Thursday, November 21, 2013

Louis Hertle Restores Gunston Hall

By Mark Whatford
Deputy Director 

In November of 1912, retired Chicago businessman Louis Hertle in search of a historic home visited the Washington, DC area responding to a letter concerning the sale of ‘Snowden’ in Fredericksburg, Virginia which was later withdrawn from sale. Hertle looked at a number of other properties, not to his liking, before being shown Gunston Hall by its then owner Mrs. Kester, mother of the late playwright and author, Vaughn Kester. Hertle was impressed by Gunston Hall, but decided to look at other Virginia properties before making a decision. Hertle visited another historic property for sale near Fredericksburg, called Chatham. The home was offered at a very low price and fully furnished. But the lure of Gunston Hall was too strong. Visiting the property again and meeting with Paul Kester, Vaughn’s brother and current occupant of the house, Hertle made an offer and purchased Gunston Hall for the sum of $24,000.

In January 1913, Hertle contacted the Washington Architect Glenn Brown who after visiting Gunston Hall commented on Hertle’s purchase, “How did you have the nerve to buy this old place?” Glenn Brown and his son Bedford started working on plans and hiring workmen for the restoration. Hertle lived in a cottage onsite for most of 1913 while work went on at Gunston Hall. Local labor was responsible for a majority of the work and a dozen of those were all men from Shiloh Baptist Church.

Hertle purchased a new Cadillac car to commute between Washington and Gunston Hall, the novelty of a car on Mason Neck caused a stir among the congregation of Shiloh Baptist Church, although the poor roads made the use of the car in the winter months impossible.

During the restoration, The tower constructed by Col. Daniels c.1870 was removed, layers of paint were stripped from the brick exterior, and plumbing and central heating were installed for the first time in the house. The present servant staircase had been converted into a closet for the first floor bed chamber. Hertle had the back staircase restored leading from the basement to the second floor. Hertle remarks on workmen removing about 5 layers of wallpaper from the Palladian room down to the pine boards, with the earliest paper c.1850.

To mark the hundredth anniversary of Hertle’s purchase and the start of his restoration, and also the Virginia Year of the Historic House, we hosted a Seminar this past November 16th with invited speakers focusing on the history and preservation of historic homes. Presenting were;

  • Sarah Dillard Pope, Ruins, Memory, and Imagination: ContemporaryArchitectural Design Solutions at Historic Menokin
  • Judy Anderson, A Century of Preservation at the Jeremiah Lee Mansion in Marblehead, MA
  • Dr. Carl Lounsbury, The Chesapeake House: Architectural Investigation by Colonial Williamsburg
  • Mark Wenger, The Restoration of James Madison's Montpelier
  • Doug Harnsberger, Addressing the Restoration Challenges at the 1757 Georgian Manor "Salubria" Following the Destructive Mineral Earthquake
We want to thank our speakers and attendees for helping us celebrate an important milestone for Gunston Hall. We will continue to investigate and continue the restoaration process on Gunston Hall so that it will be appreciated for many generations to come.
People and Places
Snowden House is the home of Mary Washington Healthcare Foundation. The house was acquired by the healthcare system in 1989, when it purchased the surrounding land to build a new hospital and medical campus. The estate dates back to the 1770s. The original main house was destroyed in 1925 by a fire and then was later rebuilt in 1926. A stone house that was built in 1770 still stands today.

Vaughan or Vaughn Kester (September 12, 1869 – July 4, 1911) was a U.S. novelist and journalist. He was the elder brother of dramatist and author Paul Kester (1870–1933). His style and topics were influenced by his travels through western and southern U.S., and by his mother's cousin William Dean Howells. His novel, "The Manager of the B & A," was made into a film in 1916 directed by J.P. McGowan, with Leo Maloney and Helen Holmes, reissued in 1921 as "The Man from Medicine Hat." He married Jessie B. Jennings from Mount Vernon, Ohio on August 31, 1898. They had no children. In 1902, with his brother, he purchased and renovated Woodlawn Plantation. From 1907, he lived at Gunston Hall, where he wrote The Prodigal Judge, and where he died.

Chatham Manor is the Georgian-style home completed in 1771 by William Fitzhugh, after about 3 years of construction, on the Rappahannock River in Stafford County, Virginia, opposite Fredericksburg. It was for more than a century the center of a large, thriving plantation. Flanking the main house were dozens of supporting structures: slave quarters, a dairy, ice house, barns, stables.

Shiloh Baptist Church, founded in 1869 and built on land purchased from Col. Daniels in 1872, is across Gunston Road at the entrance to Gunston Hall.


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