12/26/2013 - Canwick

Editors note: In today’s society it is not unusual for a husband and wife to divorce and with that divorce comes a division of property. Sometimes that division can go go to extremes such as the argument over the family dog and children. But in the 1700's? Perhaps we have not changed much at all. The following is a story that was prepared by Virginia Durrett on one of Spotsylvania’s historic homes. Enjoy the story of Canwick!

Among the avalanche of land transfers on record, relative the property in Spotsylvania County known as “Canwick”, the amazing story of a divided house emerges.

In 1758, Anthony Foster purchased four tracts of land from the Gawin Corbin patent. One tract was described as having a house. After four land transfers, over a thirty six year period, Daniel Hyde became the owner of “Canwick” house seated on 736 acres.

Front View of “Canwick” circa 1935. Photo by Mildred Barnum

Such a fine piece of property! The house was described as a “24 foot by 44 foot brick noggin structure, with a wide hall running through it from north to south and double doors opening onto front and rear porches. The western end of the house had a big brick chimney with fireplaces across the corners of the two downstairs rooms. A double brick chimney with a brick closet between, served the two rooms east of the hall. A narrow winding stairway led to the upstairs half story which consisted of a wide hall and two bedrooms. The house was surrounded by a fenced in yard and out back a fine spring provided a bountiful supply of water for the family’s needs.” 

The massive brick
chimney shows the detail
of construction circa 1935.
Photo by Mildred Barnum.

No one knows exactly when, nor why, but Daniel Hyde and wife Sarah quarreled and quarreled bitterly. Apparently their differences were irreconcilable because THEY DIVIDED THE HOUSE! A line was drawn down through the middle of the hall, out the double doors, across the yard, through the gate and sown to the spring. Sarah lived in the eastern half of the house and got water from the eastern side of the spring. Daniel lived in the western half of the house and used the western half of the spring. They existed so until Daniel died in 1831. Even after death,the astonishing Mr. Hyde had continued this unusual house arrangement. He left his son Richard, 495 acres including his half-house and half-spring. To his wife Sarah, he left 241 acres including her half-house and half-spring.

When Sarah died in 1835, she left her half-house and half-spring with the 241 acres to son Richard also. Richard did nothing to eliminate the dividing line. In 1839, Richard Hyde sold Daniel’s acreage including the western half-house and half-spring. By 1893, when Smith Keen Fitzhugh purchased Daniel’s property ownership had been transferred five times!

In the meantime, Richard Hyde sold Sarah’s acreage including the eastern half house and half-spring. It remained so through three more transfers. In 1850, Mrs. C. M. Todd purchased 100 of the 241 acres, including the half-house and half-spring.

Artifacts found in the walls of Canwick after it was
moved circa 1935. Photo by Mildred Barnum

This portion of Sarah’s property remained in the Todd family for the next forty years, with the title shifting three times within the family.
In early May 1864, Federal troops camped at Canwick. Eary one morning four Confederates of the 9th Virginia Cavalry, Marcus Chewning, Powhatan Foster, Eli Jones and John Cooper surprised the enemy at the spring in back of Canwick. Foster shot one yankee and he fell in the spring. Retaliation was swift and the men soon retreated. As the men raced away they encountered a pole gate. All the men jumped their horses, but Jones horse caught the top pole and fell. Jones, an expert horseman remounted his horse and galloped on a few steps ahead of the pursuing Federals and eventually made his escape. Years after the war a northern soldier returned to Canwick and admitted to stealing ham from the smokehouse during the battle. The fate of the soldier who fell into the spring is not known. Foster would suvive the war and today lies at rest in the Confederate Cemetery at Spotsyvania Court House.

When Richard L. Todd received the property from his nephews in 1893, he realized that it included Sarah’s half-house and half-spring only. He immediately arranged to purchase Daniel’s half-house and half-spring along with 10 acres from the Fitzhugh’s. The Canwick House was finally re-united, that is until 1910, when Richard L Todd conveyed Daniel’s half-house and half-spring with the ten acres to his wife, Robertine. He also instructed that the remaining property (Sarah’s) be divided equally among his four children at this death. In 1916, Susie Todd brought out the interest of her brother. Again, ownership divided the house!

The unity of Canwick was not to be denied! By 1919, Aubrey Rufus Haney had purchased the two tracts, which included the two halves of the house and the two halves of the spring. At last the house that been divided nearly one hundred years was re-united!
Such an exhaustive search of the intriguing history of Canwick House has provided absolutely no clue to the reason for the continued transfer of the half-house and half-spring. Perhaps this narrative should be concluded here, but there is an interesting sequel.

The year was 1939! Canwick House was located toward the rear of the property, nearly a mile off Catharpin Road. It was isolated because of the deplorable condition of its access road. Due to Mr. Haney’s poor health, his wife, the former Lily Stuart Foster, had to assume head of family status. She was a woman of purpose and very resourceful as evidenced by the decision she made. The house must be moved to the front of the property.

“Miss Lil” hired carpenters to dismantle the house, then she decided they didn’t need all of it. Once gain Canwick suffered the indignity of division. She selected one-half of the house including all of the hall. It was dismantled, moved to the designated spot and re-assembled.

Canwick today. Photo by Liz Clayton.

Was it coincidence or did Sarah Hyde prevail at last? It was the eastern half of the house that was moved and it is the eastern half of the house that now sits alongside Carthapin Road, three quarters of a mile west from Todd’s Tavern. Just look for the six over nine windows on the yellow clapboard house.

The six over six windows have
withstood time. Photo by Liz

Daniel’s half-house? It remained on the original site and was allowed to collapse upon itself.