History of the Miller-Claytor House
The Miller-Claytor House is Lynchburg’s sole remaining 18th Century Town House. Built on the corner of 8th and Church Streets, by John Miller, a tavern keeper in 1791and later purchased by Samuel Claytor a tobacco merchant and Virginia State Senator in 1835. Hence the name Miller-Claytor. At this well-located vantage point, the Miller-Claytor House witnessed the passing parade of the growing town for over one hundred and forty years. By the 1930s, the site of the Miller-Claytor House had become far to valuable to be occupied by a simple, frame, two-story house. The building’s days were numbered.
Because it was one of the “first houses,” remaining in the city, interest was soon aroused in its preservation. It was this groundswell of concern that led to the formation of the Lynchburg Historical Society. The society’s first board met in April 1934, consisting of representative from the Lynchburg Art Club, the Lynchburg Garden Club, the Architects’ Club and the Junior League. The first task was to purchase the house which was made easy by the graciousness of the owner Walker Pettyjohn, who offered it to the society for only $100.00. The house was taken down from its original location in 1935, was stored and re-erected in Riverside Park and was opened to the public during the sesquicentennial celebration in October 1936. This site, the corner of Miller-Claytor Lane and Treasure Island Road, was selected as it approximates the original corner location downtown. A similar relationship of building to street has been recreated, and the house is accurately set close to the intersection of the two roads.
The restoration of the House involved everyone. Among the architects were Stanhope Johnson, who prepared the reconstruction drawings and a rendering showing it at its new location-which immediately became the logo for the Historical Society. Pendleton Clark wrote an article on the restoration for the News . Everette Fauber represented the Architects’ club at the formation of the historical Society. Local historians delved into the records, local businesses donated lumber, cement, paint and wallpaper; and workmen were paid out of the WPA funds. Charles F. Gillette landscaped the yard, which was established and continues to be maintained by the Lynchburg Garden Club.
A gift of the parlor mantel was received. This replaced the one that had been removed. The two second-floor mantels were retained and are original to the house, but do not date to the first period of its construction. Other than these and several other minor items, the Miller-Claytor House retains a remarkable amount of original fabric.
Title to the house currently rests with the Lynchburg Historical Foundation, Inc. formed in 1972 by the consolidation of the Lynchburg Historical Society and the Historic Lynchburg Foundation.
Presently the house is a picture of a charming and accurate Piedmont Virginia house of the late eighteenth century and is not only significant in itself but as one of the cornerstones of historic preservation in Lynchburg.
The Miller-Claytor House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
In 2004 the Foundation thought that it was very important to get the Miller Claytor House, so long neglected, repaired and painted. Little did we know that under the watchful eye of Jon Cesafsky of Lone Jack Contracting the original paint would appear. After careful analysis of paint chips, courtesy of Travis McDonald of Poplar Forest and his field study team and Susan L. Buck of Williamsburg, original paint colors were confirmed. The Miller Claytor House now shines in all its glory.
In 1793, the house was bought by Thomas Watt, son-in-law of Miller, who sold it in 1802 to William Warwick, Lynchburg’s first mayor. In 1810, it was purchased by Benjamin Essex a tailor, and for fifteen years was rented by the family of Owen Owens. Here Mrs. Owens opened a school and generously shared books from her extensive library thus establishing Lynchburg’s first circulating library. Legend has it that Thomas Jefferson ate a tomato from its garden to prove to an Owens child that “love apples” were not poisonous; hence the house acquired the nickname “Tomato House.”
The Lynchburg Garden Club’s connection to the Miller-Claytor House dates back to 1936 when the club decided to take on the development of a garden and asked the renowned Richmond landscape architect Charles F. Gillette to design the plan. The garden was planted in 1940 and lovingly cared for by the Garden Club members. Some 10 years later the garden was restored to its original 18th century design. In 1947 in recognition of their on-going care of the Miller-Claytor Garden, The Lynchburg Garden Club received the Massie Medal for Distinguished Achievement, the oldest and most prestigious award given by The Garden Club of Virginia.
Today, almost 70 years since it was conceived, the Miller-Claytor Garden remains an on-going project of the Lynchburg Garden Club. It serves as a tribute to those members who originally planned and planted the garden and to those who have nurtured it through the years.