|Thomas Justis House|
The first section of the Thomas Justis House was built by its namesake sometime between 1804 and 1816. How we know this provides an excellent example of the rebuilding of the area, as detailed in a recent post. In the 1804 county tax assessment, Justis was shown having a log house and a log barn. In 1816, he was assessed as having a stone house and a wood barn. This new stone house, which is the western (left, as you look at it) section of the house, was built as a typical three-bay, double pile (two rooms deep), side passage Georgian home. Although it's difficult to tell from the street since the entire facade is whitewashed, the section to the right of the door is of frame construction, and was added around 1900. Interestingly, though, a few clues in the basement of the 1900 section (like the construction of the foundation walls, and a large supporting arch with no chimney above it) suggest that the original log house may have stood where it is now. It may have been demolished when the stone section was built, or the stone part may have originally been an add-on to the old log house. Also, the large stone hearth at the back of the one-story, frame, rear kitchen wing is obviously older than the wing itself. It likely was part of an older addition, or possibly a free-standing kitchen building. There's also a possibility that it was originally part of the 18th Century log house, then reused as a kitchen hearth.
And as for the construction itself, this time, when we say "[the] House was built by its namesake", we almost certainly mean it literally. There is actually very little known about Thomas Justis, except that he was born about 1770, married Mary Wollaston in 1799, and died in 1841. The only other major thing we know is his profession -- house carpenter. In fact, it seems that not only was he a builder of houses, but he was a busy and important one in the Mill Creek Hundred area. Details of the houses suggest that Thomas Justis (or at least, men who worked with or for him) was responsible for many of the early 19th Century houses still standing in the area, including his own, the Swithin Chandler House cattycorner from Brandywine Springs, the 1818 section of the McKennan-Klair House, and the Justa Justis house on Duncan Road.
|Kitchen wing hearth, possibly from an earlier structure|
After Thomas' death in 1841, his widow Mary was forced to sell the house in order to repay debts. The next two residents were both doctors -- Dr. Alexander Lowber lived there from 1842-1854, and Dr. Watson Quinby resided there for the next three years. Although Thomas Justis had farmed his land in addition to being a builder, it wasn't until William Derickson bought the property in 1857 that the house was occupied by a full-time farmer. William was the son of Zachariah Derickson, and the nephew of Aquila. He grew up on the Derickson Farm on McKennans Church Road. In 1884, the house was bought by farmer John Ball. Aside from being a successful farmer, he was also the father of Lewis Heisler Ball -- doctor, Congressman, Senator, and officer in several companies (including Brandywine Springs Amusement Park). John Ball sold the house in 1899 to his son William, who lived there until his death in 1914.
The National Register of Historic Places (to which the house was added in 1993, pictures here) form implies that the post 1915 residents of the house did not farm the land, and the house changed hands several times from then until 1941, when it was purchased by Roy and Harriette McClenahan, in whose family the house remained until just last year. There are several interesting mysteries surrounding this house (How did Thomas fit into the Justis family?, Was the east basement built for the log house?, Was the kitchen hearth part of the log house?), and maybe someday we'll find the answers. In any case, this house is unquestionably more interesting and locally significant than I'll bet most people realize.
Edit 7/12/16: It was noted recently by several readers that the Justis House is currently (2016) for sale. I've posted below some of the pictures taken from the listing. Needless to say, it doesn't look like the interior is in very good shape. I should say, though, that it may well be all cosmetic. The walls have been torn out in the rear kitchen wing, but dry wall would take care of that. New paint and the floors redone, it could be nice. I have no knowledge of the condition of the house other than these pictures, so don't take my word on it. If you're interested in saving a piece of MCH history, contact the listing agent.