Summary

  • Construction: Two-story, pressed brick
  • Style: Greek revival to Italianate, double-pile, central-passage plan
  • Original one-room dwelling: 178 years old
  • Main house: 155 years old
  • Total rooms: 23
  • Bedrooms: 6
  • Baths: 4.5
  • Fireplaces: 12
  • Ceilings: 12’8″
  • Floors: Original wide plank pine
  • Walls: Plaster
  • Roof: Slate and metal
  • Land: 1 acre

Architectural Significance

Hall 2nd floor

Central passage 2nd floor

National Register of Historic Places Statement of Significance Summary: “The Sutherland House is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as locally significant under Criterion C as a well preserved example of Civil War period Italianate architecture and because it features one of a few intact antebellum dependencies remaining in the city of Petersburg. The building’s historic fabric remains significantly intact, and it retains integrity of location, association, setting, feeling, design, and materials. The period of significance begins ca. 1838 when a one-room dwelling was constructed, continues through the ca. 1860 construction of the main house and dependency, and ends ca. 1877, the approximate date of completion of the two-story addition to the main house.”

The Sutherland House’s double-pile, central-passage plan reflects the evolution in the architecture of Virginia’s wealthy homeowners documented in M. R. Wenger’s “The Central Passage in Virginia.” First floors of the homes of Virginia gentry in earlier years frequently consisted of just two rooms, including a large room referred to as the hall in which all daily activities of the family and guests would take place. With the introduction of an entryway that led first to a central-passage and then to more bisected rooms on either side, the homeowner could more strategically divide visitors, family, and household staff to differentiate their levels of access and their activities.

The Sutherland House — as well as the Thomas Wallace House constructed at the corner of South Market and Brown Streets five years prior — may be the most similar exemplars among Petersburg residences of the Italianate style that flourished in the last decade before the Civil War. The house exhibits the transition of architectural styles from Greek revival to Italianate.

The Site

The Sutherland House anchors a neighborhood historically known as Ravenscroft, incorporated into the city of Petersburg in 1784. It is bounded on the west by Halifax Street, an important early transportation and commercial corridor leading from Halifax, North Carolina, to the Petersburg markets. The Sutherland House stands on the corner of Harding and Porterville streets, facing Harding Street. The house sits thirty-six feet back from the street, behind a sidewalk and picket fence. A broad brick walkway, flanked by flower beds leads to the front porch. At the foot of the porch, the walkway divides to run along either side of the main house. The front of the house is guarded by a ~60 foot tall Holly tree. Surrounded by gardens, the grounds are shaded by other towering old trees, including four pines, two pecans and two cedars. An early twentieth-century fishpond, unearthed after decades, is again in use. The rear courtyard opens to a modern fenced parking area and, beyond that, a field with a modern orchard. Beyond the orchard, the property is bounded by a culvert that guides a tributary of Lieutenant Run as it courses into the city.

Sanborn maps show that two small outbuildings of indeterminate purpose located near the dependency in 1877 were gone by 1923. Three buildings identified as sheds and a stable stood at the far edges of the rear garden by 1926 but were gone by mid-century. Two noncontributing modern sheds serve the needs of the present owners.

The Sutherland house sits four blocks south of the nearest historic district. The three other lots at the intersection of Harding and Porterville streets are vacant.

The Main Housesketch

The Sutherland House is a two-story, three-bay dwelling of salmon color pressed brick laid in stretcher bond with queen closers. It was built between 1860 and 1862 for the family of George Washington Sutherland, Petersburg’s prominent grocer. The principal facade is composed of a central entry with a tripartite window above, flanked by tripartite windows. The tripartite windows consist of a central six-over-six light sash window flanked by narrow four-light sidelights. Six-over-six sash windows, two on the first floor and two on the second, pierce the side walls. The windows have granite sills and lintels. The cornice is supported by a frieze of wide boards punctuated by sawn-work scrolled brackets alternating with sunken rectangular panels. The low-hipped slate roof is dominated by two sets of unusual corbeled interior chimneys, each with four polygonal flues separated in the middle but linked by arcades at the bottom and top. An original one-story, one-bay front porch shelters the main entry. Paired square Doric columns, each with lamb’s tongue chamfers on each corner and a single flute on each face, support the low-hipped metal roof and dentil cornice of the porch. The floor is a checkerboard of gray and white granite. A transom, sidelights, and pilaster trim surround the four-panel entry door. The porch is surmounted by openwork-sawn balustrade with a pattern of vertically stacked ovals for a gingerbread effect. Deep brick-lined French drains run the length of the northwest and southeast elevations.

The Sutherland house’s telltale Italianate features include a low-pitched roof, symmetrical rectangular shape, wide, overhanging bracketed eaves, a balustrade balcony topping the porch, and tall double-hung, multi-paned windows.

