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Preservationists work to save 200-year-old Chesterfield home

Posted at 8:56 AM, Jan 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-25 16:49:50-05

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- The stately Justis House has stood in Chesterfield for close to 200 years.

Now a group of preservationists is trying to stop the demolition of a historic home showing signs of its age.

Beyond the boarded-up doors, broken glass, and wild weeds, Jane Ellen Holliday Wilson sees beauty.

“There was a fence along here. A lot of the flowers were planted here," she recalled. “The back porch back here was stunning with the grape arbor.”

Wilson, her two sisters, and her parents lived in the home from 1959 to 1962.

“It was wonderful. It was a child’s dream to live here," she said.

The Hollidays rented the home on Old Hundred Road from a legendary educator Virginia Justis.

“Virginia Justis was so special to everyone in the county," Wilson said.

Justis, a popular biology teacher in the county school system for more than 30 years, lived in her Midlothian home till her death in 2015.

The home then fell into disrepair and was targeted by vandals.

“I think she’d be very sad. She’d be very sad," Wilson said about the state of the Justis home. "She wanted it to be lived in and loved.”

The county bought the property from Justis’ family in 2017.

Two years later, Old Hundred Elementary School opened steps from the former teacher’s home.

Now preservationists worry the wrecking ball could sweep away 185 years of history.

"The house was built in 1836. It is one of only six brick, 19th-century homes in Chesterfield County," Peppy Jones, a student of Ms. Justis, said. "It is sad to see what happened to it in the last four years.”

Deputy Chesterfield County Administrator Scott Zaremba said Chesterfield values its rich history. Zaremba said a consultant inspected the Justis home and site for the new school. The report showed nothing architecturally significant about the house.

The consultant also found the home was not historic. Zaremba said the house could pose a safety hazard to students who attend Old Hundred Elementary School.

Randall Jones with the Virginia Deptartment of Historic Resources takes a different position. In an email Jones wrote:

"VDHR did in fact review the report of the consultant who was hired to review the impact of the new school on the house, known as Turkey Run Farm."

Jones wrote that DHR sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers which was the federal agency that permitted the school project. "DHR disagrees with the consultant's recommendation that the circa 1836 Turkey Run Farm (DHR Inventory No. 020-0479) is not eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP),” he continued.

The letter to the Army Corp of Engineers states, “From the information provided in the cultural resources report and earlier documentation maintained in our survey file for this property, it appears that the main brick dwelling at Turkey Run Farm retains sufficient historic integrity of design, workmanship, and materials to be eligible for the NRHP under Criterion C. Although it lacks exceptional architectural refinement, the house at Turkey Run Farm represents a relatively well-preserved early to mid-19th century home in Chesterfield County. Due to development pressures, buildings from this period in Chesterfield County are becoming increasingly rare."

The Chesterfield County Historical Society has requested time to explore options like renovation or even moving the house.

"If you went out west, you’d be looking at a house 100 years newer than this and think that it was a historic house," realtor Jim Daniels said. "This house is almost 200 years old, and it is not in bad shape. It is definitely worth saving.”

As recollections wash over her, Jane Ellen Holliday Wilson cringed at the thought of her old home vanishing. She hopes a renovated Virginia Justis House will always stand and welcome visitors for another two centuries.

A demolition date has not yet been set. Preservationists said they’ll keep trying to find an alternative and save the Justis House.

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