The Tipton-Thornton House and Farm Toms Brook, Virginia

Introduction – Part Four

“The Shenandoah Chronicles

by Richard L Thornton, Architect and City Planner

Between the Old Back Road and Middle Road ~ Shenandoah County, Virginia

Key Property – Shenandoah Battlefields National Historical Park

National Register of Historic Places – Nominated as a National Historical Landmark

1990 National Residential Restoration of the Year

Under development restriction easements owned by the Association For the Preservation of Civil War Sites and the Civil War Trust.

Preservation Architect – Richard L. Thornton

My first view of the farm, where on Nov. 8, 1864 a gg-grandfather was captured.


The property had been abandoned for 37 years, when viewed by Richard Thornton for the first time.  In 1996, after being relocated to Georgia against his will,  Thornton discovered that one of his gg-grandfathers in the Confederate Army was captured on November 8, 1864 at the exact spot where his pickup was parked. The ancestor was on picket duty and a mixed-blood Creek Indian.

All National Park Service documents label this property the Thornton Farm or Thornton House, though no Thorntons are associated historically with the farms until 1987.  

Confederate battery – Battle of Toms Brook – Oct. 9, 1864
Same location – October 9, 1992

Cultural History

  • Site of Adena and Hopewell Culture Native American Villages
  • Site of blockhouse and numerous skirmishes with French-allied Indians during the French & Indian War
  • House built by Col. John Tipton in 1770.  After Tipton’s second wife died in childbirth in 1776, while he was away, he never lived in the house. It was then occupied by his son, John, Jr. then purchased by a former Hessian POW,  Johann Wiseman, after the war, when John, Jr. moved to Tennessee.
  • Site of catastrophic explosion of gun powder wagon train during the American Revolution
  • Tipton and his former neighbor, John Sevier, moved to NE Tennessee in 1780. They led several wagon trains from NW Virginia to NE Tennessee. They are considered the co-founders of the State of Tennessee.
  • Location of stagecoach inn and sheep farm specializing in the production of colored wool yarns during late 1700s and prior to the Civil War.  The loom, yarn stretcher and racks for holding yarn bolls duirnd staining were discovered in 1989.
  • As there were many battles and skirmishes in the Shenandoah Valley, the house was used both a Confederate and Union hospital throughout most of the Civil War.  Blood stains in the shape of human bodies are visible in several rooms.  On the dining room floor is carved the date, Oct. 10, 1864.
  • Location of the Battle of Toms Brook, October 9, 1864 between George Armstrong Custer, USA and former West Point classmate,  Thomas Rosser, CSA. The appearance of the farm has changed very little since that battle.  Rosser was a mixed-blood Choctaw Indian.
  • Civil War troops, probably Union cavalry on October 8, 1864, burned all 12 outbuildings. With infrared satellite imagery, furnished by the US Geological Service, the architect located the foundations of these agricultural buildings. He was planning to reconstruct them with the help of the National Park Service Harpers Ferry Center staff, when all hell broke –  rogue US Army personnel were killing his livestock and vandalizing the cheese creamery.
  • Site of the first federally licensed goat cheese creamery in the United States, Shenandoah Chevre, in 1990.
July 14, 1987 and July 14, 1989

Architectural History

  • The original house contained about 3,200 sq. ft. of floor space.  When purchased in 1987, the house had no bathrooms, no kitchen, no electrical service, no plumbing, no HVAC and only two small closets.  A 600 sq. ft. kitchen wing was added by the owners in 1988. 
  • The farm, always encompassing about 55 acres, was surveyed and platted by George Washington in early 1754.  Late in that same year,  Washington designed and supervised construction of a hewn log blockhouse with stone first level over an artesian spring overlooking Toms Brook.  The spring now only pushes water above the level of the basement floor after heavy rains or snow melt.  Washington’s survey mark (GeoWash) was carved on an oak tree at the driveway’s entrance until 1944, when cut out and stolen by a tourist.
  • In 1769,  John Tipton tore down the log portion of the blockhouse and began construction of a two- story home.  He used the longleaf pine logs from the blockhouse for first floor joists. Morticed and pegged oak frame was pre-assembled on the ground . . . the joints being marked by Roman numerals. Other parts of the framing are hand-hewn longleaf pine.
  • The finish of the Tipton house is long leaf pine lap siding. The boards were originally painted with white wash made from hydrated lime.  The roof was originally cedar shingles, but has been hand laid, standing seam metal roofing since the late 1800s.
  • The floor boards are hand planed virgin long leaf pine up to 20” wide.
  • The interior walls were finished with hand split pine lathing then coated with home made lime plaster.  The plaster was made by mixed burnt lime rock powder with “yellow oak” clay, sand and water. This is called slaked lime or slime. The slime was poured into numerous pits and allowed to chemically change over a period of about four months.
  • The original doors and windows were hand made from white and long leaf pine.
  • The original paint was made by mixing buttermilk with either hydrated lime, indigo, iron oxide or copper oxide.  All doors and woodwork had their original late 18th century-early 19th century buttermilk paint finish when purchased by the restorer.
December 19, 1990 when Vivi the French courtesan suddenly appeared at the front door and asked me to baptize her.
South and east facades of the house in 2019

1 Comment

  1. Richard, the Pre-Maya believed this location very important: The Orion Nebula…connected to sites in Arizona as well. As the mesa’s were set at locations to correspond to Orion.

    Liked by 1 person

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