Wednesday, August 16, 2017  

Woodfarm "Historic Past"


By Priscilla Vaughan
select photos courtesy of David Broad

Historic homes are an interesting study because of the architectural discussion and style they represent. However, to many a history buff another passion is the story that evolves and gets embellished by past and current generations; stories of the families that dwell in these homes and the religious, social and intellectual aspects of their lives. Often these are closely interwoven by the house and the historic site itself. Such is the story of Woodfarm.

The Beginning

Woodfarm was most probably built between 1760-1800, supposedly by the Woods of Woodville. The “Wood” houses; Woodville (late 1700s), Woodfarm (late 1700s-early 1800s), Woodlawn Trible (early 1800s) and Woodlawn Sandy (mid 1800s) all have similar architectural styles. Originally, they were medium sized homes, placed on high bricked basements that ran the full length of the home (known as the ‘English Basement’) with a ‘two over two’ floor plan and a central passage. The roofs were of the Gambrel style and the timbers supporting the house were hand hewn, usually on site. The exterior construction was of beaded weather boards using hand –wrought nails. The interior had wide floor boards (usually random width heart pine) and cross and bible doors with H and L hinges.

Woodfarm was located between Millers Tavern and Tappahannock on Rt. 360 in Essex County. A distinguishing characteristic of Woodfarm is its elaborate trim. Above the large fireplaces are tall carved mantels. The parlor mantel has paneling extending to the ceiling. The original woodwork of the parlor and the dining room included dentil molding, wainscoting and a rare Chinese Chippendale stair railing.

In searching the land and tax records of Essex one can track the people of Woodfarm. A little extra research reveals much more. In October 1815, Carter Croxton paid Thomas Wood of Woodville for 476 acres of land with a dwelling. In January 1824, Carter Croxton transfers this parcel, now referred to as Woodfarm Plantation to his son, Dr. William S. Croxton. It was valued for tax purposes at $2900. For the next 25 or so years Woodfarm Plantation placed itself firmly in Essex County history.

The Healing Springs Hotel

The Essex County Historical Society Bulletin in November 1976 stated, “During the antebellum period mineral springs became popular at the first steps toward hydrotherapy. Dr. Croxton discovered a mineral spring at Woodfarm Plantation. He believed in the medicinal value of these healing waters and began treating patients in large numbers for arthritis and rheumatism. The lack of transportation and the need for continued treatment prompted Dr. Croxton to build a convalescent hotel at Woodfarm Plantation. He modeled his hotel after a similar therapeutic spring hotel in Western Virginia. The 32 bed hotel (at Woodfarm Plantation) site often doubled as a conference center for political functions, dances and other ‘gayeties’ of the day”.

A Tragedy — The Darkest Day

The year 1860 was probably the darkest period in the history of Woodfarm. On a Monday morning, January 30, 1860, Dr. William Croxton proceeded to discipline two of the female slaves who were doing chores. They retaliated by murdering William, dismembering him, and using the copper lard kettle where a pig was being rendered to dispose of the body. His riding horse was then saddled and released to attempt to place the blame elsewhere. The runaway horse was discovered by his son-in-law, Peter Toombs, who initiated a search for Dr. Croxton. The Essex County Inquest record on February 1, 1860 stated ” … On 30, Jan. 1860, the said William S. Croxton came to his death by sundry blows inflicted…with a grubbing hoe and also by burning of the body…The said blows having been inflicted by and the said burning done by two negro slaves named Ann and Eliza…(his) property. “

The Essex County Newspaper Notices 1738-1938 compiled by WE Pippenger states on page 40 “Ann and Eliza- two Negro women now confined in the Essex County jail for the murder of Dr. William S. Croxton seem to take their imprisonment very hard. They are much depressed and evidently fully appreciate their wretched condition.”
The Essex County Court Record of the February 20, 1860 trial stated “Ann and Eliza charged with felony…did willfully…and with malice and forethought..did kill and murder William S. Croxton…H.W. Dangerfield and Louis Henry Garnett assigned their council…Motion of prisoners to sever their prosecution..court upheld...try Ann..who pled not guilty..considered evidence..found guilty… Ann be hanged by neck until she be dead…execution Friday 23 March 1860 between 10am and 4pm… Ann motion for appeal, grounds confessions were illegal and extorted from the prisoner overruled” A tax account of Dr. Croxton’s estate had listed “$1640 paid to the State of Virginia for slaves Ann and Eliza executed.”

