The Vaughan House, a two-story Italianate frame residence located on Washington Avenue in the South Boston Historic District, has recently been named to the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register designation was bestowed by the National Park Service, a division of the U. S. Department of the Interior, which recognized the historic character and integrity of the property.
The Vaughan House, built in 1888, was listed as a Virginia Historic Landmark in 2018. Its design, workmanship and materials are central to the property’s significance for inclusion in both the state and national historic listings. The home, owned by Dr. Mark and Deborah Morris, brings the number of state and national listings of historically significant properties in Halifax County to 36.
The house was built for Edgar Hopson (E. H.) Vaughan who served several terms as clerk of court in Halifax County, beginning in 1879. Vaughan purchased the lot from Alexander and Mary Bruce (daughter of James Coles Bruce and Eliza Wilkins Bruce of Berry Hill). The residence remained in the Vaughan family until 1998 when it was purchased by Dr. and Mrs. Morris.
The National Register of Historic Places’ nomination describes the dwelling’s façade as having “richly ornamented, character-defining features of the Italianate style.” It notes its elaborate cornice supported by heavy decorative brackets interspersed with sawn-work designs on the frieze and unique, fan-like cutouts ornamenting the top of the corner boards. The nomination also defines as “outstanding,” the small pedimented gable over the two-story projecting bay in the front of the house, which features a delicate scroll-sawn arch with a pointed and turned center pendant.
Decorative details of the second-story double windows are also documented in the nomination. The center double window is topped with a double arch. The double window on left has a shallow bracketed hood with sawn-work scallops, and the double window on the right has an elaborate hood supported by brackets with a fringe of short, incised pickets.
The nomination describes the primary entrance as “heavily enriched” with its double doors surmounted by an eight-light transom with a bracketed hood. The porch, covering two-thirds of the front, has chamfered posts, brackets with supports featuring ivy-vine designs, and unusual foliated cutouts resembling butterflies that support the frieze and cornice. The bay window to the right of the porch is also embellished with sawn-work designs, arches and incised brackets.
The interior also demonstrates characteristics of the Italianate style. Its baseboards, door surrounds, wainscot and formal entrance hall exemplify the quality of workmanship and materials indicative of the 1880s through 1920s period, when well-to-do homeowners demanded “beyond the usual” architectural elements, such as ornate ceiling medallions, elaborate mantels and pocket doors to separate parlors and dining areas.
Particularly impressive are the tiled surrounds of fireplaces on the first floor. The second floor retains original mantels in three of its four principal rooms.
Fireplace tiles were probably supplied by Halifax brick manufacturer Howard Welton Cosby. Cosby, the grandson of builder Dabney Cosby Sr. of University of Virginia fame, operated a brick kiln near Halifax and is credited with the construction of many area houses including his own residence, Ellerslie, built in 1888.
Cosby was apparently a distributor of decorative tiles manufactured elsewhere. Ellerslie’s fireplaces feature a dazzling array of tiles, and the house may have served as a sort of showroom for Cosby’s business.
One hearth in the Vaughan has pinwheel-pattern tiles that are an exact match to the pinwheel-pattern tiles in the dining room fireplace hearth in Ellerslie, although the Ellerslie tiles have a brown glaze and the Vaughan House tiles have a yellow, pink and white glaze. An exact match for the cartouche tiles in the northwest downstairs room of the Vaughan House appears in the 1900 catalog of the American Encaustic Tiling Company (AETCO) of Zanesville, Ohio. AETCO advertised itself as the largest tile manufacturer in the world in 1892.
Located behind the house and dating to the same period, is a small brick building which may have served as a smokehouse. Several outbuildings original to the house have been lost. These include a carriage house, privy, garage and tool shed.
A Craftsman-style porch with brick pillars was added to the front in the early 20th century, but it was replaced by former owners who provided family photographs of the house to help carpenters replicate the original porch.
For additional information, including a brief history of the Vaughan family, visit www.halifaxcountyhistoricalsociety.org, click “About the Society” and choose “National Register Homes.”