U.S. Post Office and Courthouse, Rock Hill, South Carolina

The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse at the corner of East Main and Caldwell Streets in Rock Hill, on March 6, 1933. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

The scene in 2020:

The city of Rock Hill experienced dramatic population growth during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, increasing from under a thousand in 1880 to over 11,000 by 1930. A new post office was built in Rock Hill in 1906, but within just a few decades the city had outgrown this space, requiring the construction of a new federal building. Work began on this building in the summer of 1931, and it was completed less than a year and a half later, in November 1932.

The first photo was taken a few months later, showing the view of the building from the southwest. At the time, the post office was located on the ground floor, with the federal district courtroom on the second floor. Further in the distance of this scene, on the right side of the two photos, is the First Baptist Church, which was built in 1920 and features a similar Classical Revival design with a yellow brick exterior. The third historic building in this scene is the Andrew Jackson Hotel, which opened in 1926 and is barely visible beyond the church on the far right.

Today, nearly 90 years after the first photo was taken, Rock Hill has continued to increase in population. The city’s postal needs ultimately outgrew this building after just a few decades, and in 1971 the post office moved to a new, larger facility. The old building was subsequently sold to the city of Rock Hill, and it is now known as the Gettys Art Center. The old courtroom is now a performing arts venue, and the rest of the building houses office and studio space for local artists and organizations. Despite these changes, though, this scene has remained essentially unchanged since the 1930s, and all three buildings here are part of the Rock Hill Downtown Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991.

Henry Howser House, Cherokee County, South Carolina (2)

The front entrance of the Henry Howser House on the grounds of the Kings Mountain National Military Park in South Carolina, in 1938. Image taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South.

The scene in 2020:

As discussed in more detail in the previous post, this house was built in 1803 by Henry Howser, a stonemason whose name appears on the lintel above the front door here. He lived here for the rest of his life, until his death in 1822, and the property would remain in his family for many generations, before being sold by his great-great grandsons in 1918.

Howser was originally from Pennsylvania, and he drew inspiration from that state’s architectural styles when building this house. As a result, its design bears little resemblance to other rural farmhouses in early 19th century South Carolina, particularly in the use of stone. These two photos show some of the detail of Howser’s stonework, which consisted of coursed ashlar here on the main facade, with stones of varying colors and sizes.

The first photo shows a glimpse of the interior of the house, which is also modeled on Pennsylvania German architecture. Known as a kuche and stube layout, the first floor featured a large kitchen, or “kuche,” that occupied more than half of the floor, including everything to the right of the doorway. The remaining part of the first floor was divided into two rooms, one of which would have been the parlor, or the “stube.” Likewise, the second floor is divided into three rooms, one of which was larger than the other two combined.

The Howser family did not consistently live here after the death of Henry’s daughter-in-law Faithy in 1882, but they often rented the property to tenant farmers. After they sold it in 1918, the new owners continued renting it, but it steadily deteriorated over the years. By the time the first photo was taken in 1938, almost all of the windows were broken, and the front door appeared to be off its hinges, leaving the house exposed to the elements.

Also in 1938, the National Park Service acquired this property, and it became part of the Kings Mountain National Military Park, which commemorates a pivotal battle in the southern theater during the American Revolution. However, because the house was built more than 20 years after the battle, it did not have any direct connection to it. Perhaps for that reason, the National Park Service did not fully restore it until the 1970s, when the stonework was repointed, the interior was rehabilitated, and the sheet metal roof was replaced with a shingled one.

Today, the house is still standing here, and it is in much better condition than it was when the first photo was taken. It survives not only as a rare example of its architectural style in the south, but also as a reminder of the ways in which the land use of the battlefield has changed over the years. However, it is situated in a secluded area on the edge of the park, far from the main battlefield site, so it receives few visitors and is only open for tours several times each year.

Henry Howser House, Cherokee County, South Carolina

The Henry Howser House on the grounds of the Kings Mountain National Military Park in South Carolina, in 1938. Image taken by Frances Benjamin Johnston, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South.

The house in 2020:

The Battle of Kings Mountain was an important battle in the southern theater during the American Revolution. Fought in the rural northwestern part of South Carolina on October 7, 1780, the battle was a significant Patriot victory that helped shape the subsequent events in the war. In the battle, a Patriot militia force surprised and defeated a larger Loyalist militia force, resulting in 290 Loyalists dead and 668 captured, compared to just 28 Patriots killed. The outcome caused Lord Cornwallis to delay his planned invasion of North Carolina, which led to the even more decisive Battle of Cowpens three months later.

