Gilliam-Irving Farm | Gilliams of Virginia

GILLIAM-Irving Farm
1780 Swan Road (State Route 600), Pamplin, Appomattox County, VA
Updated March 18, 2016

James GILLIAM and Martha Mathews, his wife once owned the tract of land now known as the Gilliam-Irving Farm. James and Martha were married 10 Oct 1798 in Prince Edward. They were the parents of James Mathew, John R., Rice Hopkins, Jerman, Mary Frances, Martha Mathews, Ann Elizabeth, Jane M., Moses Everard, and Charles Henry GILLIAM. Martha Mathews was the daughter of Phillip Mathews.

The Gilliam-Irving Farm

Gilliam Irving Farm

The Gilliam-Irving farm is comprised of the original 109 acres King George granted to Philip Mathews in 1763. A fairly large landholder who lived nearby, Mathews would sell the farm to his daughter, Martha, and her husband, James Gilliam, in 1812 to prevent them from moving to Tennessee. Five generations lived on the farm, keeping it in the family until 2004.

When the family first came to central Virginia, it was pioneer country, “the West”. The Gilliams and Irvings were prosperous middle class. They were teachers, magistrates, ministers and always, farmers. Over the years the farm grew, at one time comprising over 600 acres. They grew tobacco, vegetables, and at the turn of the twentieth century, had quite a thriving honey business.

One Charles Henry Gilliam, a son of James and Martha, and father of Lillie Norman Gilliam who married Edward A. Irving, fought in the Civil War, excusing himself once for a few weeks to come home for the harvest. He was forgiven and accepted back into the army, serving honorably for the rest of the war. He and another Civil War veteran, killed at Ligon, are buried in the family cemetery. An unnamed Yankee soldier is buried just outside the boundary of the family space. He died of measles waiting for the surrender to be signed.

Yankees were camped all over the farm and extending well past Walker’s Church at Hixburg. Many relics of their visit have been found and the family still tells about the Yankees who turned the last barrel of flour the women and children had onto the ground as they pulled away. They are still mad about it.

Also buried here is Edward Irving, a graduate of VPI. He was an Army Air Corps pilot, shot down over Kamchatka during WWII. He was the only son of Lacy and Frank. The oldest legible gravesite is that of Molly Mathews, who died at the age of ninety-nine in 1812. She was the original mother who couldn’t bear to have her daughter leave Virginia. Her daughter, named Martha but called Patsy, raised nine children in the house.

A few feet in front of the house is the old carriage road. It runs through several neighboring farms, and in winter, when the trees are bare you can see where it crosses the north fork of Vaughn’s creek and goes up the hill across yet another Gilliam farm. It must have been a busy country road. The Farrar farm next door had a large inn on it.

The entire farm has been nominated to the National Historic Register by the state

From Appomattox, take US-460 East 9 miles toward Pamplin. Take the 2nd left past the Pamplin Exxon onto Swan Rd (Rt.600). One mile to property on right.
Note: There are 2 driveways. The first drive will take you to the smaller home. The second, located just past the brick home, will take you to the original home-place.

The original home is a colonial style side-hall two-over-two with an English basement. It has a dry-laid rock foundation, is of hand-hewn post and beam construction, with few if any nails used in the framing of the house. The mortise and tenon joints are held together with large chestnut pegs. The nails that were used to hold the smaller bits in place are all hand-wrought rose-heads. Most of the beams are of chestnut.

It features one of the largest stone fireplaces the National Registry historian had ever seen on a house its size. On the ground floor, the fireplace is flanked by two closets, an arrangement typical in houses of the colonial period. The closet doors and two of the master bedroom doors are original to the house, “cross and bible” style, with their original molding and finish.

The diagonally set stair spindles are unusual and have only been found in one other house, one of the James River plantations. All of the paneling and wainscot are original hand-hewn pine. One of the basement doors is also period, a hand-hewn plank door. The roof line and windows flanking the larger chimney in the east upstairs bedroom are also more typical of the colonial period than the federal.

It retains original wide plank pine floors in the upstairs bedrooms and the trunk room. It was given its current late Victorian shed dormer and front porch around the turn of the twentieth century. The first bathroom in Pamplin went in during the late 1920s. Running water came in just a little before that. Lacey Irving, the last bride and the last Irving to live on the farm, refused to marry Frank if she had to fetch water from the spring. He decided running water was a good investment.

The exact age of the house is unknown. It first shows up on the tax rolls after its sale to the daughter in 1812, but based on construction is believed by the architectural historian sent out by the state of Virginia to be from the 1790s if not earlier. George Washington would have been President.

The tenant house was built shortly after the Civil War and updated around 1900. It has just been renovated and features 3 bedrooms, one bath, heat pump, plus new plumbing and electric. It has two front doors so that it could house a family on one side and a single hired man on the other. Most of the outbuildings around it were built from dismantled slave cabins. It is a simple two-over-two on rock piers with a kitchen addition. It got its first bathroom in 2005. It makes a cozy little guest cottage.

One of the tobacco barns was built around 1812 and, according to the expert sent out by Poplar Forest, vies for the title of oldest tobacco barn in Virginia with two others. Nobody knows exactly which one was built first. They studied its construction in order to copy one for Jefferson’s Lynchburg home in the future.


There is another tobacco barn by the stream that was built in the early 1900s.

The tiny log smokehouse behind the house is probably about the same age as the tobacco barn. It has very rare wooden hinges on the door.

There is a fallen-in slave house just behind the cemetery. Not much is visible but the roof and the sleeping loft, but it is thought that it would be interesting to archeologists.


The pond was built by the CCC during the Depression. It is home to a legendary large-mouth bass, that has been hooked by many, landed by none. The family occasionally dined on the large turtles they caught there. It is a lovely place to put the day’s cares aside.

  • TRF Auctions, 2508 Langhorne Rd., VA 24501,