Urban Trails – Abingdon Historic District, Abingdon, Virginia

Isaac Kremer/ December 15, 2013/ Physical/ 0 comments

A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Abingdon’s Downtown Historic District, Abingdon, Virginia

Historic Abingdon, Virginia has enjoyed a rich and vibrant history. Long a center of both commerce and culture, Abingdon traces its modern roots to 1750 when Dr. Thomas Walker, who had been granted over 6,000 acres of land by King George II, explored the area in what is now Southwest Virginia. Joseph Black, who purchased some of the land from Dr. Walker, settled on it, and built a small fort. The area became known as “Black’s Fort”.

In 1776, the Assembly of Virginia created Washington County in honor of General George Washington, and designated Black’s Fort as the meeting place for the first county court. Dr. Walker, Joseph Black, and Samuel Briggs donated 120 acres of land to be used to establish a town. In 1778, the Virginia Assembly passed an act to incorporate the new town, naming it Abingdon. The name is thought to be in honor of Martha Washington’s ancestral home of Abingdon Parish in England.

Abingdon became the first English speaking settlement to be incorporated in the watershed of the Mississippi. The first structures were built of logs, bit it was only a few years before frame dwellings with rock foundations were built. Despite several fires that destroyed portions of the town, Abingdon still retains buildings from each decade of its first 100 years.

Abingdon became a major distribution point for mail and supplies on “The Great Road West”. The town also became know for its love of the arts. Concerts, operatic performances, and theater all became an important part of life in early Abingdon. The affinity for the arts survives today, as modern amenities flourish alongside venerable antiquities.

