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††††††††††††††††††††††††††††† The Francis Fergus Home 1802- abt 1825

††††††††††††††††††† Rock House, Wilderness Road, Montgomery Co (now Pulaski), VA

 

In 1802 Francis Fergus, his wife Mary McCormick and their eight children moved from Rockbridge County to the three-story Early Republic stone house west of the village of Newbern, Virginia.Francis was born in County Tyrone, Ireland.As a young man, he made the 2-3 month voyage to America prior to 1775. The following year he served in the Pennsylvania Militia during the Revolutionary War. Francismarried and began his family in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. They followed the Great Valley Road to Virginia to first settle in Rockbridge County and then to the stone house in Montgomery County in 1802.

 

Eight of the Fergus children were married in Montgomery County to well-known pioneer families in the area. James Fergus married Rachel Mears/Marrs; Elizabeth Fergus married Heazlet Sproull; Samuel Fergus married Catherine Ditty; Jincy Fergus married Abraham Ditty; John Fergus married Nancy Guthrie; Ann Fergus married (Rev.)William Patton; Mary Fergus married Abram Brown; and, Charlotte Fergus married Cyrus Haywood. The Fergusís were members of the Presbyterian church. However, with William Pattonís encouragement, some of the family members became Methodist-Episcopalians, a denomination that he served as a noted minister on the New River and Tazewell circuits.

 

The architecture of the Rock House dwelling is similar to the more substantial houses from Francisí birthplace, Ireland. .  Built in 1791 by slave labor, it was one of the very first stone houses in southwestern Virginia. With three stories, nine bedrooms, and over 3400 square feet of living space, it was a truly remarkable building for its day, far more substantial than the typical chinked log frontier dwellings of the time found in nearby Newbern.

The house was of considerable historical importance -- according to a 1958 and office recorder's sheet, George Washington visited here as president
while touring western military fortifications, and Alexander Hamilton also stopped here on a trip to inspect some lead mines which he owned in Wythe
County.  The Fergus Family History says that Andrew Jackson stopped here as a congressman while en route from Tennessee to Washington, D.C.  The accuracy of this statement is open to question. The land office recorder's sheet also says that Jackson stopped overnight at the house as president while traveling back and forth to Tennessee.  It seems clear that the house doubled as a hostelry more than once in its early history, though it is uncertain whether it was so used while Francis Fergus owned it.

This once stately dwelling, the lodging place of presidents and abode of a proud pioneer family, now languishes in an appalling state of neglect and disrepair.  The entire first story has been buried by landfill -- only the second and third stories remain above ground.  The facade originally featured two rows of six windows each on these two floors, but the second and fourth window apertures on the second floor have been crudely enlarged to serve as entrances to what is now the ground level.  There is a similar makeshift entrance in the rear.

The interior of the second floor has been completely gutted.  All interior partitions have been removed, and the original flooring is apparently gone --
only the packed dirt of the landfill surface is visible.  The interior stairwell to the third story is also gone.  Access to the third floor is now available only through another makeshift entrance at the top of an exterior stairway, which has been constructed against the rear of the house.

Some of the interior partitions on the third floor are still in place.  One really striking feature of the house is the fireplace arrangement -- there is a chimney on each end, so there were no fewer than six separate fireplaces (two on each floor)!  The two fireplaces on the original ground floor (now buried) almost certainly served the kitchen and the common room.  Of the four remaining fireplaces, one is boarded up, and two are simply gaping holes in the wall.  However, the south fireplace on the third floor is in moderately good condition, and the mantle and other woodwork surrounding it are more or less intact.  It is entirely possible that this is all that remains of the original woodwork.  By today's standards, it is quite plain -- there is no elaborate handwork or ornamentation -- but it would have been a luxury in a frontier dwelling of the late 18th century.

There is also a sizable attic, which was probably accessed by a retractable staircase in the third floor ceiling -- we could see up into the opening, but there is no longer any ready means of making the ascent.  There are four small attic windows visible from the outside of the house -- one on either side of each chimney.  Garret rooms were quite common in those days, and it is likely that there were small bedrooms on that level. 


When the Newbern Courthouse burned it was temporarily housed in the Rock House on Wilderness Road (also named Rock Road). To reach the Rock House follow Exit 98 off I-81 and go south on Route 100 approximately one mile.

 

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Additional comments/notes by Cynthia N. Russell:

 

The Fergus Stone House, pictured in the "Fergus Family History" book, co-authored by John Franklin Fergus and Morris Freeman Fergus, is now within the Rock House Marina. Francis Fergus purchased the house in 1802.The three-story Early Republican style stone house was built by slaves in 1791. The Old Wilderness Road was once a pike toll road and a main east-west route.The road is also referred to as the Rock Road, perhaps because of the Fergus stone house. This building is closest to the Village of Newbern, which was established in the early 1800's.This probably was where Francis rode for provisions or for help. It is located in the southwest corner of Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, an area quite similar to Francis' birthplace, County Tyrone, Ulster Province, Ireland (now a part of Northern Ireland).

 

Compared to the existing original log and chink buildings in Newbern, the Fergus Stone House was large and particularly sturdy.It is still standing

becausethe stone blocks are approximately 1'x1.5' (built as the same type as the plantation houses were in Ireland).The interior woodwork appears to be simple in today's terms, but would have been a luxury in the early 1800's. The house is 57' wide by 20' deep by 3 stories = 3,402 sq. feet.

 

Francis Fergus and his wife, Mary McCormick lived in this house from 1802 until shortly after her death in 1820.Since no one has been able to locate any death records or her gravesite I surmise that she was buried somewhere on the property.

 

All nine of the children of Francis Fergus and Mary McCormick were reared in Virginia and lived in this house before marrying and migrating west.James Fergus and John Fergus went to Ohio; Sawyer Baxter Fergus went to Indiana; Jincy Fergus went to Tennessee by way of the Cumberland Gap; and, Anna Fergus, by the same route migrated to Missouri.Elizabeth Fergus went to Missouri, but the route, whether through Pennsylvania and Ohio, or by way of the Cumberland Gap, is not known.