In the early decades of the nation’s history, Caswell County was one of North Carolina’s most prosperous and prominent counties. Long beyond living memory, though, its fortunes crashed. Now, about all that’s left of its glory years are some truly impressive houses, scattered here and there from Camp Springs and Cherry Grove up to Milton and Semora.
The Moore-Gwyn-Ewalt House in the Locust Hill area is a beautiful example of Caswell’s glorious past — 6,226 square feet of Federal-style elegance on 200 unspoiled acres. The house was built in 1790; considerable square footage is in the form of two well-designed wings built in 1995. It was listed June 1 at $1.75 million. The address is 5869 U.S. Highway 158. Situated southwest of Yanceyville and close to N.C. 150, it’s within a relatively easy commute to Greensboro.
“The severe exterior appearance of the Moore House contrasts with the rich Federal motifs which appear throughout the interior,” the National Register nomination states. “The treatment of the raised basement of the Moore House as a visually integral feature of the structure by means of matching exterior architectural detail is atypical of Caswell County and is one of the major factors in the imposing appearance of the house. The Moore House is one of the best preserved and most handsome houses of the Federal era in the northern Piedmont of North Carolina.”
The house sits well back from the road. It has four bedrooms and three full and two half bathrooms. There are nine fireplaces, eight wood-burning and one with gas logs. The beautiful moldings and mantels are well displayed in the listing’s photos, several of which are below. The property includes formal boxwood gardens, a fenced garden, a pool and a pond. Near the house, a screened-in summer house stands between the two fireplaces of the original detached kitchen, which burned in 1942. An early 19th-century saddlebag cabin, originally slave quarters, serves as a guesthouse. The 1995 additions by the current owners were built with the approval of Preservation North Carolina, which holds a preservation easement on the house.
The property was listed to the National Register in 1973 through the efforts of then-owner Miss Annie Yancey Gwynn. According to the nomination, tobacco planter Samuel Moore bought the land in 1785, and the house is believed to have been built around 1790. Moore at one time owned at least 1,000 acres in the area. Although the real-estate listing notes the local lore of the house possibly having been designed by Thomas Jefferson, the National Register nomination doesn’t mention him (spoil-sport historians).
In the 1850s, the property was owned by George Swepson, son-in-law of Bartlett Yancey, one of the grand figures in Caswell’s history. (Swepson later became a Reconstruction-era bigshot and namesake of Swepsonville in Alamance County, where he built a textile mill. Sadly, he came to ruin in a railroad-bond scandal.)
Rufus Stamps bought the property from Swepson in 1858, and it remained in his family until 1942, when Annie bought it. The house hadn’t been lived in for 25 years and was being used as a barn. She restored it and got it onto the National Register. She lived there for many years; she died in 1985 at age 94, God bless her.
Annie was born in Caswell County in 1891 and attended Greensboro Female College, now Greensboro College (her last name is sometimes reported as “Gwyn”; although her middle name was Yancey, I couldn’t find any genealogical connection between her and Bartlett Yancey). She worked as a school teacher and then trained as a nurse. Annie served as an Army nurse in France during World War I and later worked as a nurse in Washington.
“On a visit to Caswell County in 1942 she bought a 179-year-old house that had been her ‘dream house’ since early childhood,” according to The Heritage of Caswell County, North Carolina, edited by Jeannine D. Whitlow. “The house was then almost in ruins. Much work was needed to restore the old Moore-Gwyn House.
“Upon retirement from nursing, Annie Yancey Gwyn came back to her native Caswell County and her ‘dream house’ and with vigor and vitality she started the task of creating a home out of the ancient ‘crone’ of a house. With some hired help she attacked the jungle of weeds and honeysuckles, mountains of junk, and started restoring the three story old brick house and the tenant houses. After many years of hard work and tender loving care she made a monument of beauty and memories from a scrap pile.”
Special thanks to caswellcountync.org and Harry Branch of North Carolina Estates.