Woodfarm was then passed to Croxton’s surviving daughter, Anne Elizabeth, who had married Peter Toombs in 1856. Anne Croxton and Peter Toombs had two children: Charles C. Toombs who married Elizabeth Stuart Smith of Woodville in 1925 and Ida D. Toombs who never married. In 1940, the children of Anne and Peter Toombs petitioned to divide the Woodfarm estate. Charles received 267.5 acres with dwelling, and Ida received 162.5 acres.

The Holiness Camp

In the spring and summer of 1903, the Toombs family provided land for the Holiness Camp of Essex. The Holiness
Camp turned the healing power of the spring to very different uses from the original intent. A brief excerpt from an article written by 16 year old Lalla R. W. Smith the sister of Elizabeth Stuart Smith Toombs appears in Southerners, Settlers, Americans/ The History of Essex County, VA by James Slaughter states, “Near the old site of Dr. Croxton’s Hotel, the Rev. L Banks and his followers selected a most desirable place for a Campground….After we were seated in the Tabernacle, we discovered us to be at an ‘experience meeting’. One after the other, men and women, stood and gave their testimony…The minister preached in rather an exciting manner, and after the sermon he called on all Christians to stand. Then, he calls on all who wanted to be sanctified to stand. The ‘workers’ came into the crowd to persuade those who did not stand to do as they, the workers, had done and be sanctified……presently a Negro from the Negro corner commenced shouting …. The meeting drew to a close and we all hurried to our buggies and soon were on our way home.”

In 1955, Ida D. Toombs, left her share of the estate to her niece, Lalla Ann Toombs, daughter of Charles C. and Elizabeth Stuart Toombs. Lalla Anne Toombs married Raymond Ellis Dunton in 1952. These final Croxton descendants who resided at Woodfarm brought with them love and care for the gardens and the boxwoods. In July, 2006, Lalla Ann Toombs Dunton sold the Woodfarm estate to Bill and Wendy Sawyer.

Saving Woodfarm — Relocation

The Sawyers purchased the site with the intention of building a new home under the massive oaks that provided the shade for historic Woodfarm. Essex County had recently seen the loss of several of its historic sites, and the thought of losing this home was unconceivable. The conversation began. Local lawyer Alex Dillard, working with the Essex County Museum and Historical Society, provided the strategy for the transfer of the house to the Essex County Museum and Historical Society along with appropriate historic covenants.

For The Essex County Museum and Historical Society, finding a new owner proved to be a daunting task. Potential recipients came and went as the deadline for house moving loomed near. An early proposal was presented to the ECMHS Board of Directors to disassemble the house and move it to Middlesex County where it would be stored until a suitable site could be found in Middlesex. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources strongly discouraged relocation to Middlesex and requested the ECMHS to reject this offer and continue to search for a recipient that would keep Woodfarm in Essex County. The Board concurred. The museum’s facilitator for the transfer commented that she felt that she was back in a familiar fairy tale. For some, the rooms were too few, for some the ceiling too low, for some the move would be too long and for some the deadline too close. The reasons for’ why not’ to take on the task were many. Marjorie Ellena and her mother Sharon Hinson, owners of historicproperties .com, had been pacing on the sidelines during these efforts hoping desperately that a new owner would be found.

House relocation requires immense coordination with local government, VDOT, utility companies, local contractors and a new site for the house. When there was no one left for the Museum facilitator to approach, Majorie and Sharon stepped forward. They had the contacts and perseverance to accomplish this task in the short time frame given by the Sawyers. The funds required to move and relocate Woodfarm came directly from Marjorie and Sharon, although they never saw this as a profit opportunity. They care passionately about historic properties and their communities. Their goal through their business, historicproperties.com, is to encourage preservation of a county’s residential history. “Through our website, we make it our goal to provide an affordable marketplace where the old house buyer can find their dream property and add their name to the legacy of reusing our nation’s building heritage.” They saw Woodfarm as one of these opportunities.

The relocation effort called for the expertise of the most noted mover on the east coast, Jim Matyiko of Expert House Movers. In February, 2006, as onlookers watched, this piece of Essex County History, resting atop a huge flatbed truck, moved slowly through a cornfield to Route 360 and down to its new location. The house now sits on seventeen acres overlooking a fresh water pond. It has been given a new English basement and has a restored chimney. While the rescue is complete, the restoration is not. This beautiful historic home awaits a new buyer-one who will finish the restoration and begin a new chapter in Woodfarm’s history.

For more information regarding Woodfarm, the new site and the purchase opportunity, contact Sharon@historicproperties.com.


Thank you to the following who helped with the research aspect of this article: Suzanne Derieux, George Jennings, Wes Pippenger, and David Wachsmuth