Backstory and Context
Located on the western end of Abingdon, the house known as Retirement traces its history back to the establishment of the town. Being one of the founding fathers of Abingdon, Captain Robert Craig, Sr. was a trustee of Abingdon in 1778, a county tax commissioner, coroner, militia officer under William Campbell during the Battle of Kings Mountain, and sat on the Virginia General Assembly. Craig purchased an acre of land on Wolf Creek from Francis Greenlee and George Baker in 1807, then he acquired an adjacent eight acres in 1813. On his nine acres of land, Craig constructed a two-story hall-and-parlor Georgian style house. The specific date of construction is debated, but the house is believed to have been erected around 1808. Tax rolls indicate the house being completed by 1815. At age 71, Craig moved out of Abingdon and into his new home, “retiring” from public life. Captain Craig passed in 1834 at age 90, and Retirement and his nine acres of land passed hands several times until 1857 when Judge Samuel Vance Fulkerson purchased the property.
Fulkerson came from a prominent Abingdon family. When he was thirteen years old, his father moved them to Tennessee where he spent the remainder of his youth. After studying law, Samuel Fulkerson returned to Virginia in 1846 and opened his own law practice in Estillville, Virginia (present-day Gate City). A year after his return to Virginia, the Mexican-American War occurred and Fulkerson volunteered to serve in the United States military. Despite being sent to Mexico, Fulkerson did not see any major military action before the war ended. He returned to Estillville in 1848 and resumed his law practice, becoming a very prominent and sought-after lawyer. In the early-1850s, Fulkerson returned to Abingdon and opened his law practice. In 1857, he was elected a circuit court judge and subsequently purchased Retirement. Samuel, his parents, his sister Catherine, and his sister-in-law Selina Johnson Fulkerson all moved into the small hall-and-parlor house on Wolf Creek.
On February 7, 1858, Fulkerson entered into an agreement with local contractor William Fields to add an addition to the house and an office for his law practice. The contract still exists and reads:
“William Fields agrees to build for Sam’l V. Fulkerson a brick house at the east end of and adjoining to the house on which said Fulkerson now lives. Said house is to be twenty feet long and as wide and high as the old house with a room below and one above. Shingle roof, two doors framed with hinges, locks, etc complete. Eight windows, sash glass, with venetian blinds. Said windows to be of a larger size and larger glass than the windows of the old house. Good and neat cornice on both sides of the house. Chimney with fire place in both rooms. Both rooms [unreadable] wash boards [baseboards] etc. Said Fields is also to do the excavation necessary to place the new house on a level with the first floor of the old house. Said Fields is also to build for said Fulkerson an office of brick sixteen feet square in the clear and proper height for one story to be set at the east end of and adjoining the said new house. Said office to be covered with shingles, two doors with locks, hinges, etc complete, two windows of the size of the windows in the old house with venetian blinds. The office to be plastered, to have a fireplace, mantle, and wash boards. Said Fields is also to make the necessary excavation to give the office a good foundation.
Said Fields is also to put a good and neat frame door, with lock, etc. complete and with side lights, where the eastern front window of the old house now is, and he is to remove the said window and place it where the front door of the old house now is, so as to make it correspond with the other windows of the old house in the same room.
Said Fields is also to open the passage (now the little room on the first floor of the old house) and is to construct a flight of stairs from said passage to second floor. Said stairs to be properly bannistered. Said Fields is also to take down the chimney at the east end of the old house and to repair the plastering which had fallen off in the two upper rooms [unreadable] done in a workmanlike manner and to be completed in this ensuing spring or as early in the following summer as practicable.
For all of which work said Fulkerson is to pay said Fields the sum of $980. But if said Fulkerson should choose to have [unreadable] in the new buildings, any of the old doors and casing or mantles, he is be at liberty to do so, and said Fields is to deduct from said sum $9 for old door and casing so used and $4 for each mantle so used.
Given under our hands this 7th day of February, 1858...”
This alteration effectively converted Retirement into the more formal Federal style house seen today.
The shadow of war finally fell upon the United States in 1861, and Fulkerson was drawn back into the military. Virginia Governor John Letcher promoted Fulkerson to Colonel and tasked him with recruiting and training a local regiment, the 37thVirginia Volunteer Infantry. The 37thgot placed with Stonewall Jackson’s Brigade of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. During the Spring of 1862, the regiment fought in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign and witnessed action at the Battles of Winchester, Port Republic, Seven Days, and Gaines Mill. Col. Samuel Vance Fulkerson was killed during the Battle of Gaines Mill on June 27, 1862. Titus V. Williams took command of the 37th Virginia, which remained in Lee’s Army.
