Three years before George Washington was inaugurated as the first U.S. President, John Black started building his log house, affectionately known in the day as a 4-room crib. The structure is classic for the period at about 20 feet by 40 feet with a central front door and staircase and two large rooms on either side on two floors. John Black was a farmer who most likely cut every log for his home. He and his wife raised 12 kids here. John’s brother, William, was the original owner of the 16 squares in the center of Blacksburg. The Alexander Black House on Draper Road belonged to John Black’s great-grandson.
The home was on land which is the courtyard of today’s Eggleston Hall on Virginia Tech’s campus. At one point, it was dragged about 500 feet behind what is now Owens Hall. Then in 1962, Howard Price, a grounds maintenance employee at Virginia Tech who worked on restoration at Historic Smithfield Plantation, decided to take it apart and move it rather than see it demolished.
One can only imagine Price’s surprise when he began removing the exterior siding and interior plaster walls to discover the original logs between the added coverings. “Basically, he would have numbered the logs on the outside, photographed everything, and used the photos to re-assemble the house,” states current owner Bill Green. It took Price about four years to complete his project, and once again, the house stands proud in its original log framework, though now outside town in the Prices Fork section of Montgomery County.
When the home was moved, Price rebuilt it on a foundation with a partial basement, and it was here that Green found an old school bell and some mismatched railings from other old buildings which had been torn down. He added those to the open outdoor deck. The view from the front encompasses pastures and rolling hills, and in the back, the New River flows below. It is peaceful – and old – which appeals to Bill Green immensely.
A side door on the west goes into the parlor, and this is where Green loves to relax, read, play records on his turntables and enjoy the late afternoon sun. It is like sitting in history itself, not only for the room in the old house, but also for Green’s interesting, old things everywhere. A spinning wheel. Vinyl records and turntables. Treadle foot sewing machine. Framed pictures and books. Chairs. Along the front wall, for example, he has an unusual Savonarola chair with seven carved lion heads. These X-chairs, developed in the late 15th century in Italy, were originally designed to be folded.
The Greek revival style trim sports an authentic bold spring green color. The original floors are in place, and the ceilings as well, though a beam has been added to stabilize the second story floor from below. The dining room is very similar to the parlor. The matching green corner cupboard is not a built-in piece. The windows were obviously handled with great care as most of the window panes are the original glass which seems to squiggle when you look through it. Green surmises that Black probably handcrafted all the window frames. They are held together with wooden pegs. “It’s beautiful joinery.”
The stairs have slight dips in the center from centuries of being stepped on. The upstairs rooms also have original wood floors and a bit of pitch that comes from time and, no doubt, having moved the house twice – once whole and once in pieces. Since kitchens and baths of old were outside the home, an addition in the back holds a kitchen downstairs and a bedroom and bathroom upstairs.
Once a car and boat designer, world traveler, collector of old stuff and industrial design professor at Virginia Tech, Green purchased the house in 1998. He is as interesting a character as the structure, with an effervescent personality that overflows with passion for the house, its history and his own collections. In the front hallway, he points out old photos of the home, including one after it had been moved and an enclosed side porch built. “I removed the porch because it took away from the authenticity of the structure,” Green relates. In another old picture, one can see the house, kitchen, smokehouse, spring house and servant’s quarters on the 300 acres that belonged to John Black. The adjacent parcel of the same size belonged to his brother, and the entire 600-acre parcel had been purchased from the Ingles family for five shillings.
Many of the restored buildings at Williamsburg are the same era as this house, which is the second oldest house in Blacksburg. Historic Smithfield Plantation’s home was completed in 1774. Green’s love for the house and admiration for the workmanship are evident in the way he moves through it and talks about it, cheerfully exclaiming: “It’s a huggable house!”
Text by Joanne M. Anderson | Photos by Kristie Lea Photography