By all accounts, May Talley was an enterprising woman for her times. May (she later used the more authoritative Mae) was one of nine children born to Dr. Thomas Jefferson Patrick and Laura Crump Patrick. A druggist, Dr. Patrick came to Danville in 1853 to work in the tobacco industry. His sister, Jane, had married William T. Sutherlin, a respected tobacconist and innovator in the industry. Several years later he gained notoriety in the events surrounding the end of the Civil War.
May had a son, Herbert, but divorced the boy’s father in 1886, not something a woman commonly did in those days. In 1889, her aunt and uncle Sutherlin conveyed a lot on Chestnut Street to May. She commissioned the building of a house, yet another enterprise not traditionally undertaken by women in that era. Not only did she undertake it, but she did it well.
The Talley house, a Queen Ann Shingle style Victorian is considered one of the Old West End’s most architecturally significant houses. Located at 126 Chestnut Street (formerly numbered 406), its turret makes it one of the more striking homes on the street, if not in the entire historic district. Or it was at one time.
Madame Mae Talley, who lived here with her son, ran the Conservatory of Music during the ten years of her residence. She sold the house in 1899 to Jesse R. Noell, Jr. He died, leaving behind a wife and three small children. The widow Noell sold the house to A.M. Bendall. It sold again just two years later to Rutledge Carter, a partner in the Danville Hardware Company. The Carters owned the house until 1922 when it was sold to Charles Leroy and Sallie Anderson Turner. When Mrs. Turner died in 1951, the property changed hands again. Ray S. and Lois Hill Bowden moved here from Philadelphia. He was a sales associate of the Reynolds Tobacco Company there and came here to work closer to headquarters. They owned the house until 1984.
Since then, the house has stood mostly empty and has fallen into disrepair, helped along by those who have since stripped it of some of its significant interior architectural details. At this point in time it is not much more than a shell, but a valuable, and well-loved shell it is, with lots of potential still.
The house is now owned by the Danville Redevelopment and Housing Authority. The City is currently accepting bids for the property’s stabilization, including rebuilding the porch, repairing the roof, re-installing the windows, and painting and repairing the exterior. [Update: This work has been completed.] Examining reports that are presently available, it appears that the structure itself and most of the foundation are sound.
This house is in desperate need of rescuing. As a landmark piece of architecture of historical and stylistic significance, it will prove well worth the investment to any enterprising and adventurous restorationist.
Stay with us for further developments on the stabilization and marketing of this wonderful house. See more photos.