After the war, this area of South Carolina remained very rural. Then, in 1788 Henry Howser, a stonemason from Pennsylvania, moved here and purchased much of the former battlefield. He constructed this house in 1803, as indicated by the lintel above the front door, in which he carved “Henry Howser – Stone Mason / Jane Howser 1803.” The Jane here was apparently his wife, Christina Jane Howser, although other sources claim that this Jane Howser was an enslaved stonecutter who assisted Henry with the construction.

Henry Howser became a wealthy man here in South Carolina, and he is variously listed as a farmer and distiller, in addition to being a stonemason. Unlike the large-scale plantations in other parts of South Carolina, Howser’s farm did not have massive numbers of enslaved laborers, but during the 1810 census he did have three slaves here, and a decade later he had four. He died in 1822, leaving a personal estate that was valued at $5,353, not including his extensive real estate holdings.

Henry’s son, who was also named Henry, subsequently acquired this house, where he lived until his death in 1842. The property then passed to his wife, Faithy, who outlived him by 40 years. By the 1850 census, she was 55 years old and living here with David Howser, who appears to have been her son. In addition, she had a 42-year-old enslaved woman and a ten-year-old enslaved boy, neither of whom are identified by name on the census. At the time, her land was valued at $3,500, which included the house and 100 acres of improved land, along with 800 acres of unimproved land. Her farm produced a variety of crops that year, in particular wheat, corn, and oats. She also had four horses, four milk cows, eight other head of cattle, a sheep, and 13 swine.

Faithy Howser died in 1882, but the property remained in the family for several more generations. Her grandson, Lawson Howell, acquired it in 1884, followed by his sons Aaron and J. Grigg Howell in 1911. For most of this time, Lawson and his sons rented the house to tenant farmers, although J. Grigg Howell did live here from 1915 to 1918. He and Aaron then sold the property, more than a century after their great-great grandfather built it.

Under new ownership, the house continued to be rented to tenants, including Tom Morris, who lived here from 1919 until around the mid-1920s. In the 1920 census he was 50 years old, and he was living here with his wife Maggie, their daughters Mary and Julia, Julia’s husband James Norman and infant daughter Pauline, and Tom’s mother Sallie. Tom’s occupation was listed as a general farmer, his daughters were listed as laborers on a home farm, and James Norman was a sawyer.

In 1931, the federal government created the Kings Mountain National Military Park, in order to preserve the nearby battlefield site. The Howser House was not originally a part of this park, but in 1938 the National Park Service purchased this property and added it to park. The first photo was taken around this time, by prominent photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston. Her project, known as the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South, involved photographing thousands of buildings in the southeast, which ranged from exquisite mansions to dilapidated ruins. By the time she documented the Howser House, it was much closer to the latter category, having evidently been abandoned for some time. The photo shows hardly a shard of glass remaining in any of the window panes, and the front door was likely wide open long before Johnston arrived, exposing the interior to the southern elements.

Even after the National Park Service acquired the house, its condition did not improve for many years. The doors and windows were boarded up in 1941, offering some protection for the house, but otherwise it was largely neglected. This was perhaps because the house was not directly related to the battle itself, and because of its remote location near the northwestern fringe of the park. However, the house was ultimately restored in the 1970s, including repointing the exterior walls, repairing the interior woodwork and walls, and replacing the sheet metal roof with a shingled roof.

Today, unlike so many of the other decaying southern homes that Frances Benjamin Johnston visited in the 1930s, the Howser House is in much better condition than it was when she took the first photo more than 80 years ago. However, with its closed shutters and deteriorating roof, it retains a somewhat bleak appearance, which is only enhanced by its secluded location within the park. The house seems to be rarely visited by tourists to the park, and the restored interior is only open for tours several times a year. Nonetheless, it survives as an important early 19th century architectural work, and as an unusual example of a Pennsylvania-style stone house in South Carolina.

Franklin and Armfield Office, Alexandria, Virginia

The Franklin and Armfield Office at 1315 Duke Street in Alexandria, around the early 1860s. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

The scene in 2021:

The Franklin and Armfield Office at 1315 Duke Street in Alexandria, Virginia was built in 1810. It was originally built as a private residence for Brigadier General Robert Young of the Second Militia of the District of Columbia, but he was forced to sell the home in 1820 due to financial problems. By 1828, the home was leased, and eventually bought by infamous slave traders, Isaac Franklin and John Armfield. Franklin and Armfield were the largest slave traders in the United States between 1828 and 1836, and the Duke Street home was turned into their main office.

