Many Sides, Stories Can Be Found At House By Joe Tennis - 10/30/2008 TriCities
Oh, Abijah! In the mid-1800s, this industrialist, Abijah Thomas, created the Holston Woolen Mills in Smyth County, Va.
Thomas is also the reason why “Thomas Bridge” has that name along the South Fork of the Holston River.
But for a true monument to this man, you must look at his fabulous octagonal house – built in 1856-57 for the prominent landowner.
“This singular brick dwelling is Virginia’s most sophisticated representation of Orson Squire Fowler’s advocacy of octagonal architecture that caught the imagination of Americans in the reform movement of the 1850s,” says “The Virginia Landmarks Register,” a history book published by the University Press of Virginia.
Unfortunately, this octagonal house seems to have seen its better days. Doors and windows are boarded, and one tattered piece of plastic flutters at a top window, drifting in the wind with a spirit all its own. A prominent sign marks the place: “PRIVATE PROPERTY.”
This brick landmark sits on a hill overlooking a public highway near Adwolfe, Va. And sometimes, you might see somebody on the street, staring and wondering: Is there anything there?
Local authors Kimberly Barr Byrd and Debbie J. Williams included a photo of this home in their first book, 2005’s “Smyth County, Virginia: Images of America” (Arcadia Publishing).
These women also told of “a storage room, called the ‘dark room’ by locals. Rumors that this room was used to punish slaves or to lock away unruly children were unfounded.”
Still, stories of the so-called “Dark Room” persist. And in 2007, Byrd and Williams took another look with their second book, “Smyth County Revisited” (Arcadia Publishing). This time, the authors note the “Dark Room” of this eight-sided house as “a strange, windowless room. It is called ‘the dark room’ by locals and harbors dark stains on the floor alleged to be the blood of slaves who were whipped there.”
In a more recent collection, “Ghosthunting Virginia” (Clerisy Press), author Michael J. Varhola dedicates an entire chapter to the “Octagon House.” Varhola describes the history of the home and shares some alleged hauntings, like the belief that Thomas’s spirit comes back each Dec. 1 in the form of an eerie, blue-white light.
Yet, Varhola never went inside this home when he visited in the spring of 2008. And, he writes, “I did not sense anything of a paranormal nature.”
Years before, the late Mack Sturgill explored both the legends and history of the home in his 1990 book, “Abijah Thomas and His Octagonal House.” Here, too, Sturgill also tried to set stories straight. As for the “Dark Room,” Sturgill provided a theory about the alleged “blood stains” on the floor. These, he figured, were probably caused by food spills from the canning jars stored inside the house.
The house is listed on state and national historic landmark registers.
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