719 S. Main Street in Reidsville is for sale for the first time in 84 years. Reflecting the often immense difference between home values in larger cities and smaller ones, its price of $227,000 ($77 per square foot) appears to be a bargain. Some cosmetic work is needed inside (the kitchen and bathrooms aren’t fabulous), but the house appears to be livable as it is. It has been owned by only two families in its 152 years, and it has some serious Reidsville history behind it.
“This large frame house, one of a number of important Italianate houses surviving in the district, is said to have been built built about 1880 [county records say 1869] for Captain Archibald E. Walters (1843-1920), a Virginia native and Civil War veteran, and his wife Mary E. Walters (1845-1914), by her father R.P. Richardson, Sr.,” the Reidsville Historic District’s National Register nomination states, only hinting at the history of the place.
Robert Payne Richardson Sr. (1820-1909) was one of 19th-century Reidsville’s leading citizens, owner of Richardson Tobacco Company and a plantation of 1,600 acres. His first wife, Elizabeth Wright Richardson (1822-1849), was a granddaughter of William Wright, the first settler in the area, which originally was known as Wright’s Cross-Roads. Robert Sr. and son Robert Jr. (1855-1922) built the three major structures in the Robert Payne Richardson Historic District (NRHP) in Reidsville. Senior’s house, built around 1842, is said to be the oldest in town. Junior’s mansion, built in 1912, is for sale now, at $950,000.
Son-in-law Archibald Walters (1842-1919) was a Civil War veteran, wounded at Gettysburg and taken prisoner days before Appomattox (contrary to the NRHP nomination, “Captain” Walters’ military career may have peaked at 2nd lieutenant). Archie and Mary Elizabeth (1845-1916) had four children. They left the house to son Edmund Richardson Walters (1873-1958).
The house didn’t leave the Walter family until 1937, when Edmund sold it to optometrist William T. Ferneyhough, Sr. (1886-1970). Ferneyhough left it to his son, the Rev. W.T. Ferneyhough Jr. (1919-1998). W.T. Junior’s wife, Dorothy Coble Ferneyhough (1928-2020), remained owner until 2019, when she gave it to one of their sons, Chris Todd Ferneyhough. He’s now selling it.
The house has five bedrooms and two bathrooms in 2,958 square feet. The lot is 1.46 acres. “Standing far back from the street on a large lot with mature magnolia and oak trees, the two-story frame house features an irregular plan, which narrows from north to south, under a low hipped roof pierced by tall brick chimneys with rusticated stone caps’ the National Register nomination says.
“Two-story semi-hexagonal bays project from the north elevation and north projecting bay of the three-bay facade. A one-story porch with two-tier, pedimented gable entrance bay shelters the right two bays and continues on the south elevation, where it has been enclosed. The porch is supported by chamfered posts and has turned baluster railings. Windows are two over two sash in round-and segmentally-arched openings with label moldings above on most windows. The architrave has a paneled frieze with sawn brackets. One-story wings extend to the rear of the house. Since 1978, the house has been sheathed in aluminum siding.”
Some non-germane Richardson family trivia:
- Robert Jr. played baseball and football at Davidson and was remembered for a heroic touchdown in a 73-7 thrashing of Wake Forest.
- Junior ran the tobacco company after his father’s death, renaming it R.P. Richardson Jr. and Company. It was sold to Brown & Williamson in 1923, a year after he died.
- Archibald Walters and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Richardson, may have been cousins. His mother’s maiden name was Elizabeth Payne Richardson, strikingly similar to the name of Mary’s father, Robert Payne Richardson Sr. Elizabeth Walters (1812-1844) was the daughter of one Edmund Richardson. Could he have been a brother of Robert Sr.’s father, James Richardson? I haven’t found documentation of brothers for James or paternal uncles for Robert Sr. or Elizabeth Walters. Or a possible common ancestor named Payne. Robert Sr. did have both a brother and a son named Edmund. And Archibald and Mary named a son Edmund as well. Perhaps it’s just a curious coincidence.
- Robert Sr.’s brother Edmund Richardson (1818-1886) was the real achiever of the family, though not in entirely positive ways. When he died, he was described as the richest man in the South. He had moved to Jackson, Mississippi, around 1840, about when he received a small inheritance from his father. By the time of the Civil War, he owned five cotton plantations, stores in several towns and a partnership in a New Orleans cotton marketing firm. After the war, unskilled and unemployable former slaves in Mississippi were routinely imprisoned for vagrancy. Creating a system as much like slavery as possible, the prisons actually paid Richardson to use their labor on his plantations, which became massively profitable. He diversified into banks, steamboats, railroads and other ventures. A partner in a Tennessee plantation was Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the KKK.