Culpeper Star Exponent
[Front page, top of the fold, large photograph of Salubria]
By Rhonda Simmons
Published: July 15, 2010
Exactly how old is the oldest brick house in Culpeper County?
We’ll have to wait until Saturday night to find out.
Thanks to a new study, the community will soon learn more about the origins of Salubria, an 18th century Georgian-style house located off of Route 3.
The results of a dendrochronology study will be revealed during the Germanna Foundation’s 53rd annual conference and reunion banquet, which takes place in front of the two-story historic house at 9 p.m.
This analysis — also known as tree-ring dating — is a scientific technique that uses the patterns of tree rings to determine the precise calendar year of various structures. In Salubria’s case, scientists examined wood samples from different parts of the home’s interior.
“The dates are based on the samples,” said Marc Wheat, president of the Germanna Foundation. “And those samples are taken and matched up with rings in a database which goes back 10,000 years.”
It has often been estimated that the Rev. John Thompson of Little Fork Church constructed the 3,600-square-foot house during the mid-1740s for his wife, Lady Butler Brayne Spotswood Thompson.
Wheat did note, however, that while this soon-to-be-revealed date is very important, the actual date of the house may even be earlier.
“But we know it’s not later than what we found,” he said. “This is a good date, and we are asking people who live in the community to dig through old boxes, family documents and old photographs to see if they can help us tell the story of Salubria.”
The legendary house is surrounded by towering walnut, catalpa, oak and maple trees on 20 palatial acres at the end of Salubria Lane, seven miles east of the town of Culpeper.
The house is easily recognized by its two corbel-capped chimneys, hipped roof and distinctive faded brick. Inside, a spiral staircase leads to the house’s four bedrooms on the second floor.
Want to go?
What: Results of recent findings about the year Salubria was built
Where: Salubria, 19193 Salubria Lane, off Route 3 in eastern Culpeper County
When: Saturday, 6 p.m.: cocktail hour/cash bar, tours of the house; 7 p.m.: annual banquet dinner and auction; 9 p.m.: research results
Cost: Dinner $43; children 13 and under $23
For more info: Call the Germanna Foundation visitors center at 423-1700.
Salubria: Not as old as we thought
Culpeper Star Exponent
By Rhonda Simmons
Published: July 18, 2010
For several years, historians have researched and speculated about the origins of Salubria, the 18th century Georgian-style house often described as the oldest brick house in Culpeper County.
It has always been believed that Rev. John Thompson of Little Fork Church built the historic house for his wife, Lady Butler Brayne Spotswood Thompson, during the mid 1740s.
The Culpeper Historical Society, who published the book “Historic Culpeper” in 1974, narrowed the year of the house’s construction to 1743.
However, a recent study shows that the house isn’t quite as old as local historians had previously thought.
A new dendrochronology assessment revealed during the Germanna Foundation’s 53rd annual conference and reunion banquet Saturday evening shows that Salubria was actually built sometime between the spring of 1753 and the winter of 1756-57.
This study, known as tree-ring dating, is a scientific procedure that compares wood core samples to tree rings in an effort to establish the calendar year of houses, churches and various historic buildings.
Daniel Miles, of the Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory, conducted a two-day study of Salubria in February.
He took samples from the pine attic, oak basement beams, original oak window frames and internal refurbished 19th century spiral staircase.
“We are delighted that 21st century technology has pin-pointed the age of this 18th century treasure,” said Marc Wheat, president of the Germanna Foundation.
“Now we know when ‘they lived happily ever after’ actually started in the romantic love-story between the widow Spotswood and the Rev. John Thompson of Little Fork Church.”
In addition to Salubria, Miles has also completed work for Colonial Williamsburg, St. John’s Church in Richmond, Salisbury Cathedral in England and the Windsor Castle in the United Kingdom.
Acquiring the land
There are many ways to obtain real estate: A person could purchase it, inherit it as a gift or trade it for something comparable.
Some historians are still trying to explain how Thompson obtained the land where he built his historic home.
