Thursday, July 20, 2017  



Perfecting Little Egypt

By Wes Pippenger

Nestled in a grove of trees beyond the west end of Prince Street in Tappahannock is found Little Egypt. Many long-term residents of Tappahannock do not recognize this name; rather they know it as “Miss Carry’s House.”  The current owners, Messrs. David Henderson and Wesley Pippenger, envisioned possible enhancements to the property long before moving from Northern Virginia during summer of 2007.

Pippenger, who worked at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. until he retired in 2012, visited on weekends, but immediately set out to study the history of the house and families who lived there. The sign out front was "Little Egypt, 1750," but he wondered where did the date and name come from.

Pippenger's research proved that the property was originally a 211-acre land patent issued in 1748 to a minor named James Griffing, Jr.—presumably at first controlled by his mother Margaret Holder until he reached his majority. It was tedious developing the chain of land ownership, particularly for the early 1800s when land records showed the owner as one of three men named John Jones. Pippenger followed the trail for the Jones' parcel that was shown in tax records as zero miles from the county courthouse. The Jones Family intermarried with several owners of the subject property for several generations. In the late 1940s, about 20 years after the death of local dry goods merchant John Waller Faulconer (whose wife was Carrie Jones), his farm was divided into the lots of what was styled Faulconer Park, now Faulconer Circle.

Throughout his research, Pippenger found no early public records with a name linked to this property. It is not until 1957 that we find it called Little Egypt. We believe the Faulconer Family named it thus because of the unusually fertile soil found there.

The early farmhouse structure was probably begun about 1750 in a Queen Anne style that was common to this portion of Eastern Virginia. During structural renovations undertaken in 2007, local architect George Jennings pointed out that the structural bracing between the walls near the front door indicates the early structure was "one-over-one" construction, with a chimney to the east. It apparently started with the dining chamber on the first floor and a bed chamber above it, the entry hall and a small room above it, and a basement.  By the time of the Revolutionary War, the front parlor was added with a bed chamber above, along with the west chimney. The resulting structure remained basically unchanged until the late 1980s.

The overall dwelling is frame of sawn lumber, connected with hand wrought nails, with floor supports of hand shaped timber and a summer beam. Rafters are joined with wooden pegs. At least one interior door has a wooden lock and iron HL hinges with leather washers. The central hall's front and rear doors are of cross and Bible design.  Interior floors are wide-width heart of pine. The gambrel roof is tin on top with wooden shingles on the front and back sides.
Interesting owners of the property have included the wealthy Archibald Ritchie, Sr. who is widely known for his involvement in the Stamp Act, Baptist minister Thomas Meekins Henley, and James Roy Micou who was clerk of the Essex County courts between 1830 and 1887. As a little boy, Micou's son inscribed his name in a window pane that can now be found in the potting shed.  He later removed to Chestertown, Maryland where he became professor of Latin at Washington College. Above all, it is Little Egypt's last resident, Carolyn Russell Faulconer Graham, who is most remembered for her vivacious personality, musical talents, appeal for the party life, and her regular sip of sherry. As "Miss Carry" became frail in her dotage, so too did the house.  Paint peeled away, walls tilted and floors sank. The upper rooms of the house were used less and less.  In fact, Carry spent her last years using the front parlor as her bedroom.

Six years after Carry's death in 1982, her heirs sold the property to Herbert and Rebecca Snyder. The Snyders rescued the house from total ruin. During their renovations the Snyders raised the entire house off of its foundation and rebuilt the crumbling brick and mortar from the ground level to the sill. They added a kitchen, den, and screened porch to the back of the original house.  When these modern rooms were added across the back of the house, the original rear exterior windows and walls were left in place, now on the interior.  The Snyders also added a master bedroom to the west of the original house with access in place of a chimney closet that had been severely damaged by termites.
In the 1990s, owners Richard and Milly Moncure replaced the screened-in porch at the back with a small reading room and an additional bedroom with bathroom. After 1996, owners Ted and Shan Rice cleared the grounds of fallen trees and large old tree stumps, and built a barn on the site of the former automobile garage.  Ted’s hobby was making wood.  He had a portable saw -mill and would go around the county to where trees had fallen and turn them into lumber.  In fact, Ted made all the lumber he used to frame the barn that he built to serve as his wood shop.

When Henderson and Pippenger purchased the property in 2007, they immediately set out to develop a 5-year plan for making cosmetic and physical changes to the dwelling.  Know that the house in 2007 was not "unlivable," it merely lacked state-of-the art technologies and personal touches preferred by the new owners.

Henderson and Pippenger have spent considerable time and resources to polish the fine points of the old house, and update the modern portions with state-of-the-art conveniences.  Immediately upon taking up residence on Faulconer Circle, Henderson planned and coordinated finite details about the changes to be made to the dwelling and outbuildings while continuing to consult for a company that had acquired an Internet-based medical research application he had designed.

Henderson secured the services of local cabinetmaker Gordon A. Wilkins, Jr. to be their general contractor. For the next two years the site saw constant activity as the entire property was in complete disarray undergoing various alterations.  In the middle of the chaos, Henderson quipped "I'm tired of having all this space and no room!"

Rooms on the back of the house were extended three feet further into the yard.  Three of the five fireplaces were opened up to be wood burning, and copper chimney caps were installed.  The separate kitchen house that was built in 1900 by J.W. Faulconer had greatly deteriorated and was damaged by insects. It was razed and rebuilt by Wilkins and is used today as an office.  Bathrooms and the kitchen were all updated.  Light was brought into the back of the house by replacing existing windows (from the 1990s) and adding French doors, affording a fine view of the gardens beyond. 
As a result of the changes made to the structure, as well as due to some wood rot, all the siding was replaced.  A sample of the exterior's original beaded weather boarding was found in the existing dining room chimney closet, so the design was duplicated and milled into cypress siding that was installed on both the house and the office (kitchen house).  The shape of the shingles on the gambrel roof had been altered by the Snyders, but was recently restored with fish-scale shaped cedar ones.

The barn that Rice built in 2004 has been “gentrified” with modern windows, French doors, floors, lighting, heating and air conditioning, and cypress siding sufficient to house an extensive personal library, grand piano, and an upstairs studio.  A full bath was added to the back of the barn.

In addition to having Wilkins as the general contractor, to the extent possible, labor and materials for all renovations were sourced locally: windows, doors and construction materials from ProBuild; flooring and tiles from Carson Floors; subcontract carpentry by Billy Simmons and Rick Gillespie; bathroom fixtures from Fergusons and Lowe’s; plumbing by Dave Grenier; and electric work by Don Horner.

In addition to structure and “livability,” Henderson and Pippenger keep an eye to esthetics.  The walls of their home display work by local artists Ann Careatti, Ann Beverly Eubanks, Sydney Hall, Sidney King, and David Williams.  Local blacksmith John Careatti crafted the hinges on the barn doors as well as a period lock on the front door.

Now that Little Egypt has enjoyed a few years’ reprieve from the chaos of renovations, it is time to embark on a new project.  Henderson and Pippenger have recently acquired an adjacent lot that was formerly occupied by the Jesse Clanton Family.  They have demolished the 1950s cinder block house and are currently working to reclaim the grounds as an extension to the lawns and decorative gardens of Little Egypt.