Like so many of its neighbors on Millionaires’ Row, the American Picturesque Victorian house at 855 Main Street became home to successful tobacconists. It didn’t begin that way.
Upon its completion in 1878, its first owner was Captain William L. Fernald, a Federal tax collector. He and his wife, Julia Alberta Gravely, lived in the home for only seven years before he died of “softening of the brain,” a blanket term that merely identified the results of any number of possible illnesses, including encephalitis or stroke.
Following her husband’s death, Mrs. Fernald found herself in financial straits. She mortgaged the house twice, the second time with her brother H. C. Gravely as trustee. The arrangements allowed her to stay in the house until 1904, when it was sold to Montgomery Adkins Allen, a tobacco buyer for American Tobacco Company in Reidsville, N.C., where he had also served as mayor. He moved to Danville in 1883 and worked as a representative for the Export Tobacco Company.
The Allen family remained in the house for nearly thirty years, long enough to see their daughter, Ima, marry yet another tobacconist, Edward Bickford Young, who had moved with his family to the “Bright Belt” from Rochester, New York. The couple remained in the house as newlyweds before buying their own home Millionaires’ Row home at 911 Main – a home that no longer stands. In 1930, Mrs. Allen died suddenly from a brief illness and Mr. Allen moved in with his daughter and son-in-law. He died not quite two years later at the age of 77.
When the house sold again in 1931 it became a rental property. Many of the large rooms were divided to provide for more bedrooms in the smaller living spaces. The house became an owner-occupied dwelling again when it was purchased in 1952 by Henry Hobson Gordon, a real estate salesman. He continued to rent space to tenants and boarders. It was Gordon who converted the basement space into rental apartments.
In 1964 the house was sold again, along with an adjacent property, which was razed. The plans at that time were to build an apartment complex or doctors’ building, but opposition from neighbors was strong. The property was under threat again in the mid-seventies when high-rise apartments for the elderly and handicapped were proposed on adjoining land accessed from Pine Street. Once again, neighbors gathered in protest of the plans, opposing them as both unsuitable to the neighborhood and imperiling valuable historic architecture. That project was relocated to Riverside Drive.
For some years the house was a podiatrist’s office, and then sat vacant for a period of time before it was purchased by Dr. and Mrs. Darrell Beverley in 1996, who began restoration at that time. There have been several more-recent owners.
This 3,000 square foot house is presently for sale. It sits on a three-quarter-acre oversize lot and has three bedrooms, three baths, and a basement apartment. See the listing.