Sims-Mitchell House Restoration 1975–Present

Northwest view, 2001

View from the northwest, Summer 2001.

Henry and Patricia Mitchell

Henry and Patricia Mitchell stand at the northeast end of the attic space, 2000. The chimney at right replaced one that collapsed in 1986 (see illustrations near end of this page for view of original chimney).

Jonathan Mitchell

Jonathan Mitchell opens the hatch from the attic to the roof. The lower doorway was one of four created in attic kneewalls 2000-2001 during plaster repair, in order to access crawl spaces under the eaves. In this kneewall space was found an empty gallon whiskey jug with corncob stopper. It is assumed that the jug is an artifact left by the original construction crew in 1875.

Sarah Mitchell and Dandylion at ramp

During 2003, Sarah Mitchell stands in the attic at the ramp formed by the access stairwell cover, along with Dandylion, who finds it difficult to stand on the slippery slope. The hatch door (also added in 2001) seen in the ceiling behind Sarah gives access to the space between the ceiling joists and the roof.

View from the north, 1998

Around 1920, former owner Joshua Nunnally Walker extended a two-story porch (which sat over the north corner of the English basement) to create kitchens on two floors. This change is the only alteration of footprint which the house has experienced. As a result of the addition, the house became slightly L-shaped, rather than an approximately 40' x 50' rectangle. This photograph, taken in 1998, shows the house from the north side, with the Walker wing nearest the camera.

The original outdoor kitchen sat in the foreground at the lower right of the picture. It disappeared around the time the Walker addition was made. Burned timbers have been uncovered here, but it is not known whether they were from the kitchen, or from an earlier structure. (This property was part of the Watson plantation from 1740 until it was purchased by James Whittle in 1856.)

Old porch floor, 1998

During 1998 when the overlaid kitchen floor was removed and replaced, the floor boards of the original Sims House downstairs back porch were uncovered. They are in remarkably good condition for probably having been exposed to northwest-side wind and precipitation for 45 years, 1875-1920.

Former exterior wall, 1998

This interior wall of the kitchen was once the exterior wall of the house, on the lower back porch. The door with transom at the right originally entered from the porch to a mudroom/vestibule off the master bedroom.

Kitchen chimney, 1998

Northwest wall of present kitchen, 1998. The ca. 1920 chimney is at left. Note near the top of the chimney the thimble for a cookstove's stack.

East corner of kitchen, 1998

East corner of present kitchen, 1998.

Ballroom, 1987

Repairs on the third-floor ballroom are in progress, Spring 1987. A streak in the floor at the lower right of the photograph indicates the former location of a wall, placed there to divide the ballroom into two classrooms when the building was used by Chatham Episcopal Institute (Chatham Hall) in 1906. During a lull in roof replacement work in 1985, a 12-inch-plus deluge occurred, causing extensive damage to the wall. The Mitchells chose to remove it, thus re-creating the ballroom space. It is directly above the two formal parlors on the main floor, and has similar dimensions, approximately 18' x 36'.

Matching fireplaces are visible, and at the far end of the room is the only closet in the house. The door only contained a lock, unlike all other doors in the house. Due to that fact and its location, it is speculated that the closet may have originally served as a liquor cabinet.

Upper portico rail, 1993

The upper portico rail is replaced, using ghosts of the original for size and position, by craftsmen from Danville Wrought Iron and Steel Co., Inc., 1993.

Front view, 1986

View from the south, 1986.

Portico, 1986

The portico of the house is seen in early 1986.

Dining room, 1986

In a 1986 view, the dining room is in the foreground, and the front parlor in the background. Originally the two rooms were both formal parlors (the front a ladies' parlor, the rear a gentlemen's parlor), and the dining room was in the English basement beneath the front parlor. Note the pocket doors between the two rooms, and the matching fireplaces.

Dining room, 1986

View from the dining room to the parlor, 1986.

