Major David Peirce Graham is a Civil War hero and the celebrated namesake of this lovely, majestic antebellum home and its surrounding 6000 acres. However, as history will do from time to time, the Major Graham Mansion name really should receive a ‘minor’ adjustment. If history were completely accurate, the mansion would be called the Squire David Graham Mansion, in honor of the Major’s father. For it was Squire David, the mansion’s original owner, who designed and built the mansion and amassed this huge estate located in the Graham’s Forge community of northern Wythe County.
From the finely detailed scroll work on the original rear staircase to the beautiful huge oak doors in the dining room, this massive mansion was built to reflect the owner’s wealth and refinement. In fact, the legend, the lore, ghost stories, paranormal data, and history of this 250 year old property has quite a tale to tell with many a twist and turn. Legend has it that Confederate officers actually held secret meetings in the third floor attic “Confederate Room”, plotting battle strategies against the Yankees. From murderous slaves, to wounded Civil War soldiers and shackled servants, to the creation of an empire, the Major Graham Mansion holds a vast amount of local lore, ghost stories, and historical accounts to pique the interest any history buff.
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 1774 . He served in the Revolutionary War militia. The father of fourteen children from two wives, Robert passed away when Squire David was almost 11-years-old. Young David was mentored by his older half brothers Samuel and James as well as local businessman and brother-in-law Joseph McGavock. In 1826 Squire David purchased the initial parcel of Cedar Run and the Perry Mount iron furnace from the Joseph Baker and the Crockett families. In the 1770s, Joseph Baker’s cabin was located 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 of 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. Many paranormal investigators and mansion visiters have enjoyed 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 parents’ 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. Clara will often roll a small plastic ball with friendly guests in her room. The third floor Secret Confederate Meeting Room was originally a child’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 1800’s 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 upstairs, we find a window etching dated February 24th, 1864. There are initials and a signature……but differing stories explain this remarkable find! Many a clairvoyant and paranormal investigator has reported that this window etching was made by Martha Bell Peirce Graham while she was going progressively mad, locked away in her bedroom. Another bedroom located on the front side of the mansion is called the Bride’s Room because of the multiple sightings of a young bride in the window. This story has been published in L.B. Taylor’s ghost stories series and is titled, “The Haunted Mansion that Really looks haunted”. The Christmas Room is located at the top of the huge mahogany staircase. One clairvoyant tells us “this is the happiest room in the house…it is where the Grahams celebrated Christmas secretly…without Squire David”! 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 the often disheveled-looking Reid 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 used as the “Bloody Barn” during the Haunted Graham MansionTM Halloween Attraction during the fall. Just below the barn is another old structure. It was a split level cabin dating back to the 1800’s. It is now used as a part of our Halloween event.. 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. The original, small white spring house in located to the rear and side of the mansion.
There were other buildings and structures on the property that are now long gone. These include log cabin out-buildings, a stud barn, and a “scale house” at the road. The first iron furnace, Perry Mount 1, was located near Cedar Run Creek beside the mansion.
The history of the Major Graham Mansion and grounds mirrors much of the early American history. Josiah Cephas Weaver has owned and maintained the property since 1989. It is his intention to preserve its rich heritage and to keep it authentic, ghost activity not withstanding.
Look for the publication of THE MAJOR GRAHAM MANSION: THE OFFICIAL HISTORY AND TOUR GUIDE by Mary Lin Brewer in the fall of 2015.