How to visit two states under one roof
Published 5:37 pm Friday, May 19, 2023
A couple of weeks ago I engaged in a conversation with Bruce Howell, a Northampton County native who now makes his home in Raleigh.
We were discussing a broad range of topics, including historic homes, which Bruce knows a lot about as his family’s history pre-dates the signing of the United States Constitution.
I shared with him the story of the historic State Line house in Gates County. A total loss of records prior to 1865 from Nansemond County, Virginia and Hertford County (of which this part of Gates was included from1759 to 1779) makes it impossible to accurately establish the early history of the house.
I had the opportunity a decade or so ago to interview the Lefler family who resided in the home at that time. Peggy Lefler possessed a great knowledge of this beautiful home, as did her mother, Edith Seiling, who was born in the old family structure.
The house has been a conversation piece for years gaining notoriety across two states because of its uniqueness. If one were to stand at the front door of the structure, the right side is in North Carolina and left side is in Virginia. When the property was resurveyed in 1887, Lefler’s great-grandfather and wife were living there and talked of how the surveyors ran the measuring chain straight through the house.
The family, of course, had to pay property taxes in both states. There were other unique issues such as having their electrical service coming from Virginia while the telephone service came from North Carolina.
Lefler’s great-grandfather Edmund James Freeman was a Justice of the Peace and legend has it that he married a many a couple from Virginia and North Carolina just by moving from one side of the house to the other.
There was also talk in the old days about dueling between rivals. Legend has it that one would stand on the North Carolina side and the other would stand on the Virginia side and they would duel with guns. Whichever one left standing would only walk across the state line and escape prosecution. The same was true with some of the workers who found themselves in trouble. They only had to walk across the state line and they were free.
The property also included a tract of land in front of the home, across what is now US 13. There was once a general store on that property. I was told that the goods available for purchase in that store were all located on the North Carolina side while the cash register was on the Virginia side. It was purposely arranged that way because Virginia didn’t have a sales tax at that particular time.
Despite the loss of records, it is thought that Samuel Cross of Nansemond County was the earliest owner of the property. His grandfather, William Cross, owned considerable land east of Somerton Creek (in Virginia) as early as 1752.
The farm remained in family ownership until 1871. It was then acquired by a group of investors residing in Norfolk County, Virginia. Edmund Freeman purchased the home in 1876. Freeman was the grandson of Joseph Freeman, one of the county’s leading cabinetmakers during the early 19th century. E.J. Freeman and his wife, Edith Goodman Virginia “Babe Sis” (Langston) Freeman, resided in the home until their deaths.
The home, listed on the National Registry of Historical Places, shows how farmhouses developed over the years. Each aspect of the house fosters its own identity. Those visiting the home can see the differences in the sizes of windows and even in woodwork as the house grew from the original structure, to the side hall farm hall and center hall farmhouse. The large wardrobes adorned the rooms as they did in years past and every room has a fireplace to add to the ambience of times past.
The home is a noteworthy example of the evolution of the vernacular farmhouse. The house exhibits three distinct building phases. The earliest is a one-and-a-half story one-room plan section that dates perhaps as early as the last quarter of the 18th century. When the earliest section of the main house – the side-hall plan section that is largely in Virginia – was built ca. 1815, this one-room dwelling was attached to the rear as an ell. The one-room house was then updated with a stylish tripartite Federal style mantel.
The ca. 1815 section-the northern three bays-reflects modest elements of the popular Federal style. Its nine-over-nine and six-over-six sash windows are contained within stylish three-part mitered surrounds.
The two-stage evolution of the center-hall plan interior provides a notable illustration of evolving style. In the older (ca. 1815) Virginia section, the tripartite mantel is embellished with robust Federal moldings and features delicately reeded plasters. The southern (ca. 1835) North Carolina mantel is a clear indication of the rising popularity of Greek Revival form.
But what I found as the most intriguing fact about this historical gem is the fact that you can go to bed there in one state and have breakfast in another state….all without having to leave the property.
History abounds at this special place and it’s right at the Virginia or North Carolina line – whichever you prefer.
Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7207.