The Other Mendenhalls: Featured topic at annual meeting.
By Mary Browning

The Historic Jamestown Society held its annual meeting on Sunday, Dec. 11, 2005, in the Lindsay House at Mendenhall Homeplace in Jamestown. About thirty-five members and guests attended.

Society president Bill Harris called the meeting to order and introduced new members of the board of directors: John Capes, Linda Schumacher and Bill McLean. Another new board member, Natalie Teichman, is a weaver, who with her husband is restoring an old loom belonging to the society. Board members continuing from previous years are Steve Dalton, Keith Volz, Benjamin Briggs, Don Crissman and Buddy Mann, and Annie Laura Perdue.

Harris reviewed the work done by the society during 2005. The projects include a historical sign to be placed at the Second Coffin House at the east end of the Jamestown Historic District, and related plans for a historical walking trail through town. Construction was begun on the Indian Village project on the river trail southeast of the Homeplace, and members were invited to take the path down from the barn to see it. A successful Village Fair was held in July 2005. A new computer and printer were installed in the office in the Mendenhall House. New acquisitions include a Shipman Organ, now in the Lindsay House. An old acquisition, the sleigh, usually on view in the barn, was used once more in Jamestown’s Christmas Parade. Maintenance this year included fertilizing the homeplace’s historic walnut trees. Kathy Moore is a new part time employee. The society continues to cooperate with other organizations with similar goals, and to provide educational and recreational opportunities to schools and other groups. 

Recently, the contents of the society’s gift shop, Thy Store, were moved from outbuildings into the warmer, drier and better-lighted office area. The general public is encouraged to come by and select a few Christmas stocking-stuffers.. 

The speaker this year was Benjamin Briggs, a society board member and the executive director of Preservation Greensboro Incorporated. His topic was “The Other Mendenhalls,” who were represented by the Elihu E. Mendenhall family. The family’s homeplace was the now restored Mendenhall-Venable-Blair House on prominent view near the junction of Skeet Club Rd. and Johnson St. Briggs was active in the restoration of this house a few years ago. 

This family line came from the same James Mendenhall for whom Jamestown is named, but by way of his son Elijah, an older brother of Jamestown’s founder, George. Elijah and his wife, Mary Kendall, had five children, the eldest being James (1772-1861) who married Miriam Hoggatt. She was renowned as a Quaker preacher and the mother of fourteen children. One of them, the youngest son, was Elihu (1817-1906), and as often happened in large families, the youngest son, around latest, assumed responsibility for aging parents and inherited the homeplace.

Following the death of his first wife, Ann Hill, he married Abigail Hill, a Randolph Co. Quaker who had prepared to become a teacher at Westtown School near Philadelphia before arriving in the Florence community to be the first principal teacher in the Florence Academy, opened by her brother-in-law George Gardner. 

Elihu and Abigail were solid fixtures in the Deep River community. Elihu was a successful businessman, running the tanyard that was in a low area about 800 feet west of the house (hence the old name Tanyard Rd. found on maps), and also operated a general store, both of which had originated with his father James. There are references to Abigail teaching slaves to read. Both were active members of Deep River Friends, in the monthly meeting and in the quarterly meeting. It is thought that Elihu may have been involved in the design of the second meeting house that Deep River Friends completed and first used in 1875; this is the central part of the building standing now. Records show that during the Civil War Elihu paid the extra tax imposed by the Confederate government upon Union supporters.

He certainly was involved in the extensive changes made to the family home in the middle of the 19th century, which largely obliterated the original building, and resulted in a handsome Greek revival structure of sophisticated style typical of the period, including faux-marbling of baseboards and stair risers, some of it in bright colors. When restoration of the house was undertaken, all of this early work was revealed, and showed that the designers had an excellent knowledge of the latest construction techniques as well as the latest styles. The house passed out of the Mendenhall family following Elihu’s death, when Abigail sold it. 

Membership in the Historic Jamestown Society is open to all who are interested in Jamestown and its history. There are many opportunities to volunteer, too. Visit or call the Mendenhall Homeplace and find out more.

News & Record, Sunday, December 19. 2005

Reprinted with permission of the News & Record  and of the author