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Sidney Vale

Rockbridge County, Virginia

Photographs courtesy of Mary Jo Baylor

In the 1930s an inventory of historical buildings was taken by Virginia writers as part of a
project of the W. P. A. The house on the old Gilmore plantation, Sidney Vale, was difficult to
access, which is probably why it did not get included. This report is meant to fill that gap.

SUBJECT: The Joseph Gilmore Plantation
LOCATION: On the south side of the James River on the border of Rockbridge and Botetourt County. The plantation was down-river a few miles from Gilmore's Mill, but since Sidney Vale was on the other side of the river, it was necessary to use a private ferry to cross to the plantation.


DATE of ORIGINAL CONSTRUCTION: Between. 1780 - 1800.

OWNERS: The land where Sidney Vale is located was part of a large crown grant of upwards of thirty-eight thousand acres to John Beale. Names associated with early ownership include Henry Lee (Lt. Horse Harry) and Alexander Spotswood Moore.

Exactly when a portion of this land passed to the Gilmore family is unknown; nor is it certain who the first Gilmore was to own this land. It is probable that it was either purchased by James Gilmore and passed to his sons Joseph and William by will in 1783, or that one or both brothers bought it after the settlement of their father's estate in 1805.
28 January 1803 - Joseph Gilmore took out a Mutual Assurance Policy on his residence View Mont in Rockbridge County. Included in the policy was a two-story brick house, 34x22 ft; a one-story wood kitchen 30x24 ft. located 12 ft from the house, and a two-story stone and wood barn 60x29 ft. located 100 yds. from the house. He wrote that his plantation was situated, "between the land of John Greenlee and that of William Gilmore". On the same date in 1803, William Gilmore also insured his home Gilead, stating it was located between the land of Joseph Gilmore and Samuel Barclay, and contained a 28x18 ft. one-story brick and wood dwelling and a 60x30 two-story barn of stone and brick. No policy has been found for Sam Barclay, but John Greenlee also applied for a policy in January of 1803 and stated that his plantation was between that of Joseph Gilmore and John Poage.

Unfortunately, from a researcher's perspective, both the Gilmore land on Kerr's Creek, as well as the Sidney Vale property on the south bank of the James River, abutted land owned by a John Greenlee and a Poage. It's not known if the buildings Joseph and William Gilmore insured in these policies were on the same land where Sidney Vale is located. The research is on-going and input from readers is welcomed.

6 December 1828 - The first mention of Sidney Vale in family records is found in the will of Joseph Gilmore: "After my just debts are discharged, and my funeral expences are satisfied, I order and bequeath that my beloved wife Mildred Gilmore shall have one third of the Sidneyvale Tract of Land . . . to my sons Thomas and Joseph, the Sidneyvale Tract of Land at their Mother's death." Joseph died in January 1830, but in 1838, before his estate was settled, his son Thomas died intestate, making his siblings (including three half-brothers) all heirs. Joseph's widow Mildred Rowland Gilmore died in 1844, leaving her share of the estate to her surviving children, Joseph Jr., and Eliza Gilmore Humes.

September 1844 - James, and Madison Gilmore relinquish to their half-brother Joseph Gilmore their interest in Sydney Vale and the 600 acres adjoining the Vale.

February 1863 - From Joseph Gilmore, Jr. (by will) to Thomas R. Gilmore, Elisabeth J. Gilmore, Henry C. Gilmore and William J. Gilmore, ". . . my Sydny(sic) tract of land including the six hundred acres mountain track adjoining, and my Reeds farms . . ." In the will was a stipulation that the property not be divided until his son William came of age [ca. 1871].

March - July 1877 - A young Gilmore cousin from the north, John Wright Wheatley, kept a journal during his four month visit to Sidney Vale and recorded day to day activities of the family, Tom Gilmore, who was running the farm with help from his brother Willie and a hired-man, "Mr. Slagle", Tom's wife and children, and "Cousin Lizzie". All of the family worked on the farm. Cash crops included tobacco and wheat. One journal entry reads, Monday, June 11, 1877. Helped Slagle cover barn. Finished it to-day at 2.30 P.M. "Sardine", one of the horses, was drowned in the river to-day by falling out of the flat-boat & becoming entangled in the harness.

1882 - 1884 - Deed Book UU, pg. 57 records some land taken by the Shenandoah Valley Railroad; compensation to J. W. (William), Elizabeth and Thomas Gilmore.

November 1892 - J.W. (William) purchased Thomas' 1/3 share of Sidney Vale.
During this same time, William and Elizabeth (Mrs. E. McCrum) recorded a partition deed of the remaining land. J. W. received 366 acres, 141 poles (including 75 acres of the Mountain Tract). Elizabeth received 238 acres, 124 poles. (DB 78, pp. 490-492.)

