Thursday, August 5, 2010

The John C. Vansant House

While several of the houses already written about here sit on or near major roads, many of the area's historic homes are situated off the main roads -- on smaller roads, their own little paths, or sometimes the remnants of older roads passed by in the age of the automobile. One example of the latter is the John C. Vansant House, which sits at the paved end of Possum Hollow Road just east of Milford Crossroads (the intersection of Possum Park Road and Paper Mill Road). And while this little stone and frame house didn't by itself play a particularly large role in the area's history, nor was it owned by anyone particularly important, not surprisingly for a 200 year old house it does have its own story to tell. It also has an architectural feature unique to the area.

Like many houses of similar age, the Vansant House has an original section with a newer addition built on to it. In this case, the two-story portion is the original, built about 1810, and the one and a half story section was added in 1936. The c.1810 section is an example of what is known as a "double-pile, side hall plan". This means that the house is two rooms deep, with a hallway (and staircase) to the side. The second story shares the same plan, with the exception of a bathroom that was partitioned off from the front of the hallway during the 1936 renovation. The side addition is one undivided room on each floor. Originally, there was a stone kitchen attached to the house, most likely located where the 1936 addition is now.

The current stone house is the second to be located on the property, the first being a mudwalled house built by John Clark Vansant, probably not long after he acquired the property in 1788. This house was listed in tax assessments in 1798 and 1804, the later being 5 years after the elder Vansant's death. John, Jr. eventually ended up with the property, and by 1816 records indicate a stone residence standing on the parcel. Vansant likely financed the house from the sale of land, as well as five slaves (one adult and four children). After staying in the Vansant family for several more decades, the property was sold in 1865 to Robert Taylor (whose name is listed on the 1868 Beers map). Taylor lived in the house for more than 25 years, before it was sold at auction in 1892.

The house went through several more hands before being purchased in 1936 by Yolande Brown. She bought three other tracts in the area at the same time, and ran them collectively as a farm. It was she who added the 1 1/2 story addition, closing up the original fireplaces in the process, as well as adding the front porch. Brown also built a new barn on the foundations of a c.1828 barn that had burned down years earlier. The property was purchased by New Castle County in 1980 and designated as parkland. The area now is part of White Clay Creek State Park's Middle Run Natural Area. Since 1989, it has also been the home of the Tri-State Bird Rescue.

Rear view, showing frame walls

And finally, what about the previously mentioned "unique architectural feature"? This has to do with the construction of the rear, or north-facing wall of the house (the house actually faces away from Possum Hollow Road, towards the fields). Whereas all the other walls of the house are stone, the rear wall is wood-frame. Investigations indicate that the wall is original, not a later repair or renovation. (The rear wall of the addition is frame as well.) It's possible that a stone wall could have collapsed during construction, or it might have been intentional. Many barns in the region are built with three stone and one frame wall, so maybe Vansant wanted his house to mimic the local barn pattern. No one knows. In any case, the John C. Vansant House is proof that even small, out-of-the-way historic homes have their own unique story to tell. For more of that story, check out its National Register of Historic Places form (which was approved in 1989) and pictures.

1 comment:

  1. Possum hollow road used to connect right next to what is now the pike creek christian school, the trail that runs directly next to the road down to the school crosses over a river, which im guessing used to have a bridge, and connects. There are old telephone poles in the woods along the trail. Would be a great shortcut if the road was still in use today as it runs parallel to fox den road, but not disturbing white clay creek state park is a plus, and it has a good snake run for biking on the trail!