Hartwood Roses Freelance Star Article

158-year-old manor house is feeling new life

Hartwood Manor in Stafford County is getting recognition by being listed on both state and national historic registers.

The Free Lance-Star
Date published: 4/22/2006

At the ripe old age of 158, Hartwood Manor is getting a fresh lease on life. Its plasterwork is patched, its bricks are repointed, its metal roof is brand new and its front porch has been completely rebuilt.

At the same time, the antebellum Stafford County home has gained more respect--in the form of listing on the state and national historic registers.

All that is thanks to its new owners, Steve and Connie Hilker of Spotsylvania County, and those they've recruited in their crusade to restore the house to some of its former glory.

Winning recognition by the state and the federal governments took dozens of hours of research and more than a year of deliberation by various agencies.

The National Park Service, which keeps the National Register of Historic Places, named the home to that roster in February.

With that addition, Stafford can claim 14 sites on the national register. They include three--Belmont, Ferry Farm and Aquia Church -- that also have been declared national historic landmarks, a much rarer and more prestigious designation.

Daniel, one of the Hilkers' two 'retired' greyhounds, crosses the floor at the base of Hartwood Manor's stairwell.

Connie Hilker and her husband, Stephen, bought Hartwood Manor in 2002 after having been smitten by its looks years earlier.

The historic-register listings are mostly honorary, though they help properties qualify for state and federal tax credits, grants and preservation easements.

If Hartwood Manor's listing provides a little bit of protection, all the better, Connie Hilker said, citing residents' concerns that a Hartwood bypass may some day slice through their bit of southwestern Stafford's countryside.

"I was shocked it hadn't already been put on the register," she said. "It's such an unusual property for the area. There's nothing like it around."

That's apparent from a quick glance at the distinctive exterior of the handsome home. Rising 21/2 stories, topped by twin gables and grounded in an English basement, it is one of only two Gothic Revival houses in the county. The other is Oakenwold, a wooden-frame farmhouse, built in several stages, in central Stafford.

One wing of Oakenwold was fashioned in the Carpenter Gothic style, according to the county's 1992 historic resources survey.

The best-known such building in the Fredericksburg area is Waddell Memorial Presbyterian Church in Rapidan. Calder Loth, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources' senior architectural historian, has called the church "Virginia's finest specimen of Carpenter Gothic architecture."

Hartwood Manor is the only Stafford home that was designed in the Gothic Revival style from its conception.

Staffordians didn't build their homes in the easily recognizable style, which had its heyday in America during "a very short window" from 1830 to 1860, Connie Hilker said.

In total, Virginia has "a very small number" of Gothic Revival structures, perhaps just a few hundred, Loth said in an interview this week.

"And 'a couple hundred' may be generous. Really high-style ones are pretty rare."

The style wasn't especially popular in the conservative commonwealth, where people preferred the more classic Greek Revival style, Loth said.

"It didn't catch on as much in Virginia as it did in New York state, New England, even Canada, where you see a lot more Gothic Revival buildings."

The style was popularized by architect Alexander Jackson Davis and landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing as one of the first purely American house styles designed for the middle class.

More free-spirited and romantic than the earlier Classical style, it features steeply pitched roofs, often with gables and dormers; square-arched windows; curving wood trim along the eaves; and polygonal chimney pots.

Downing's books built interest in such homes by providing Americans with architectural plans, price estimates and landscape designs. Also a horticulturalist, Downing designed the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, the White House and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as great mansions along the Hudson River outside New York City.

Connie Hilker believes that Hartwood Manor's builders, Julia and Ariel Foote, brought the Gothic Revival style to Stafford when they immigrated to the county from Burlington, Conn., about 1836. Ariel Foote and a partner bought 1,122 acres in Stafford that year.

Age 30 when he arrived in Virginia, Foote was well-to-do, with 16 slaves and two horses or mules, according to the register nomination prepared by Nancy Kraus, an architectural historian from Glen Allen. He and Julia may have been newlyweds, she wrote, because they had no children when they arrived. Their first child was born within a year.

Hartwood Manor, centerpiece of a 695-acre farm, was built in 1848 of bricks molded and fired on the property. It's believed the house was built mostly by slaves, Kraus wrote.

Ariel Foote died in 1854, but his wife kept up their farm, continuing to live in the home for another 31 years.

During the Civil War, the house served as a field hospital for Union wounded from the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, The Wilderness and Spotsylvania Court House, according to historian Robert K. Krick.

Three large oaks and a pecan tree in the home's front yard are thought to have survived the war.

The house remained little changed until the 1960s, when its decorative trim and rooftop dormer were removed as a major addition was built.

Margaret Crickman, who owned the house from 1982 to 1991, said that Capt. Frank Flynn named it Hartwood Manor when he bought the property in 1951--apparently to distinguish it from another, Federal-style, dwelling called Hartwood.

Altogether, from its construction to the present, the house has changed owners 21 times, Kraus determined.

The Hilkers acquired the property in October 2002 and began renovating it in the summer of 2003.

For starters, just taming the grounds--overgrown with bamboo, honeysuckle, forsythia and ivy--took many hours of labor.

Inside the house, removing decades of built-up wallpaper and paint has taken many hours more, said Connie Hilker, the project's general contractor and primary carpenter.

"It really has been worth it," she said of the entire effort. "And we cannot wait to move in."

The historic house's interior walls look great. The floors are refinished, the kitchen has been overhauled and modern lighting brightens the spaces.

Already, she said, "It's a nice place to be. It feels like home here."

By summertime, with a bit more elbow grease, the Hilkers hope to take up residence and make that a permanent feeling.