August 1913 - "Conveyed . . . . All that certain tract (Sidney Vale) in Natural Bridge Magisterial District on the south side of the James River. . . subject to the rights and easements of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad (now Norfolk and Western RR). . . to the United States of America." The land sold to the government became part of the Jefferson National Forest. Only 246 acres were retained by the Gilmore family.

15 December 1913 Sold to Bertha C Rice by J. W Gilmore and F. H. his wife. This was the sale of what remained of Sidney Vale to non-family members. Note: "J. W." Gilmore is the same person as William J. Gilmore, youngest son of Joseph, Jr. (DB 124, pp. 61-62.)

September 1917 - Sold to Wm. B. Norton by Bertha C. Rice.
(D B.116, pg 335-338.)

May 1928 - To J.B. Norton and Mrs. Annie Lawson from their father, Wm. B Norton, who died intestate. After the estate was settled, J. B. Norton and Annie Lawson sold the property to Joseph Eden Harris. (DB 149, pg. 440). Joseph "Eden" Harris was the great-grandfather of Mary Jo Baylor. He died in 1935, leaving his personal property and real estate to his wife Vinecy, with any residue at her death to go to his son William and daughter Fannie. DB 173, pp. 85-86, September 1938, records the conveyance to W. R. Harris by Fannie and husband and Vinecy. Vinecy reserves "estate for life."

December 1941- From W. R. Harris and wife Mary, and Vinecy Harris to J. W. Mull. (DB 181, pp. 323-324)
From Mary Jo Baylor:  My mother's family lived at Sydney Vale from about 1929 to late 1941 or early 1942. In my mother's time, there were 3 farms tucked in between the river and the National Forest. Two railroads ran close by. There was no road to the farm at the time, you had to cross the river by boat to get there. They (her family) had a large flat-bottomed boat that would accommodate cars and farm machinery. Now there is a road that runs from the bridge [at Greenlee] through the National Forest.

DESCRIPTION: Federal in character,
this rambling farm house was built over
a period of time, beginning with the two-
story brick section closest to the river
(on right in photo, and No.1 in the floor
plan below). There is a brick foundation
and a basement with log joists. On both
the east and west walls of this portion
of the house are brick tie-ins indicating
the original plan called for a house of
classical design with a two-story center
and one-story wings. The wings were
never built, but the brick tie-ins are still
in the east and west walls and can be
seen in the photos. The gable end would
have made a pediment-like front oriented
toward the James River.

Instead of new wings that would stretch the
house from east to west, the house spread
southward, with new additons, remodels and
enclosures to suit new owners.

Dr. E.P. Tompkins wrote in The Natural
Bridgeand its Historical Surroundings
that this first section was built by Alexander
Moore, who died shortly after it became
inhabitable. I have not been able to verify this.

During the Civil War when Joseph Gilmore, Jr.
and his family lived at Sidney Vale, the house
was probably very much as it appears in these
photos, with the exception of the "gangway", a
two-story wood and stone section, which Mary
 Jo Baylor suggests was not yet enclosed when
her family lived there, but was more open with

                    Photo Retouching by photojournalist Michael Gardebled of Slidell and New Orleans, LA.

A member of the family who lived at Sidney Vale
in the early 1940s wrote,
" The kitchen was three steps down from the dining room and the lower part of the house was separated by a "gangway." The house was in two sections by design...the lower part being the working part of the house and the upper the living quarters for the family."


The west side of the house showing the "gangway" between the brick sections. The brick tie-ins are visible to the left of the window under the covered porch.
The staircase is to your right as you come in the entry door. The treds are shaped in order to turn
the corner; there is no landing.


Interior woodwork in this oldest section of the
house is highstyle Federal in character. The
photo shows the good condition of the mantle
in 1988.

 Photos below taken  by Wes & Clara Kerner in 2007.

The James River is to the right.

The old smoke house showing a new face.

Fancy gate at the end of a long dirt road which winds  through the
Jefferson National Forest from the Arnold Valley Road.


Additional sources include Rockbridge County Deeds and Wills
Family History Notes of Mary Jo Baylor
The Natural Bridge and Its Historical Surroundings (1939) by E. P. Thompkins, M.D.
APVA survey information on Sidney Vale, ca. 1980, courtesy of Patte Wood.
Gilmore, Humes and Wheatley family archives shared by Peter Binkley and Eileen Hacker.
The research notes of my grandmother, Julia Humes Bilyeu.

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