After extensive research and consulting with experts, the mystery of what the Hillsman farm house resembled in 1865 is close to being solved. Many years ago, park manager Chris Calkins dreamt of bringing life back into the unfurnished home of the Hillmans family. His dream was to restore the Hillsman house, including furnishings, to reflect the 1865 conditions the family and soldiers experienced when the house served as a Federal army hospital. Now that dream is a reality.
The Hillsman farm house was built circa 1770 on a tract of fourteen hundred acres and is a classic example of Colonial Southside Virginia architecture. To accurately recreate the physical surroundings numerous primary sources exist to help us understand how the house was furnished following the battle. These sources include a basic inventory of Hillsman family furniture that was donated to the park many years ago and the written account by Lieutenant George Peck, 2nd Rhode Island Infantry, who was wounded during the battle and was brought to the house to recuperate.
To interpret the interior of the house to the Civil War period, paint analyst Susan Buck Ph.D was hired to use cross-section microscopy techniques to identify the original colors. From her findings, park staff painted the baseboard, stair post and door jams dark gray and the walls with limewash. The main entry hall door was reported to be “grained” probably to resemble Golden Oak. Graining is a painting technique that was a common practice in the 19th century that imitated expensive woods known as faux finishes. Decorative painter, John Kraus was hired to recreate the “grained” pattern based on a golden oak door owned by Calkins from a home in nearby Dinwiddie County.
Look for Part II of Turning a Farm House into a Museum later this week. We’ll talk about the current furnishings and put to rest the myth of the blood stains found on the floor of two rooms of the house.
The Hillsman Farm House Museum is located at Sailor’s Creek Battlefield Historical State Park in Amelia Countyand is a stop on the driving tour Lee’s Retreat a Virginia Civil War Trail. Sailor’s Creek Battlefield Historical State Park and the Hillsman house are on the National Register of Historical Places and listed as a National Historic Landmark.