Home Away From Home

Home Away From Home

Vienna's oldest house finds a home outside Lynchburg.

The long-contested fate of the one-time home of Jeremiah Moore, commonly known as the Moorefield House, finally appears to be settled. The building, which has been dismantled and put in storage, is expected to be reconstructed and restored on the site of the Eagle Eyrie Baptist Conference Center about 12 miles southeast of Lynchburg, where it will become a history museum.

"It's going to be used for the same purpose we had intended for it," said Jerry Duane of the Jeremiah Moore Historical and Educational Association, who now resides in Gainesville. He added, "Quite honestly, all of us would have much preferred to see the house rebuilt in the Vienna area."

The house was built around 1790, near what is now the eastern border of Nottoway Park, by Jeremiah Moore, a leader of the Baptist movement in Virginia and several surrounding states. Until it was torn down about three years ago, it was the oldest building in Vienna.

When it was constructed, it had been part of Moore's 600-acre Moorefield Plantation. By the time it was being dismantled, it sat at the center of the Townes of Moorefield townhouse development.

The fight to save the house has been ongoing for over 20 years, said Millie Monahan, former member of the Jeremiah Moore Association, who now lives in Springfield.

When the townhomes were built, the developer had given the parcel on which the old house sat to the town. However, the town could not seem to decide what to do with it. At one time, said Duane, there had been a plan to restore the building and install bathrooms and other amenities. However, he noted, the location was "very bad," surrounded by private streets owned by the neighborhood homeowner's association.

He and about a dozen other citizens formed the Jeremiah Moore Historical and Educational Association and began looking for a new location for the house. Some members were Baptists, he said, while others were merely interested in preserving a piece of local history.

Monahan said she became interested because the house had retained the "flavor" of a much earlier era. Although a large addition had been built in the late 1800s and a brick fa├žade added in the 1940s, much of the interior, including the flooring, wanescotting and fireplace, were original.

"Even more, I just fell in love with the story of Jeremiah Moore," she said. At the time of the American Revolution, Moore was a champion of the Baptist faith in the face of an intolerant Church of England. After the war, he was also an advocate of freedom of religion and the separation of church and state, and he is thought to have held some influence with founding fathers such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. It is this legacy that Monahan said she most wanted to see preserved in the Moorefield House.

Duane noted that Moore also fought against a proposal to limit the right to vote to those who owned a certain amount of land.

"He really paved the way for a substantial middle class," said Town Council member Maud Robinson, who worked through Historic Vienna Inc. to preserve the house.

She also noted that it represented a different slice of history than most other local historic sites. "It was a very important house because it represented a planter's house, a yeoman's house," said Robinson, adding that there are very few such houses left in Virginia.

"We've given honor to the gentlemen who lived on big plantations," Monahan pointed out, "but there are others who contributed to the direction of the nation."

Six hundred acres may sound extravagant, given today's real estate market, but George Washington's Mount Vernon, by contrast, covered 8,000 acres.

HOWEVER, said Duane, he and his association had little success in arousing interest from local government. When they proposed moving the house to Nottoway Park, which used to be part of Moorefield Plantation, "the Park Authority just wasn't interested at all," he said. They considered moving it to the site of the nearby dog park, "but we didn't get any encouragement from the mayor or Town Council."

Robinson, who now sits on the council and whose husband, the late Charlie Robinson, had been Vienna's mayor when it was decided in the 1990s that the town would not be able to restore the building, noted that such a project would have cost at least $500,000, and she added that it was difficult to arouse a lot of widespread interest in the history of the building and the story of its original owner.

"When you tried to tell people about this, their eyes kind of glazed over," she said.

Robinson said she and others in Historic Vienna Inc. had a study done on the life of Jeremiah Moore and applied for grants from the county and state for preservation of the building, but to little avail.

Monahan, also a member of Historic Vienna, said the organization also funded the removal of asbestos tiles, as well as the removal of the small addition on the back of the house, and also raised money for an architecture study, archeological digs in the backyard and a restoration feasibility study.

NEIGHBORS of the house wanted to know what would be done with it. "Nobody would want to have a derelict building sitting in their neighborhood," said Monahan.

The town eventually decided to have the building demolished, but the Jeremiah Moore Association raised $25,000 to have the building dismantled by a professional, said Duane, and the town pitched in the money it had set aside for demolition.

The Moorefield House was taken down in the summer of 2003 and now sits in pieces in Culpeper on the property of the specialist who dismantled it and will rebuild it at Eagle Eyrie.

The conference center will be glad to have it, said its director, Rod Miller. "Since we're the state center for Virginia Baptists, we're certainly thrilled to have the home of one of our forefathers and heroes of our faith on our campus," he said. "That'll be wonderful."

Miller said Eagle Eyrie intends to turn the house into a museum that would allow self-guided tours and teach visitors about Moore's story and the history of the Baptist Church.

Duane said the Vienna Baptist Mission Board just granted permission for the conference center to accept the house in the last two or three weeks and is currently in the process of creating a commission to handle the restoration project. No timetable has been set, he said.

Robinson said a historic marker will be placed on the original site of the house in time for the Jamestown 2007 celebration. She noted that stones from the building foundation still sit at the site and that "there has been talk about using them to outline the original footprint of the house."