Since the transatlantic slave trade was banned in 1808, Franklin and Armfield would send agents across Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware in search of slave owners who were willing to part with their slaves for relatively cheap prices. The enslaved people would then be shipped back and held in the high-walled courtyards surrounding the offices (Seen to the left and right of the house in the top picture). In these courtyards, the enslaved people were subject to brutal beatings, rapes, and countless other forms of cruel control. Rapes were so frequently done by Franklin and Armfield to their slaves, that they bragged about them in letters between each other, and both men would father children to enslaved women in their captivity. Franklin would later go on to sell the woman he raped and the child he fathered with her. A two-story extension was added to the back of the building to serve as jail cells. These cells could be used to isolate certain slaves but were more often rented out by travelling slave owners who wanted to keep their slaves on the Virginia side of the Potomac.

Due to a surplus of enslaved people in the Upper South, slaves did not fetch high prices in Alexandra. The enslaved people were typically kept in the home’s courtyards until enough of them were bought for them to all be shipped together or marched to their offices in Natchez and New Orleans. Once in the Deep South, they could be sold at much higher prices than they were bought for in Virginia. It’s estimated that Franklin and Armfield sold between 1,000-2,000 people each year, transporting all of them by way of cramped slave ships or forced marches across the South.
By 1836, Franklin decided to retire, and his partner Armfield decided to sell off most of the business. He sold the Duke Street offices to another slave trader, George Kephart. He would continue the practice of selling slaves until he sold it to yet another slave trading firm, Price, Birch & Co. in 1858.

Price, Birch & Co. would become infamous not for their volume of slaves sold, but rather for one particular man that they enslaved. Solomon Northup, a freed slave from Saratoga Springs, New York was kidnapped in Washington, DC in 1841. He was shipped down to New Orleans where we was bought by a planter and re-enslaved. It would take Solomon 12 years before he would once again gain his freedom with the help of Samuel Bass. A Canadian working on the plantation, Samuel was able to get word back to New York about Solomon’s re-enslavement. After an appeal to the Governor of New York, Solomon was granted his freedom in 1853. Solomon would later go on to write his famous memoirs, 12 Years a Slave. In his memoirs, Solomon named his kidnapper as “Burch”, but it’s largely been accepted that the man he was talking about was James H. Birch, of Price, Birch & Co. in Alexandria. It should be noted though that Solomon Northup does not appear to have actually passed through the Alexandria slave pens, only that Birch used the building as his offices. Price, Birch & Co. would go on to own the building until the Civil War, when it was occupied by Union Forces in 1861. During the Civil War the slave pens were ironically, used as jail cells for captured Confederate soldiers.

After the Civil War, a railroader by the name of Thomas Swann bought the property in 1870 and tore down the slave pen extension. The buildings exterior also underwent changes that give it its modern appearance, such as the fourth story windows being added as well as the arches over the windows on the front façade. The property changed hands multiple times over the last century, serving as apartments for most of that time before being sold in 2017 to the Northern Virginia Urban League. Today, the building has been re-named the Freedom House, and features a museum to the building’s history on the first floor, and offices for the Northern Virginia Urban League on the upper floors.

Marshall House, Alexandria, Virginia

The Marshall House at the corner of King and Pitt Streets in Alexandria, around 1861-1865. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Civil War Collection.

The scene in 2021:

The Marshall House in Alexandria, VA was built in 1799, originally as a tavern and inn called the Washington Tavern. Some time around the mid-1820s, the name of the tavern and inn was changed to the Marshall House, and by the eve of the Civil War it had become a popular meeting spot for secessionists. One of these secessionists was the recently hired manager of the Marshall House, James W Jackson. Jackson was a fiery secessionist, and months before the firing on Fort Sumter, decided to raise a massive, 18 foot wide Confederate flag up the flagpole that stood at the top of the Marshall House. The flag was so large and conspicuous, that it was reported to have been able to be seen with a spyglass from Washington, DC. To protect his flag, Jackson borrowed a ceremonial cannon from his neighbor and placed it in the backyard of the tavern facing the front door. Exclaiming that the flag would be removed over his dead body, his words would end up becoming perfectly prophetic.