The main house was constructed adjacent to an existing one-room dwelling of a single story, built around 1838. The earlier house, built of brick laid in seven-course American bond, was adapted to serve as a south wing to the new dwelling. Because the structure was slightly offset from the main house, the elevation facing Harding Street received a pressed-brick finish to match the main house, as well as sawn-work brackets in the same style as those on the main house. The south wing was outfitted with a standing-seam metal gable roof with a single polygonal chimney flue. Like the main house, the interior is lit by six-over-six-light, double-hung sash windows. Unlike the main house, the sills and lintels are of wood, not granite. The original exterior doorway survives, surmounted by a transom.

A two-story, weatherboard frame addition was added to the rear of the main house before 1877, as shown on an insurance map from that year. Formerly exterior features of the main house are visible on the interior, including original exterior windows and doorways, with transoms, sidelights, and granite thresholds.

The significant interior features of the main house and wing survive intact from the nineteenth century, despite an extended period of abandonment between 1985 and 2000. The house is built using the regionally popular double-pile, central-passage plan. Wide openings provide access to the four rooms flanking the central passage on both floors. All windows and doors are trimmed with matching seven-inch-wide architrave trim. Original four-panel doors survive in most locations. Of the eight mantels in the main house, six are original, carved from wood in classical patterns. The four original matching mantels on the second floor feature simple pilasters in the style of boxed Doric columns, curved mantel shelves, and breast boards that rise in the center to mimic the roofline of Greek temples. This general pattern is repeated on the first floor, where original wood mantels feature a round-arched firebox surmounted by a stylized keystone. Two period replacement mantels in cast iron, one in the formal sitting room and one in the wing, very closely match the style of the originals. Every room has picture rail and ten-inch baseboards. All rooms retain their original wide-plank pine floorboards, except the kitchen, where water-damaged boards were replaced in kind.

The ceilings are ten feet tall on the first floor and twelve feet, eight inches high on the second floor. Walls and ceilings are plastered throughout the house. Ornate plaster medallions decorate the ceilings of the foyer and the flanking formal rooms. A stair rises along the right side of the central passage near the front door. The stair’s wide molded handrail and ornate turned newel were recovered from a Lynchburg, Virginia, house slated for demolition; they replaced the originals that were removed from the Sutherland house during its period of abandonment, from 1985 to 2000. The turned balusters, two per tread, correspond to the period of the original house. The interior of the ca. 1838 south wing is two steps higher than the floor of the main house. It includes wide pine floors, a fireplace, picture molding, and an eleven-foot, eleven-inch ceiling. The pre-1877 two-story frame addition houses the modern amenities needed, including a mudroom, baths, sunroom, and a rear stair. A renovation in 2003 also added a deck with openwork balustrade off the sunroom, overlooking the rear courtyard and grounds.

The Dependency

Front

Dependency

The contributing dependency was constructed contemporaneously with the main house in 1862 and derives its form and details from that structure. It is a two-story, three-bay brick structure laid in red, seven-course American bond on three sides, and, on the elevation facing Harding Street, in the salmon color pressed brick in stretcher bond matching the main house. It is topped with a low hipped slate roof and two corbeled interior chimneys each with two unusual polygonal flues separated in the middle but joined with arcades at the bottom and top, reproducing the style of those on the main house. The three-bay northwest elevation, facing Porterville Street, has four six-over-six-light sash windows with granite sills and lintels, two on each floor. A simple exterior porch at the central entrance was constructed in 2008 to replace a porch lost during the period of abandonment. The southeast elevation, which faces the interior courtyard at the rear of the main house, has asymmetrical arrangement of doors and windows. This results from the early conversion of the building from a multi-function kitchen, workshop and servant rooms with three separate doorways to a primary living quarters requiring a single entrance. A recent restoration by the present owners maintained the early converted form. The elevation features a single offset doorway with a simple porch, six six-over-six light windows with double-hung sash, original granite sills and lintels and a single smaller eight-over-eight light window with double-hung sash. The Harding Street elevation features a doorway with an early porch with a standing seam roof. The southwest elevation originally boasted an attached single-story carriage house that was unfortunately destroyed by the powerful tornado that devastated downtown Petersburg in 1993. Like the wing on the main house, the dependency is two stair steps higher than the first floor of the main house.

A kitchen fire in the mid-1980s damaged the dependency, and then the building deteriorated during an approximately fifteen-year period of abandonment. Previous owners secured the house against further deterioration between 2000 and 2005. During their 2007-2009 restoration, the owners salvaged as many original interior elements as possible, including the stairs, wide-plank heart pine flooring in one upstairs room, closet doors, and an original mantel for one of the four fireplaces. Half of the original windows and sashes were saved; a local master craftsman made matching replacements. The entire exterior was repointed in 2011. The two-over-two room plan has a central stair that leads from the kitchen and living room on the first floor to a bedroom and bathroom on the second floor.