Wemple-Shelton House — SOLD!
- 1,968 square feet
- Lot Size: 1.77 acres / Zoning: R-A
, Regional Director
Preservation NC, Piedmont Office
Great gifts come in small packages! Unique 1.5-story brick Greek Revival house built c.1843 with interior woodwork by Thomas Day. Located on the picturesque Colonial Heritage Byway.
Situated on a slight rise overlooking the Colonial Heritage Byway, the Wemple-Shelton House is a stately 1.5-story brick Greek Revival house built c.1843 and with interior woodwork credited to Thomas Day. Set on a raised basement, it has a Doric columned entry with transoms, large 8-panel doors with original hardware, tall 9/9 windows. Intact interior includes signature Day mantels and window and door surrounds. Winder stair leads to two loft rooms. Interesting early kitchen outbuilding later served as a gristmill. The Wemple-Shelton House would benefit from cosmetic and system updates.
The house was built for John DeGraff Wemple (1809-1873), a dentist from New York, and his new wife Dorothea Gwynn Wemple (1813-1886) who grew up nearby on the outskirts of Yanceyville. It remains a bit of a mystery how a young man from Fonda, NY ended up in Yanceyville, NC. His father died when he was 5. At 14, he left for New York City for an apprenticeship with a harness business. Ten years later, he arrived in Petersburg, VA and a year later arrived in Yanceyville. At some point he studied dentistry in Baltimore, MD and settled permanently in Yanceyville after his marriage to Dorthea in 1841. She grew up just four miles west of Yanceyville, very close to where they built their house and where they remained until their deaths. The house was sold to William Thomas Shelton around 1895. His son, James Spencer Shelton expanded the house in 1930 by adding a clapboard rear wing and porch (now enlcoed) to the west of the original brick rear wing. According to family history, the 1843 construction date of the house was assumed from a stamped date on original lead gutters. The house was also among the first to have electricity and a phone.
The Wemple-Shelton House was built during the beginning of Caswell County’s Boom Era (1840-60) that produced an impressive number of Greek Revival houses for successful planters and merchants. Their demand for fine craftsmanship and refinement was met through the work of Thomas Day, the renowned cabinetmaker whose unique stylistic interpretations of the period are prized to this day. The Wemple-Shelton House is among his earlier projects and demonstrates an adherence to pattern book designs popular of the day. His signature style can still be found in the prominent Doric columned entry portico, mantels, and window and door surrounds of the Wemple-Shelton House.
Its stately setting, fine details, and interior spaciousness belie the modest scale of this Greek Revival house. The Wemple-Shelton House is among the few masonry examples of the period. The hand-made brick is set in an irregular Flemish bond found only in the Yanceyville area of Caswell County. The pattern of brick is accentuated at the corners to suggest quoins. At the top of the raised-basement foundation are three courses of brick creating a string course.
Supporting the entry portico are two large Doric columns set on brick pedestals which form a kneewall on either side of the steps. Rounded porch railings enclose the sides. The front entry has two front doors, each with eight raised panels and original hardware. Above each door is a transom made up of irregular-sized panes, a detail that can also be found at other much larger Thomas Day houses. The gabled roof terminates to an intricately molded raked cornice set on boxed eaves and an unusual peaked soffit. The tall 9/9 windows with bold stylized Grecian moldings of large scale form the window surrounds.
The tall ceilings and windows, and generous room dimensions provide this otherwise modest-scale house with a feeling of spaciousness. The interior woodwork including signature Day window and door surrounds, mantels, and trim moldings are intact. Three of the four first floor rooms have mantels recognizable to Thomas Day enthusiasts and all are different in detail. The main parlor presents the most detail and features a mantel adapted from Asher Benjamin’s Practice of Architecture (1833) plate 47 with fluted pilasters and frieze, pyramidal corner blocks, and the early appearance of Day’s triangular mantelshelf back adapted from Benjamin’s design. Tall boldly scaled window and door surrounds also make use of the fluted column detail with bulls eye corner blocks. A winder stair is located in the back corner in the center of the house with openings into the main parlor and secondary parlor (most recently used as a bedroom). The only remaining faux finished door is the interior side of the winder stair door with a crotch mahogany design. The other front room features a mantel with fluted arched posts supporting a heavy molded mantel shelf. The rear ell room mantel is a classic Asher Benjamin pattern book design with Greek key motifs.
A steep winder stair leads to two small rooms on the second floor. A wood frame addition was constructed adjoining the original brick rear ell creating space for a kitchen and dining room. A rear porch was enclosed later and provides a mudroom, closet and small storage room with access to the raised basement.
A few outbuildings remain including a charming little chicken coop and an early log kitchen which may pre-date the house. It has boxed eaves with vernacular molding and beaded ceiling joists. The kitchen later served as a gristmill that ground corn and wheat for the surrounding farming community and tobacco was stored in a partial basement below.
The house is habitable, but would benefit from cosmetic and system updates.
Situated among the rolling hills of the northern piedmont, Caswell County benefits from the beauty of area farmland still in production and several horse farms and hunting retreats owned by those looking for a quiet refuge. Many of these have finely preserved houses dating from the late 18th century through the early 19th century. This bucolic scenery is only 30 minutes from Elon, Burlington or Hillsborough, 45 minutes from Greensboro and Chapel Hill, an hour from the Research Triangle Park, and 20 minutes from Danville, VA. Yanceyville is less than four miles east of the Wemple-Shelton House, and has served as the county seat since 1792. Yanceyville’s National Register Historic District encompasses a magnificent antebellum courthouse, courthouse town square, and numerous antebellum houses and buildings. The Caswell County Civic Center provides excellent live entertainment for those seeking cultural performances, while Piedmont Community College has plenty of educational offerings for those valuing life-long learning. Recreational opportunities include the Caswell County Sports Complex, Caswell Pines Golf Course, and beautiful Hyco Lake that offers boating, fishing, and water sports.