Front gable

The front gable with its Italianate details, 1984. Changes are gradually appearing: note new galvanized gutter (upper right) and downspout (lower left), and reconditioned lower right window and cornice.

Walker wing repairs

The circa-1920 kitchen addition receives a new foundation, styrofoam sheet insulation, and siding in early 1980.

Walker wing foundation repairs

In a closer view of the kitchen foundation as work progressed in early 1980, a footing has been poured in preparation for receiving a new block foundation, to supplement the original chimney and two brick posts. Although the original portion of the house was still quite solid, this 1920 addition was in danger of collapse, the near brick support post as shown in this photograph having been undermined by erosion from roof runoff.

View from west

View from the west, 1978.

View from the southwest

View from the southwest, 1978.

From the railroad

During early 1977, the house is seen from the west, along the railroad right-of-way. This is the point of view from which railroad engineer Joshua Nunnally Walker fell in love with the house before he bought it in 1920. The extension of the house (on the left rear) was his addition, the only externally visible structural change to the house since its original construction.

Upstairs front hallway

Upstairs front hallway, as seen from the staircase, 1977. Plaster has been recently repaired and painted. The lower left glass in the sidelight is the only remaining original snowflake pattern of etched glass (identical to glass found in the entrance foyer chandelier, sidelights, and transom window at the R. J. Reynolds home, Critz, Virginia).


The attic space, looking toward the window at the front (southeast) of the house, in 1977.


The attic space, looking toward the window at the northeast side of the house, in 1977. Evidence of a stove's smokestack thimble can be seen in the chimney on the right. It is thought that this fourth-floor space originally served as a living quarters for servants. A coal stove still sat at that spot when the Mitchells bought the property in 1975.

Water stains and damaged plaster can be seen above the right chimney. In 1986, when the chimney was being rebuilt and roof replaced, the chimney collapsed internally to the fireplace at the floor below. The chimney was replaced, as is visible in more recent photographs.

In the upper left ceiling can be seen a dark area which is a hatch access to the roof above.

Front view, 1976

View from the south, 1976.

Parlors, 1976

Plaster in the front parlor and dining room has been repaired and painted, 1976.

Plaster, front parlor

Henry Mitchell at the plaster medallion in the front parlor, 1976. In the background can be seen plaster cornices at the junction of the walls and ceiling.

Dressing room fireplace

Patricia Mitchell stands at the miniature fireplace in the dressing room of the master bedroom suite on the main floor, 1976. An identical fireplace is also found in the room directly above, originally a dressing room for the children's bedroom. (William and Matoaka Sims had two sons, James and John.)

Foyer medallion, 1975

Ceiling medallion in the foyer, as first seen by the Mitchells in August 1975. The ceiling medallions and plaster cornices were the features of the Sims House which first caught the Mitchells' attention.

It is thought that the ornate plaster in the Sims House may have been the work of Louis Justin Imhoff, Swiss viniculturalist and plaster artist who lived in Pittsylvania County during the late 19th century, and who is known to have accomplished the remarkable plaster work in the Pittsylvania County Court House. All three of the Sims House medallions have a grape, grape leaf, and/or grapevine motif.

Front parlor medallion, 1975

Ceiling medallion in the front parlor, August 1975.

Rear parlor medallion, 1975

Ceiling medallion in the rear parlor (now dining room), August 1975.

Attic, 1975

Attic, as first seen by the Mitchells in August 1975.

Basement kitchen

Northeast end of the former kitchen in the English basement, as first discovered by the Mitchells in August 1975.

Northwest view, 1975

View from the northwest, August 1975. This was the approximate view of the house which the Mitchells first saw as they approached on horseback through the thicket. The photograph was taken a few days later, after they had bought the house.

View toward the northwest, 1975

View toward the northwest, August 1975. This is a view in the opposite direction from the image immediately above, seen from the house rather than toward it. The panorama is assembled from two side-by-side photographs.

This website is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House, Chatham, Virginia.