  1. 208 W. Main St. – Fields-Penn 1860 House Museum. Abingdon in the early 1830s was a genteel community of women and men, the descendants of those who first explored, settled, and made their fortunes in the Virginia wilderness. Their prosperity continued until the outbreak of the War Between the States and homes like the Fields-Penn House (1858) are typical of the pre-war era. Built by a building contractor by the name of James Fields, the restored house is now owned by the Town of Abingdon and is a Museum House.
  2. 150 W. Main St. – General Francis Preston House/Martha Washington Inn. In 1832, the original and center portion of the complex that now houses the Martha Washington Inn was built as a private residence for General Francis Preston and his wife. In 1858 the home was sold for $21,000 and became Martha Washington College in 1860. During this period the college also served as a Civil War hospital. In 1935, it was opened as a hotel. Throughout the years, and a succession of owners, it has evolved into the lovely and gracious Inn you see today.
  3. Barter Stage II. Formerly known as The Barter Playhouse, this building was built in 1831 as a Methodist Protestant Church which had separated from the Methodist Episcopal Church.
  4. 102 E. Main St. – The John Barr House. This three-story house was built in 1871. In the early 1800s, Michael Shaver, Abingdon’s only silversmith, had his residence, a tavern, and a blacksmith shop on this land. They were destroyed in the 1856 fire.
  5. 116 #. Main St. – The Judge John A. Campbell House. Built in 1847. After Judge Campbell’s death, his wife continued to live in the house and took in boarders, one of whom was Elliott Roosevelt, father of Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the United States from 1933-1945.
  6. St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Built in 1925.
  7. Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church. Built in 1925.
  8. 142 E. Main St. – The Andrew Gibson House. Built in 1836. Mr. Gibson died while serving as Mayor of Abingdon and the family sold the house to John Krefer. Mr. Krefer was clerk of the court in Abingdon during the Civil War and is credited with removing valuable records to a hiding place out of town where they were safe from General Stoneman’s advancing army.
  9. The Greenway Brother’s Building. Built in 1878 by James C. Greenway, David Greenway and Thomas Trigg, operating under the firm name “Greenway Brothers & Co.” The initials on the uppermost window stand for the firm’s name.
  10. Corner of Main and Court/200 E. Main St. – Henry S. Preston Building. This lot has long been a prime commercial location. Before the Civil War the lot was occupied by a brick house which was used by a number of shopkeepers. Henry Preston had the present three-story brick building built in 1871. A store was located on the first floor and Waterman’s Lodge #219 on the third floor.
    In 1881 the Bank of Abingdon acquired the property and was located here for some years. From that time the property changed hands several times and was used for various purposes, including a restaurant, a candy company, and Little Dukes Cigar Factory. It was renovated as law offices in 1975.
  11. 206 E. Main St. – Abingdon House. This three-story brick townhouse was built in 1872 as a home for Dr. Robert Preston who owned the home for thirty years. The building is known as “Abingdon House” and is used as a residence with offices on the first floor.
  12. 206 E. Main St. – Dunn’s Hotel/The Virginia House. John Dunn built this brick building with its stepped gables in 1846. Known as Dunn’s Hotel, the building was designed to be both a store and hotel. John Dunn and Sons did business in the store selling hats, bonnets, yard goods, boots, groceries, and paints. The western part of the building was the hotel and served as a center for many activities during the mid 19th century. Renamed “The Virginia House”, the ballroom was used as a “Dancing and Waltzing Academy”. The dining room had good patronage and, in the bar room, games of billiards and bagatelle were played. A multi-seat carriage conveyed passengers from the railroad depot to the hotel. The building is now used as law offices.
  13. 222 E. Main St. – The Tavern. Considered the oldest building in Abingdon, the Tavern was built around 1779 and used from its beginning as a tavern and overnight inn for stage coach travelers. It has played host to such guests as Henry Clay and President Andrew Jackson. Abingdon’s first post office was located in the addition on the east side of the Tavern. The original mail slot can still be seen from the street. During the past two centuries, the Tavern has served as a tavern, bank, bakery, general store, cabinet shop, barber shop, private residence, post office, antique shop, and restaurant.
  14. 228-230 E. Main St. – The Washington House / Thomas Findlay’s Hotel. In 1835, Thomas Findlay built “The Washington House”, Abingdon’s first hotel. In addition to travelers, newcomers occasionally used hotel rooms for professional purposes. The building has been used as a boarding house, meat market, and hat shop.
  15. 268 E. Main St. – Ludowick C. Price/E.L. Davenport House. The western portion of this house is a log cabin built in 1825 by the heirs of Patrick Lynch. The eastern addition was built in 1835 by Ludowick Price, an early merchant.
  16. 281 E. Main St. – James Longley/James K. Gibson House. This house was originally two houses. The one on the west was built in 1790 and the one on the east in 1791. By 1798, James Longley acquired both houses and joined them sometime before selling the property in 1817 to James K. Gibson.
  17. 279 E. Main St. – Adam Hickman House/The Cave House. This house was built in 1857 by Abingdon entrepreneur Adam Hickman. Mr. Hickman was in the tannery business. Behind the house are caves from which wolves came to attack Daniel Boone’s dogs in 1760. Daniel Boone gave the area the name of “Wolf Hill”, which was later changed to “Black’s Fort”, and finally, “Abingdon”.
  18. Dr. William H. Pitts House. This stucco-covered house, unusual for Abingdon, was built by Adam Hickman in 1854. Dr. Pitts bought the property in 1859 and practiced medicine in Abingdon through the Civil War.
  19. 225 E. Main St. – The Bank/Preston House. This building was constructed in 1858 for the Exchange Bank of Virginia. Rooms on the left side of the first floor reserved for banking operations were secured with iron window bars, a separate entrance and a vault. The rest of the house served as the banker’s private quarters and for entertaining numerous guests of the bank. The Bank is a National Historic Landmark.
  20. 108 Court St. NE – The William King House. An extraordinarily wealthy merchant and salt manufacturer who had come from Ireland, William King constructed this residence which he called “Grace Hill” in 1803. It was the first brick house in Abingdon. King was one of the founders of the Abingdon Male Academy.
