The History of The Mansion
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Two brothers, on land they had inherited from their father, built one of the outstanding landmarks of Southwest Virginia, The Mansion at Fort Chiswell from 1839 – 1840. The two brothers, Stephen McGavock (1807-1880) and Joseph Cloyd McGavock (1813-1886), built their imposing house on a hill overlooking the original McGavock home on the property.
The first McGavock settlement occurred in 1771 when James McGavock (1728-1812) of Rockbridge County moved to the area and purchased the old Fort Chiswell tract which had first been developed by William Byrd III and Colonel James Chiswell as a frontier post to protect a lead mine that Chiswell had discovered in 1756. A portion of the original tract, including the frontier settlement, later passed into the hands of Alexander Sayers, and it was Sayers’ estate that McGavock purchased the property in 1771.
James McGavock prospered there and Fort Chiswell became one of the important stopping places on the Great Wilderness Road to the West. It was here McGavock ran an ordinary and other commercial establishments. When Montgomery County was formed in 1777, the first court met at his place of residence. The county court continued until 1789 when Wythe County was formed.
The house of James McGavock later passed into possession of his son, James McGavock, Jr., (1764-1838) who lived there until his death. The original home place was to continue in the possession of the McGavock family until its destruction by fire in 1901.
When James McGavock, Jr. died in 1838 a portion of his property was left to two sons. It was these sons who immediately launched the ambitious project of building the imposing Fort Chiswell Mansion across the road from the original family seat.
In 1839 the two brothers made a contract whereby “Lorain Thorn and James Johnson bind themselves to make and lay for…Steve and Cloyd McGavock, 300,000 sand brick of best quality to build the proposed building in a handsome workman like style - $2.75 per thousand – and themselves to lay same in handsome style with round joists and handsome arches turning over all outside doors and windows. Work to be completed by middle July 1840".
The house was finished on schedule and it remained in the hands of the McGavock family until it was sold in 1918. Throughout the nineteenth century it was well-known as a center of hospitality and the main house of an extensive and prosperous plantation.
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