Culpeper County Circuit Court deed records show that Thompson purchased the land in 1752, however some researchers believe it was Thompson’s wife, the former Lady Spotswood, who supplied the land and money to build Salubria thanks to an inheritance from her deceased first husband, Alexander Spotswood, who was appointed lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1710.
According to court documents, Thompson bought more than 300 acres of land for 200 pounds from John Quarles in June 1752.
The deed book describes the property’s location as “lying and being in the Great Fork of the Rappahannock River in Culpeper County, formerly in Orange and Spotsylvania counties.”
From 1740 until his death in 1772, Thompson led Little Fork Church, part of St. Mark’s Parish, which included property in the Great Fork of the Rappahannock, according to germanna.org.
Local historian George Bryson, who has completed tireless research about Culpeper, including Salubria, agrees with the latest results.
“I don’t believe Rev. Thompson would build a house on property that he didn’t own,” Bryson said. “I think the house was built after he bought the land in 1752.”
Bryson also points to deed records that show the property that Thompson purchased was part of a 600-acre glebe once owned by John Quarles’ father and John Ashley, both of St. George’s Parish in Spotsylvania. A glebe is church-owned property that generates revenue for the parish.
Local historian Zann Nelson, who has also researched Salubria at length, said she’s often heard different dates of when Salubria was built, depending on the sources.
“I’ve heard a number of different dates, but they have always floated within a 10-year period,” Nelson said.
Nelson, who is familiar with the Germanna Foundation’s recent research, applauds the efforts of its members for their persistent work on the local landmark.
“The Germanna Foundation is working with several sources, documenting the results with a comprehensive collection of resources,” she said. “In the process, they’ve found a lot of new information about the house. I think it’s fascinating.”
In addition to the dendrochronology study, the Germanna Foundation also incorporated the knowledge of famed researchers and Grayson descendents, whose ancestors once owned Salubria.
“One of the most talented researchers we have ever met is Nancy Kraus, who has found the most surprising materials on Salubria in Richmond,” said Wheat. “Leslie Grayson has been generous in burrowing through her family archives to find one wonderful document or photo after the other.”
Long considered the oldest brick house in Culpeper County, the two-story, 3,600-square-foot house is surrounded by towering walnut, catalpa, oak and maple trees on 20 spacious acres at the end of Salubria Lane, about seven miles east of the town of Culpeper.
The house also features a beautiful spiral staircase, two corbel-capped chimneys, a hip roof and distinctive stucco-covered brick.
The Virginia Historic Landmarks Register added Salubria in 1969 and placed it on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
Conflicting previous studies
According to the Works Progress Administration report, Thompson owned Salubria between 1742 and 1772.
But Bryson warns that the WPA could possibly contain errors.
“Don’t take that report as the gospel,” he cautioned, as he clutched his binder full of deed records.
Even though, the book, “Culpeper History” claims Salubria was indeed built in 1743, the authors included their own skepticism about the date of construction in the following text.
“Architects recently engaged in repairing the house, however, and found that the present staircase is not the original,” the book explains. “They also found a brick marked with the letter ‘G’ and a later date, which leads to doubt about the date of construction. The builder is said to have been named Grimsley.”
According to Germanna historians, an engraved brick featuring the lettering “MG1757” was found at Salubria in an upstairs interior wall during a 1950s renovation project.
Mary Jo Browning, the chairwoman of the Culpeper Historical Society when the book was published, could not be reached for comment. It remains unclear what documents the local historical committee used to reach its conclusion.
Bryson and Nelson agree that local historians often publish information based on word of mouth especially if there are no primary sources.
“At the time they published the book, they utilized the most current and available data,” Nelson explained. “If new technology can pin the date down a little tighter, then the Germanna folks have really accomplished something. That’s the wonderful thing about history, it never gets stale. It can always be revisited.”
Wheat said the Germanna Foundation has added a fireproof filing cabinet inside the foundation’s visitor center on U.S. Route 3 near Germanna Community College’s Locust Grove campus and is filling it with historical documents about Salubria.
The foundation is also in search of old land and tax records that would confirm the construction of Salubria.
“We are asking people who live in the community to dig through old boxes, family documents and old photographs to see if they can help us tell the story of Salubria,” Wheat added.