  21. The Summers Law Office. Begun in 1872 as the Johnston & Trigg law offices. In 1918 it was deeded to Lewis P. Summers, lawyer and historian. His son Andrew, who collected material to preserve the musical heritage of the area, inherited the building in 1943 and in 1969 the Summers heirs gave “The Office” to the Historical Society of Washington County , and is now owned by the Town of Abingdon.
  22. The Washington County Courthouse. This is the fifth building to serve as a courthouse. A courthouse on this site was burned in 1864 as an aftermath of General Stoneman’s raid and the present courthouse was constructed and occupied in 1869. The stained glass was designed by the Tiffany Studio and added as a memorial to those who served during WWI. The new addition to the courthouse has brick murals of the Revolutionary War, the Spanish-American War, WWI, WWII, and the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf Wars.
    Behind the courthouse was an area known as the “jackey lot.” Here, on the first Saturday of the month when the court was in session, horse traders and merchants would gather to engage in business and sports. Women and children did not attend this raucous event.
    Adjacent to the courthouse is the Civil War monument which was moved from the center of Main Street during the 1950s.
  23. 171 E. Main St. – Col. James White House. Col. White, a wealthy merchant and businessman who owned property in several states, built this house in 1819 and added the store/office building to the east in 1828. The house and store were partially destroyed in the 1864 fire that burned the nearby courthouse. The buildings were restored immediately after the war.
  24. 165-167 E. Main St. – The Andrew Russell House. The western part of this house was built in 1792, the east wing being added in 1876. During the Civil War, the house was used as a Confederate officers’ headquarters.
  25. 15 E. Main St. – General Francis Preston’s Law Office. Built in 1815, the front portion of the house is the law office with the original logs underneath the siding.
  26. 133 E. Main St. – The Rohr House/Marcella. This brick townhouse, built in 1845 by the Rev. Phillip Rohr as a residence. It was used through the years as a millinery shop, a physician’s office, and the Town Library. In 1925 it was purchased and restored as a home by David and Marcella Burke.
  27. 129 E. Main St. – The Valentine Baugh House. The western part of this house is a log building built in 1798. An addition to the log house and wood siding were added in 1807. Miss Minnie Baugh, granddaughter of Valentine, built an apothecary shop adjacent to the west side of the house in 1891, and practiced as a druggiest for several years.
  28. 115 E. Main St. – The Samuel A. Preston House. Built in 1857.
  29. The Abingdon Methodist Church. Built in 1883.
  30. 111 W. Main St. – Thomas P. Hoofnagle House. Built in 1851.
  31. 123 W. Main St. – William Rodefer House. Built in 1857.
  32. The Barter Theatre. Built around 1832 as a church for the Sinking Spring Presbyterian congregation. When the church moved, the building was acquired by the Sons of Temperance. It was used for lectures, grange meetings, theatrical productions and in 1855 a male school met in the basement. After the Temperance group ceased to function, their trustees gave the building to the Town of Abingdon. In 1905 the current front portion of the building was added. The main floor was referred to as the “Opera House” with the Town Hall upstairs, the jail in the basement and the fire department in the rear. It was to the Opera House that Robert Porterfield brought a group of out-of-work actors in 1933, with Theatre tickets being exchanged for produce, livestock, or other goods brought in by local people. This barter system gave the Theatre its name. Today, it is the State Theatre of Virginia.
  33. 159 W. Main St. – John B. Hamilton House. Built in 1874, and the Letty Floyd Johnston House, 153-151 West Main Street, built in 1879.
  34. 314 Depot Square – The Arts Depot. Built in 1870 by the Virginia & Tennessee Railroad, the Arts Depot is an art gallery featuring the work of local and regional artists as well as working artists’ studios.
  35. Alexander Breckenridge Cabin. Located behind the Washington County Public Library. The cabin was built in 1769 and was moved to its present location yb the Washington County Preservation Foundation.
  36. Russell Rd. – Parson Cummings’ Cabin. Log house built circa 1773 by Rev. Charles Cummings, the most influential leader of Presbyterianism in 18th century Southwest Virginia. Relocated on the original site of the Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church at Sinking Spring Cemetery. The old cemetery is the resting place of men who fouth in the American Revolution, an unknown number of Confederal soldiers from the Civil War, and three governors of Virginia.
  37. 415 Academy Dr. – The William King Museum. A historic landmark, site of one of the first schools in the region. The William King Museum is an Affiliate of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and offers a year-round schedule of classes, changing exhibits, museum-standard galleries, artists’ studios, and a museum store.
  38. 700 Colonial Road – Retirement & Mustering Ground. Built by Captain Robert Craig, circa 1813. The eastern portion of the house was added in 1858 by Judge Samuel V. Fulkerson. Militia from Washington County assembled in the meadow beside “Retirement” when they began their march on the British at King’s Mountain in South Carolina. A hundred years later, in 1864, Union soldiers under the command of General George Stoneman camped in the same meadow.
  39. Green Spring Rd. – The Virginia Creeper Trail. A Native American path, a railway, and now a National Recreation Trail. The Virginia Creeper is a 34-mile multi-purpose trail designed for hiking, biking, cross-country skiing, and horse-back riding.
  40. 692 White’s Mill Road. – White’s Mill. Originally built as Moffett’s Mill in 1790, White’s Mill was purchased by Col. James White in 1838 and was restored in 1866. It is one of the oldest water powered grist mills in Southwest Virginia. The mill is a Virginia Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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About Isaac Kremer

Isaac D. Kremer, MSARP, is a nationally recognized expert in the revitalization of commercial districts. Professionally he is the Executive Director of Experience Princeton, a business improvement district in Princeton, New Jersey. Kremer is a sought after speaker having been invited to speak at over 30 conferences. The prior two downtowns he managed were named Great American Main Street Award (GAMSA) Semifinalists, and Metuchen, New Jersey where he and his family live was named a GAMSA winner in 2023 by Main Street America.

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