The Old Brunswick Circuit Foundation desperately needs funds to save one of the chimneys on the historic Edward Dromgoole House, located down a dirt road in Valentines, Va.
Tom King of Henrico, N.C., who has done all preservation work on the house so far, said he noticed the damaged chimney a couple of weeks ago when he was mowing the grass, part of his regular volunteer work.
“It was leaning about six inches toward the back of the house, and it was taking part of the house with it. It has actually flexed the studs inside the house,” said King. “The stone base under the chimney had also started collapsing outward to one side.”
King immediately got busy stabilizing the chimney. First, he used 4-inch-by-6-inch timbers and long threaded rods with nuts and washers to clamp the chimney in place against the house, tying it to one of the large corner-framing members.
“These old chimneys are built on a base of stones and dirt, just sitting on top of the ground, which was really typical for 18th-century chimneys, and well into the 19th century,” explained King.
Next, he excavated by hand the inside of the chimney base, from the first-floor firebox down to the ground, leaving only fixed stones that are holding the weight of the chimney.
“The remaining structure of the chimney base will be filled with concrete, after the stones are washed of all the loose dirt and dust, to bond all the remaining base stones together, and give support to the chimney, as it sits,” he said. “Once that concrete is cured, a part of the dirt under the base of the chimney under the current low side will be excavated, another concrete footing poured, and the chimney can be jacked back up to its proper plumb position.”
Once the chimney is back in position, other spaces will be excavated to pour larger concrete footings for the chimney.
The Dromgoole House actually has two chimneys, and the second one will need the same treatment as soon as possible, King said. For now, it hasn’t moved, but the stone base is showing signs of increasing cracks.
“The Old Brunswick Circuit Foundation does not have anything like the amount of money needed to do this work,” said King. “So far, anything they’ve done to the house, which has been little, and far between in time, has come out of their own pockets. They really don’t understand much about raising money, even though they are a charitable organization, and people can deduct what they donate.
“So far, we are only barely been able to stay ahead of the whole place falling down, even though it is an important shrine in the history of the Methodist Church.”
Why should we care?
The Edward Dromgoole House is the only remaining United Methodist Church, Virginia Conference, circuit rider home. It was built in 1798 by Edward Dromgoole (1751–1835) and today sits on 16 acres of land. According to a nearby historic marker on N.C. Hwy. 46, the Dromgoole House “was an important hospitality and educational stop for Methodist preachers, including the first American Methodist Bishop, Francis Asbury.” In 2008, it was purchased by The Old Brunswick Circuit Foundation, a tax exempt 501(c)3 organization, so it could be preserved and restored to its original state.
When the Foundation purchased the home, it was, in King’s words, “borderline salvageable.”
“Vines and trees had practically overtaken it; the plaster walls and ceilings were crumbling; the foundation was falling in; there was at least eight inches of water in the basement; the tin roof was leaking; termites had eaten many of the support beams under the house; the floors had caved in all the way to the ground in the basement; and the back of the house was slowly collapsing,” he noted.
In 2009, the home was covered in a weather-resistant house wrap to try to prevent further decay. Two years later, when King began working on the home, the first thing he did was clear a little over an acre to “try to get ahead of the wisteria jungle surrounding the house,” as he put it.
In 2013, King began waterproofing the basement and foundation of the single room.
“The original foundation was stonework laid on top of the ground. The basement was dug after the house was built, with bricks laid against the cut earth to hold it up,” said King. “The bricks didn’t work as intended, and as you might expect, this wasn’t a long-lasting design. As the dirt eroded away from under the stone wall of the foundation, it completely caved in over the years. Stones have been added back on top of the pile of rubble.”
In 2017, King jacked the whole house up to “level everything out” and get ready for the next phase of the project, rebuilding the stone foundation, which would happen as funds were raised.
“Estimates for this ran from $70,000 to $220,000,” said King. “The steps needed to accomplish this task include: disassembling what remains of the current foundation, digging down deep enough to pour concrete footings, and rebuilding the dry-stacked stone walls.”
No work has been done on the house since the summer of 2017.
“There has been no money to do anything with,” said King. “A couple of benefactors did buy a donor house that I found that is from the same period, though. There are enough parts in the donor house to replace anything that needs to be replaced in the Dromgoole House, with exact duplicates from the same period. The problem is, the donor house is 100 miles away.”
How to donate
To donate to the restoration of the historic Edward Dromgoole House, go to the Old Brunswick Circuit Foundation’s website at oldbrunswick.org, click on Our Sites, then on Edward Dromgoole House and on the Donate button near the bottom of the page. Donations may also be mailed to: The Old Brunswick Circuit Foundation, PO Box 385, Lawrenceville, VA 23868. On the Memo line, write “Dromgoole.”
King is offering tours of the home every Saturday at 10 a.m., if it isn’t raining. Meet at the Kennon House, 7001 Gasburg Rd. in Gasburg, Va., and drive over from there.
“The entrance to the path going back in to the house is almost invisible from the road, so it is best to follow me over there,” King said.