The History of the Graham Mansion
Major David Graham, a Civil War hero, is the celebrated past owner of this majestic home and its surrounding hills and forests. From the finely detailed scroll work staircase to the beautiful huge wooden doors, this 25-room home was clearly built on sophistication and refinement. Legend has it that Confederate officers actua lly held secret meetings in the third floor attic, plotting battle strategies against the Yankees. Always a commanding presence, the mansion is said to still hold some horrible secrets. With these secrets come unsettled spirits from the past trying to find rest from their dark memories. Over the centuries the Major Graham Mansion seems to have hosted everything from the macabre to the eccentric. More than one person has come away experiencing strange phenomenon while being inside the mansion. From murderous slaves, to Civil War heroes, to the creation of an empire, the Major Graham Mansion holds a vast amount of local lore, paranormal data, and historical accounts to interest any history buff.
The Major David Graham Mansion is misnamed….it should be called the Squire David Graham Mansion in honor of the Major’s father! Squire David is the original owner who amassed this huge estate located in the Graham’s Forge community of northern Wythe County.
Squire David was born in 1800. His father Robert Graham, immigrated to the nearby Locust Hill area by way of Pennsylvania and North Carolina from County Down Ireland in 1770 He served one year in the Revolutionary War. The father of fourteen children from two wives, Robert passed away when Squire David was 10-years-old. Young David was mentored by his older step brothers including local businessman Joseph McGavock. In 1826 Squire David purchased the initial parcel of Cedar Run and an iron furnace from the Joseph Baker and the Crockett families. Have you heard the ghost story about the man who was murdered by his slaves here at the Graham home place? Well, it is no ghost story, it is fact! Joseph Baker’s cabin was located exactly where the mansion now sits. Based on Montgomery Courthouse documents, Baker was murdered by his slaves, Bob and Sam, on this very property in 1786. Bob and Sam were hung from a Hickory tree on the hill overlooking the mansion and it is said they still roam these hills to this day!
The original Squire David Graham home is the rear frame section of the current mansion. Built in the 1830s, it is said that Major Graham lived there all of his life. Major Graham was born in 1838. The Grahams went on to amass an empire including 12 iron forges and furnaces, thousands of acres of land, a mill, general store, part ownership of the local mines, as well as complete the construction of this beautiful mansion.
The open, second floor Georgian side porch facing Cedar Run Creek is the original entrance. This pillared portico reflects a definite Charleston architectural influence that includes exquisite woodwork and rope trim around the door. The outbuilding to the left of the porch is the wash house including the original fire pit, chimney, boiling caldron, drain, and rinse basin. The outbuilding directly behind the kitchen is the summer kitchen and slaves’ quarters. The winter kitchen is located in the basement directly below the hearth room. Although the hearth room is now an updated kitchen, it was originally used as a combination living room and dining room with all meals arriving via the dumb waiter In this room is also a huge, ornate mahogany mantle as well as a nearby warming oven. This “oven” was actually built into the radiator! Throughout the mansion lovely decorative and functional steam radiators can be seen. In addition, on the ceiling at the rear entrance there is the outline of a large circle, most likely the only remnant of the carbide lights decorative medallion. The opposing enclosed porch and storage rooms date this frame structure by virtue of the type of “horse hair”ceiling plaster and lathe work used prior to 1850.
The rear staircase woodwork is original. It is viewed best by gazing upward as it zigzags from the main floor up to the third floor The bedroom located directly above the hearth room is now referred to as “Clara’s Room”, for its young ghost, Clara. The Virginia Paranormal Society has hundreds of friendly encounters with Clara in this very room. From what they have gathered, Clara was “adopted” by Major Graham’s then 16-year-old sister, Bettie, during the Civil War, without her parent’s permission, of course. According to Bettie’s diary, now published and housed in the library of the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, she and her sister Emily “tutored” orphans and other students in this bedroom during the Civil War. The third floor Secret Confederate Meeting Room was most likely the children’s bedroom. Local legend has it that Confederate officers met secretly in this very room and wounded soldiers were tended to in the adjacent attic.
The hip-on-hip, Mansard roof, tower, and dormers were added in the late 1800s by Major Graham. He also added the ornate Victorian Porches that overlook Cedar Run Creek during the same period.
The massive brick “addition” was built in the 1850s by a local builder from Max Meadows. We know this because the builder signed and dated one of the exterior northern dormers and we have the receipt for the bricks, which were made on the property. There are Celtic exterior details including crosses on the tower, iron corbels, and receding brick chimneys. The front porch cast iron columns are one-of-a-kind and were made here at the Cedar Run furnace! Directly in front of the porch one can just imagine a lady dismounting her horse, using the huge stepping stone placed there for just that purpose. Mansion visitors will notice beautiful, original herringbone brick walkways around the mansion, many of these are still buried just under the grass!
Downstairs, the rooms are massive. The living room opens directly into the dining room with huge, floor-to-ceiling oak doors. Although the parlor has been somewhat updated, one can imagine the Graham ladies sitting and tatting in front of the massive sunny windows. The attached study and Victorian porches boast exquisite mahogany trim work and radiators, but it is the lingering mysterious family stories that diverts our attention now. In Martha’s Room, we find a window etching dated February 24th, 1864. There are initials and a signature……but differing stories explain this remarkable find! Another bedroom located on the front side of the mansion is called the Bride’s Room because of the multiple sightings of a bride in the window. This story has been published in L.B. Taylor’s ghost story book series and is titled, “The Haunted Mansion that Really looks haunted”. The Christmas Room is located at the top of the huge mahogany staircase. Our clairvoyant tells us “this is the happiest room in the house…it is where the Grahams celebrated Christmas”! The final bedroom houses an old, iron tub, so we have named it Reid Fulton’s Room in honor of his well know hygiene shortcomings. Reid Fulton owned the mansion from the ’40s to the ’70s. He was an eccentric, brilliant lawyer from nearby Independence, VA, who was a professor of law at Columbia University in New York City. He was known for his 70,000 volume antique book collection that literally filled the mansion from floor to ceiling! Folks say that often disheveled looking Reid often walked around “buck naked”, bathed in Cedar Run Creek, “ate buzzard eggs”, and barely had electricity!
A stones throw from the mansion is an original General Store from the late 1700s. It is said that many a Wilderness or Wagon Road traveler stopped at this very store as they headed west. The adjacent circa 1800 Barn was renovated in 2009 by Josiah and is now a kitchen and open air restaurant, the perfect spot to watch some down-home pickin’ on the Chimney House Stage. Beside the mansion guests will notice a large, deep, circular block basin It served as a fresh fish holding pond! The Carriage House Stage is immediately in front of the “fish pond” It collapsed after a storm in the 1990s. Josiah resurrected it as the first GrahamFest stage in 2007, thus saving its beautiful limestone base. The white house on the hill was also a Graham home. It was moved with logs from the creek area at the turn of the century.