Now and Then #3

Now and Then #3

This third in a series of stories focuses on the odd-numbered / south side of Main Street’s 800 block. While many old homes remain on this block, an equal number have been lost to the ravages of time.

The house at the corner of Main Street and Jefferson Avenue, number 803, below, was built for Dr. Bruce James in 1899. The land was acquired from the neighboring Elm Court. Through a succession of owners, the basement level was used as physicians’ offices while the doctors’ families resided on the main and second floors. During WW II, the main floor was headquarters for the local branch of the American Red Cross. The house is mostly in the Queen Anne style but with neo-classical revival details.  Note the ionic columns on the porch with a large Palladian window above.

The Dr. Bruce James House — 803 Main Street

Next door at 811 Main, set far back from the street, is the home known as Elm Court. It is unique in Danville because of its resemblance to homes along the Mississippi River. The core of the home is believed to be Antebellum – built by Jacob Davis 1853. The 1877 Beers map of Danville shows the home with an L-shaped configuration. The house was later sold to Dr. James (next door at 803) who converted it to its present four apartments, adding the balustraded front porches.

Elm Court — 811 Main Street

We’ve written about the Paxton-Grant Home at 815 Main and its new owners, the Robertsons, before.  W.C. Paxton built this home on land from his father. Together, he and wife Harriet Ware, had five children here.

The Paxton-Grant House — 815 Main Street

There are no known photos of the home at 821 Main Street – now site of the Episcopal Church parking lot.  It was rented to John Greene Lea before his move to 238 Jefferson Avenue.  Later it was owned and occupied by the younger James G. Penn and his wife Katherine Boyd. Like his father, whose home still stands across Main Street, he became president of the well-known leaf tobacco firm, Pemberton and Penn.  He died in the home on August 9, 1942.  His wife Katherine remained here until this house and 827 next door were destroyed by fire in April 1960.

Dr. Howson W. Cole was one of the founders of the Riverside Cotton Mills, later Dan River Inc. The Cole house stood at 827 Main Street – now also part of the Episcopal parking lot. After Cole’s passing in 1910, the home was sold to Henry C. Swanson and his wife Ella. Henry, a tobacconist, was the brother of U.S. Senator Claude Swanson. Senator Swanson often visit the home. Perhaps because of his brother Claude’s position, Henry was appointed Danville’s postmaster in 1933. He passed in 1952. On April 26, 1960, a fire that began in the Swanson house also swept through the Penn residence at 821 (above). It was said that both homes were filled with valuable antiques and collector’s items from all over the world. While widow Ella Swanson was rescued from the fire, she passed from smoke inhalation the next day.

The Cole-Swanson House — 827 Main

Edward Fox Acree built 833 Main Street in 1880. Edward and his brother James were best known for Acree’s (tobacco) Warehouse, now used as a downtown parking garage. In 1019, the widow Acree sold the home to Powhatan Fitzhugh Conway who dealt in lumber, millwork, coal, and wood. He later became president of the Danville Lumber and Manufacturing Company – the providers of windows, door, and trim elements for so many elegant Old West End homes. The house is richly ornamented with features from the Eastlake, Queen Anne, and Shingle styles. The projection on the left houses a three-story staircase.

The Acree House — 833 Main

Stay tuned for more 800-block homes Now and Then in a future issue.

  1. Though not definitive, we think the columns on the right side of the fire damage photo of 827 Main are the Acree House at 833 Main. The chimney in the background may be a part of 821 Main. We’re always hopeful that a reader will provide more information and/or photos.

  2. Another tremendous story. Thank you!! Is the corner of the house in the photograph of the smoke-damaged Cole-Swanson house all the photographic proof we have that 821 Main Street ever existed? “The Paths of Glory lead but to the Grave:” all the life and history of those two houses reduced now to a parking lot.

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