In my last post I mentioned the fantastic fireplace mantel we were able to acquire at the Dickson House auction. Shortly after the auction I was contacted by multiple individuals with information about the origin of the mantel. I’ve since visited the location, taken measurements, and verified the information as accurate. The mantel came out of the parlor of the Nickell Homestead at Nickell’s Mill, which like the Dickson property, is also on Second Creek (downstream) right on the border of Monroe County and Greenbrier County, in West Virginia. It’s also on the National Register of Historic Places. Unlike the Dickson home however, the Nickell house is unfortunately in a state of disrepair, and is perhaps past the point of no return. However, the Nickell house actually retains most of its woodwork, and all of its other mantels. Interestingly, I’m told that the mantel, which adorned the home’s parlor, is believed to have been lost in a 1964 card game by its-then owner, John Hinchman Nickell. The property remains in the hands of Nickell descendants to this day, with the exception of the mill, which was also apparently lost in a card game by the same owner, and is now demolished.
The Nickells have been on the property for a long time. Thomas Nickell first settled in Monroe County, (West) Virginia in 1769. In 1788 he was granted 500 acres adjacent to Frederick Gromer’s land and mill through the Greenbrier Land Company. Thomas died in 1807 and his son, James Albert Nickell inherited the property and built the mill in 1814 on the creek below the farm house. He must have also built the large federal style brick section of the home containing the mantel. The farm house and mill are listed individually on the National Register of Historic Places. The design of the home and its interior is similar to several residences in Lewisburg which were built by John Dunn and Conrod Burgess during the 1820s. It’s quite possible that Burgess hand-carved much of the woodwork in the house, including this mantle. The farm passed again to son James Madison Nickell in 1848, who continued the farm and milling operations, adding another mill on the upper end of the farm. Nickell’s Mill was in operation all the way through 1949.
This is exactly where the mantel was taken:
Looking from the outside, the mantel was installed directly between the two beautiful compartment windows. It must have been a wonderful room. It’s not huge, but well-appointed with woodwork and with tall ceilings and large windows. And of course a massive wooden fireplace mantel.
Here are the floor plans, as included in the NRHP materials. This would be the room marked “Parlor,” at far right:
The measurements all match. It’s about 94″ wide, about 73″ tall, with the upper middle section being about 30″ in height, and the width of the portions reaching the floor being about 4″ in width, respectively:
Inside the home’s formerly-grand parlor, you can still see remnants of the original wallpaper:
I don’t know much about wallpaper in 19th century Virginia homes, but this seems to be an interesting rabbit hole to go down. Here’s an interesting article from the National Park Service, as a starting point. This certainly seems to be consistent with a French import paper:
The door frames in the Nickell parlor are unusual as well:
The mantle also shares this great herringbone design with the hallway entrance woodwork. Each of these individual little “bones” are individual pieces, inserted into a carved channel:
Here’s the present day exterior of the grand old house, the large brick portion of which is absolutely massive, and beautiful:
Here’s the present-day interior of the large brick portion of the home. Notice the fantastic mantel with the fiddle shapes, still installed in the bedroom directly above the parlor on the second story. I took photos of the grand middle hall, as well as the second bedroom upstairs. I did not get to see the downstairs bedroom on the other side of the hall. Notice also that under at least some of the early white paint in the hall, there are appears to be a reddish faux paint, possibly simulating oak. The floors are early, heart of pine I’m guessing, and are still in great condition.
Here are some older photos of the exterior I found. I haven’t seen any older photos of the interior unfortunately:
Here’s the NRHP documents for the property:Nickell-House-NRHP
The owner of the property would like to have the mantel back in the house, and I would be willing to put it back in the house, if the house were going to be restored. However, I don’t see the logic of putting it back in a home just to have it eventually fall-down with it and be destroyed forever. I can’t imagine how much money it would take to restore this place, but if anyone’s interested, I could definitely put you in touch with the owner….