May 24, 1861 marked the day that the Union Army began their advance across the Potomac river into Virginia. Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth, close friend of President Lincoln and commander of the famous New York Fire Zouaves (11th New York Infantry), was tasked with cutting telegraph wires leading out of Alexandria. As Ellsworth marched past the Marshall House though, he felt it was his sole duty to first remove the flag of secession from the top of the tavern. Taking Private Francis E. Brownell with him, Ellsworth managed to make his way up to the roof of the tavern and remove the flag. On their descent though, they were surprised by Jackson pointing a double-barreled shotgun at Ellsworth. Jackson immediately shot Ellsworth in the chest, killing him instantly. Simultaneously, Private Brownell shot Jackson in the face and bayoneted him, killing him instantly as well. This incident at the Marshall House would mark the first Union officer to die in the Civil War. Ellsworth’s body would be sent to the White House for public mourning, while Jackson’s actions made Southerners view him as their first martyr of the war.

During and after the war the Marshall House attracted many tourists, soldiers and civilians alike. Many took souvenirs of the carpet, floorboards, or the outside signage. In 1873 most of the tavern burned down by an arsonist. Only the brick exterior remained after the fire. The building was restored after the fire, although with many Victorian style decorations added to the exterior. By the time the Marshall House was razed in the 1950s for downtown development, it resembled little of how it did during the Civil War.

Fittingly enough, the spot where the Marshall House was is today a hotel. The latest iteration of the site is The Alexandrian Hotel, owned by Marriott Bonvoy. Nothing currently marks the spot where Ellsworth and Jackson died, although up until recently there was a plaque on the side of the hotel posted by the Sons of Confederate Veterans that read:

THE MARSHALL HOUSE
stood upon this site, and within the building
on the early morning of May 24,
JAMES W. JACKSON
was killed by federal soldiers while defending his property and
personal rights as stated in the verdict of the coroners jury.
He was
the first martyr to the cause of Southern Independence.
The justice of history does not permit his name to be forgotten.

Not in the excitement of battle, but coolly and for a great principle,
he laid down his life, an example to all, in defence of his home and
the sacred soil of his native state.
VIRGINIA

Marriott Bonvoy seems to have quietly removed the plaque after pushback from the community.

Interestingly, the Marshall House also played a much smaller role in the Civil War. In 1859, the tavern issued tokens with an image of Minerva in profile on them. Tokens from private businesses were common before the war in both the North and the South. People hoarded metal coinage, believing their value would go up once war started. To counteract this, many businesses made their own tokens made from less valuable metals to help stimulate commerce. The tokens from the Marshall House eventually made their way down to Richmond, where the engraver Robert Lovett, Jr. used its image of Minerva as an exact model for his Confederate cent prototypes.

Mount Vernon, Virginia (4)

Looking south along the east piazza of the Mount Vernon mansion in Virginia, around 1900-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

As shown in the previous post, perhaps the most distinctive feature of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate is the piazza here on the east side of the mansion, although it is not original to the house. The house was constructed in several stages, starting around 1734 when the future president’s father, Augustine Washington, built a small house here. This was later expanded twice by George Washington, first in 1758 with the construction of a full second story, and then in 1774 with additions on both the north and south sides, along with the piazza on the east side.

The mansion sits on a bluff about 125 feet above the Potomac River, and from here the piazza offers expansive views of the river and the Maryland shoreline on the opposite side. Following the American Revolution, George Washington had envisioned that the river would serve as the primary gateway to the west, with all of the resulting east-west traffic literally passing by his front door. He was even involved with establishing the Patowmack Company, which made navigational improvements further upstream. The river ultimately did not become the great trade route that he had hoped, but it did become the site of the new national capital of Washington, D. C., which was built only 15 miles upstream on Mount Vernon.

After George Washington’s death in 1799 and his widow Martha’s in 1802, Mount Vernon remained in the Washington family for more than 50 years. It steadily declined during this period, though, and by the late 1850s the piazza was in danger of collapsing, with ship masts being used to support the roof. Then, in 1858 the last Washington owner, John Augustine Washington III, sold the property to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. This organization restored the mansion, and opened it to the public and a museum in 1860, making it one of the first historic house museums in the country.

Very little has changed here at Mount Vernon since then. The first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, showing at least nine visitors, mostly women, on and around the piazza. More than a century later, it looks essentially the same as it did then, with even the same style chairs still lined up here. The estate is still owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, and it remains open to the public as one of the most popular tourist attractions in Virginia.