the other three sides.
The interior, typical of colonial design, has four windows downstairs and a fireplace framed on top by a mantel and at the side by shelves. A narrow staircase leads to the small room above which has three windows.
Evergreen summer houses are still in the yard. Evergreens planted in circles border a room-sized space inside offering coolness during hot summer days.
After donation by the Oakes brothers, the clerk’s office was restored to beauty and architectural authenticity by the Chatham Garden Club. The clerk’s office and nearby courthouse and gaol were home to Pittsylvania Historical Society’s annual Autumn Potpourri in October for many years.
1773 Callands Courthouse and Gaol
Located across the road from the Callands clerk’s office is a building traditionally referred to as the Courthouse and Gaol, although its original use is inconclusive.
It is believed to have been built around 1773. Wide steps lead to the porch that stretches across the front of the brick building. Inside is one large room with a wooden floor and fireplace at the far end. Shuttered windows let in light from the outside.
A dispatch of 1775 in The Virginia Gazette describes a meeting of numerous inhabitants in the Callands courthouse where they elected a committee of safety to line up against the English king, according to information published about the times. This lends credibility to the belief that this building was originally used as a courthouse.
The barred windows of the basement appear to indicate that it was at one time used as a jail. Some say it was a debtors’ prison. In later years it was operated by Samuel Calland as a store.
The structure and surrounding site was donated to the county by the family of Peggy Stegall Wood. The Stegall farm adjoins the property.
The old store was restored by the Pittsylvania Historical Society with funds from the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors.
1813 Clerk’s Office and Flue-Cured Tobacco Barn
Nestled on a wooded lot behind Chatham Town Hall is Pittsylvania County’s 1813 Clerk’s Office.
In 1783, the county courthouse was moved from Cherrystone Meeting House Spring off Whittle Street to higher ground at the present site of Chatham Baptist Church. Taverns and stores began popping up around the court building. Merchants left at the lower ravine location down the hill began to feel desperation at the thriving businesses surrounding the new courthouse. They petitioned the Virginia General Assembly in 1807 to move the courthouse back to Whittle Street.
The General Assembly decided the courthouse should remain at the new location and this row brought about the town being called “Competition” until 1852.
The clerk’s office was built as an adjunct to the controversial courthouse. The courthouse of 1783 was later sold and torn down when the present courthouse was built on Main Street. The clerk’s office became a dwelling after its official life was over and eventually became vacant. Soon it caught the attention of the Pittsylvania Historical Society which used grant money from the Virginia Historical Landmarks Commission to preserve the original small one-room brick structure that was standing and rebuild the L-shaped section that was missing.
It had been torn down for the bricks to build the foundation of an addition to the Tredway/Whitehead house which is now Chatham Town Hall. The original plans were found in court records so the restoration is deemed authentic.
Similar to Virginia’s early government structures across the Tidewater and Piedmont regions, the red-brick building is laid in Flemish bond with dogtooth corbels for cornices with four rows of unmolded brick set at a 45-degree angle. Three outside entries have heavy wooden bars inside as well as shuttered windows of 18 panes. There are four fireplaces within two rooms, with chair rails, plastered walls and stone floors.
In 1981 it was listed as a Virginia Landmark and in 1982 on the National Register of Historic Places. Behind the Clerk’s office is Frances Hallam Hurt Park with picnic tables, a gazebo, a picnic shelter, restored tobacco barn and children’s play area.
1853 Pittsylvania County Courthouse
Pittsylvania County’s Courthouse is located on the east side of Main Street in Chatham. The two-story, stretcher-bond brick edifice was erected from plans of L.A. Shumaker. Built in 1853, the building combines elements from the Classical Revival and Italianate styles. Alterations include the enlargement of the clerk’s office in 1898, the addition of space for court-related offices in 1927, and a rear addition for Commonwealth’s Attorney’s offices in 1968. In more recent years, a courthouse annex was attached.
The facade (west) is distinguished by a pedimented Greek Revival portico which has Doric columns on square piers and a Doric entablature with triglyphs and guttae. The tympanum is finished with formal shiplap siding. The portico shelters a restored double-door side entrance that features a louvred transom and a stone lintel with turned corner blocks.
Two auxiliary entrances flank the portico on the ground level; an original single-door side entrance is found on the south elevation. Fenestration on the façade’s first story consists of 6/6 hung-sash windows in three-part architraves. The side elevations have 6/6 hung-sash windows topped by lintels with turned corner blocks. Larger openings similarly executed are found on the second story.
The building is topped by a cupola which, according to documentation, was added as the building was nearing completion in August 1853 to house a bell. The cupola is divided into two stages: the lower one containing the clock, the second the belfry. The belfry has an Italianate bracketed cornice and a railing with turned balusters.
The building’s ground floor is divided into offices. The main floor contains the courtroom of the 22nd Judicial Circuit Court flanked by court-related rooms. The courtroom has elaborate Italinate plasterwork which consists of a paneled ceiling, a large circular ceiling medallion, and a three-part cornice. The cornice has engaged balls, acanthus leaves, and a plain band.
The ceiling’s corners are distinguished by floral compositions, similar to that found around the center medallion. The principal doors and windows are framed by symmetrical architrave trim with turned corner blocks. The judge’s bench is separated from the auditorium by a balustrade with vase-turned balusters.
The Colonial Revival aedicule and paneling behind the bench date to ca. 1947. The auditorium benches date to the present century. Portraits of past judges and distinguished county residents line the walls of the courtroom.
The Courthouse annex has courtrooms for Pittsylvania County General District Court and Pittsylvania County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court and offices which support these courtrooms. The Pittsylvania County Clerk’s Office on the ground floor maintains records back to 1747.