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February 16, 2014

Step into rambling Quaker plantation home

The Mendenhall Plantation home in Jamestown is a very unusual plantation house.

The Mendenhall Plantation home in Jamestown is an interesting example of adaptive architecture. It began in the early 1800s as a typical two-story home, but grew into a large, rambling, and very unusual plantation house. It was home to a Quaker family, a gathering place for area residents and a welcome stopover for travelers.

Distance

Jamestown is approximately 85 miles from Charlotte, about a 90-minute drive.

To see and do

The home of Richard and Mary Mendenhall is a sprawling affair built in two distinct phases over a 30-year interval. The original circa-1811 two-story brick house, with a typical hall-and-parlor downstairs and two bedrooms above. The Mendenhalls had seven children and often entertained neighbors and wayfarers, so an addition in the 1840s was more than justified. The house nearly doubled in size with the addition of a parlor, hallway stairway and bedroom. During this renovation, the space between the main house and separate kitchen was enclosed, creating a gathering room downstairs and a garret room above. A wrap-around porch added to the front, side, and rear of the house completed the renovations. Today, you can navigate the narrow, winding steps from the original parlor to the master bedroom above. Also intriguing: The half-door cut into the rear of the master bedroom, which enabled furniture too large to be carried up the stairway to be hoisted in from outside.

The Mendenhalls were Quakers; their house, though large, nonetheless reflects a humble lifestyle. Mantels are plain and unadorned and furnishings are simple and functional. See how ladder-back chairs could be hung from pegs placed high on the walls to make way for living space. One interesting item displayed in the “new” parlor is a framed copy of the family’s original land purchase: In 1744, the Earl of Granville sold a sizable tract for 10 shillings sterling to Richard’s grandfather, James Mendenhall, for whom Jamestown was named.

The site features several original outbuildings, including the two-story springhouse. The farm’s “Pennsylvania bank barn” stands nearby. This design, rarely seen in North Carolina, is similar to that used for barns in Pennsylvania, where Richard trained as an apprentice in his youth. Today the barn features a collection of horse-drawn vehicles, including a false-bottom wagon used during the time of the Underground Railroad: Quakers vigorously opposed slavery, and the Mendenhalls assisted many blacks escaping to the north. It is speculated by some that runaway slaves were occasionally harbored in the Mendenhall’s basement.

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