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Mecklenburg’s historic Elm Hill destroyed by fire

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Elm Hill as it looked before the fire. (Alexander Rawles photos) / June 27, 2014
A lightning strike appears to be the cause of a fire that destroyed historic Elm Hill plantation, Wednesday.

Fire Departments from Boydton, South Hill and Palmer Springs were called to fight the blaze that began around 9 p.m. The initial call was for a “tree on fire,” said Boydton Fire Chief Mark Parrish.

By the time he and the team from Boydton arrived, the house was fully engulfed. Parrish said, “Unfortunately, we were slightly delayed in fighting the blaze because the gate in front of the plantation was padlocked, and we had to cut the lock.”

Parrish did not believe the house could have been saved even without the delay. “Back then they built houses out of pine,” Parrish explained. “There was no electricity running to the house to spark the fire, it was just old and very dry wood that burned hot and fast.”

It took nearly two hours for the three fire departments to get the blaze under control and nearly seven hours to extinguish the fire. Parrish said he did not leave the scene until nearly 4 a.m. Even then the house was still smoldering, but Parrish was confident that the blaze would not reignite.

Two members of the Boydton team were overcome by heat while battling the flames. They were treated, and according to Parrish, are fully recovered.

Parrish said he and the members of the Boydton Volunteer Fire Department are grateful for the support and assistance provided by the South Hill and Palmer Springs Volunteer Fire Departments.

Records filed with the Department of Interior in 1979 described Elm Hill as one of the earliest surviving houses in the Roanoke River basin, the house which was destroyed is believed to have been built between 1799 and 1801. An earlier manor house was built by Hugh Miller, the father-in-law of Sir Peyton Skipwith, who later built and lived in Prestwould Plantation near Clarksville. Records suggest that Skipwith lived at Elm Hill with his first wife, Anne, before building Prestwould.

Upon Anne’s death the property was bequeathed to her son Peyton Skipwith Jr.

According Depatment of Interior records, “the architectural evidence, strongly implies that the younger Skipwith, who had recently reached majority, replaced the original house between 1799 and 1801.”

Most recently the house, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Registry was owned by the Commission of Game and Inland Fisheries, who described the house as “unused and deteriorating.”

A local history buff, Alexander Rawles, lamented the loss, but noted that several years ago historians had documented every aspect of Elm Hill, and while it would not be original, an exact replica of the manor house could be recreated if monies were available.

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