As Samuel Fulkerson never married nor had any children, Retirement passed onto his sister Catherine. At the time, Catherine was a teacher at the nearby Martha Washington College (now the Martha Washington Inn). Being one of Abingdon’s most eligible women, Catherine soon caught the eye of Floyd Breckenridge Hurt, a Confederate war bonds salesman and widower and a courtship began. The two eventually decided to marry on the evening of December 14, 1864. What actually happened on the night of December 14 became embedded in Abingdon’s oral history.
The days leading up to the wedding were busy with preparations and excited anticipation for those living in Retirement. On the day of the wedding, Catherine, Selina, and a house slave known only as Aunt Lou (the existence of Aunt Lou has never been substantiated) busied themselves to prepare the house and food for the wedding. However, a panicked Floyd Hurt on horseback suddenly appeared at the house with news that Union troops were quickly approaching Abingdon, and due to his position as a war bond salesman, he had to go into hiding. Hurt and his slave, White Chappell, fled to the Knobs until Union forces left the area. Without the groom and the threat of invasion, the wedding obviously could not happen that night. Legend says that Kate and Aunt Lou immediately stripped the dinner table of the silverware and buried it in the garden behind the house.
By 11pm that night, Union cavalry under General Stephen Burbridge reached Abingdon. The story follows that a Union solider arrived at Retirement to inform the ladies that General Burbridge would be spending the night in the house. Catching a glimpse of the feast laid out, the soldier ran inside and carried off all the food he could hold. Shortly thereafter, a slew of hungry men burst through the door and helped themselves to the dinner feast. When General Burbridge arrived, he duly apologized to the women for the conduct of his men while also helping himself to the meal. Burbridge lodged in Retirement until December 20, when he departed for the nearby town of Saltville to destroy the saltworks. One of Burbridge’s men, James Wyatt, burned the Washington County courthouse on his way out of town.
Floyd Burbridge Hurt and Catherine Fulkerson did eventually marry on December 25, 1864. The two remained in Retirement for the rest of their lives and raised four children together. Kate passed away in 1903 and Floyd followed in 1909, Retirement passed to their daughter Katie Lamar Hurt. Katie Lamar lived in the house with her brother Samuel Fulkerson Hurt until 1949 when she passed away and bequeathed the house to her niece Catherine Wharton Gray. As Gray did not live in the area, she sold the property to Paul and Rose Dunn, marking the end of the Hurt family’s possession of the house. In the 91 years that the Hurts possessed Retirement, the only exterior alterations that the family made to the house were the addition of the Classical Revival front porch during the early 1930s and the wood framed addition to the rear of the house.
The Dunns owned Retirement from 1955-2007. In those 52 years, several alterations occurred during this time to modernize the house. Most noticeably, the Dunns altered the rear addition to add a bathroom, an updated kitchen, and a garage on the ground floor. In 1980, the Muster Grounds on which Retirement sits was recognized by the National Park Service as part of the Overmountain National Victory Trail, which commemorates the Revolutionary War route to Kings Mountain for the Battle of Kings Mountain. In 2007 Paula Hoskins, daughter of Paul and Rose Dunn, sold the property to the Town of Abingdon for the purpose of preserving the house and expanding the interpretation of the Overmountain National Victory Trail. That same year, the Muster Grounds were recognized as the trailhead. After taking possession of the property, the Town of Abingdon converted a detached garage behind Retirement into an interpretive center with exhibits pertaining to the Battle of Kings Mountain and the Overmountain Men.
Retirement and the Muster Grounds were added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 11, 2018 and designated a Virginia Landmark on March 15, 2018.
Davis Buckley Architects & Planners. Retirement Historic Structures Report. Virginia Department of Historic Resources. July 25, 2014. February 7, 2019. https://www.dhr.Virginia.gov/pdf_files/SpecialCollections/WG-133_HSR_Retirement_2014_DB_report.pdf.
Samuel Vance Fulkerson. American Fulkerson Homepage. February 7, 2019. http://www.fulkerson.org/1-samv1.html.
Landrum, Mary F. Kate Fulkerson. American Fulkerson Homepage. January 10, 1965. February 7, 2019. http://www.fulkerson.org/1wedding.html.
Martin-Gross, Kalen D. Civil War Wedding Crashers. Appalachian Histories & Mysteries. December 19, 2017. February 7, 2019. https://appalachianhistoriesandmysteries.wordpress.com/2017/12/19/civil-war-wedding-crashers/.
History. Abingdon Muster Grounds. February 7, 2019. https://abingdonmustergrounds.com/about/.