The Andrew Johnston House/Giles County Historical Society and Research Center
Built in 1829 by Colonel Andrew Johnston, one of the founding fathers of Pearisburg, the Andrew Johnston House is believed to be the oldest surviving brick house in Pearisburg. In 1857, Colonel Johnston’s son, Dr. Harvey Green Johnston, built an office for his medical practice that remains on the site. On May 6th, 1862, Lieutenant Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes and the Union troops under his command arrived in town and utilized Dr. Johnston’s office as Union headquarters. Today, the Andrew Johnston House serves a dual purpose: as the headquarters for the Giles County Historical Society and as a museum for those interested in the history of Pearisburg and/or Georgian architecture.
Backstory and Context
Believed to be the oldest surviving brick house in Pearisburg, this 2 and ½ story Georgian-style house was built by Col. Andrew Johnston (1771-1838) in 1829 on a log foundation and features Flemish bond brick that was made on site. Upon Col. Johnston's death, his wife, Jane Henderson Johnston inherited the house until her death in 1853, when the home was inherited by her son, Dr. Harvey Green Johnston, who greatly expanded the home.
For example, the original kitchen was located in the basement of the house, a common feature of simple Georgian homes, and there was no staircase leading from the basement, so food had to be delivered by exiting outside and entering the home from the front entrance. In 1857, this was remedied when Dr. Harvey Green Johnston constructed an adjoining kitchen.
Dr. Johnston also built an on-site office for his medical practice that would be utilized by Lieutenant Colonel Rutherford B. Hayes, the future 19th president of the United States, as Union Headquarters starting on May 6th, 1862. However, on May 10th, 1862, Confederate forces under the control of Brigadier General Henry Heth overwhelmed the Federal soldiers who evacuated the town but destroyed Confederate supplies in the process.The office was in constant use until Johnston died in 1881, when his wife, Mary
Halsey Johnston, inherited the property. Upon Mary's death, the house and property went to Dr. Harvey G. Johnston, Jr., who also operated his medical practice out of his father's office. Following his death, the property was willed to his brother, Fowler Johnston.
The Johnston family continued to renovate the home throughout the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, including the installation of electricity and telephones. The Johnston House was the first home in Pearisburg to include these features. Fowler Johnston was the last Johnston to own the house, as he deeded the property to the Giles County Historical Society in 1985. On December 9th, 1992, the Andrew Johnston House was added to the Virginia Landmarks Registry, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on February 11th, 1993, for its architecture and for being one of three buildings in Pearisburg that remain from the nineteenth century. In 1998, the home was restored to its 19th century appearance, and stenciled decoration in the French style was found when wallpaper was removed in the parlor.
Today, the Andrew Johnston House serves a dual purpose: it serves as the headquarters for the Giles County Historical Society, a role the building has served since 1997, and as a museum for those interested in the history of Giles County and/or Georgian architecture. Additionally, the Giles County Historical Society operates a small Research Center on the property in what was once the Johnston family garage. The Collection includes hundreds of books and bound periodicals, other serial publications, manuscripts, maps, and pamphlets relating to the history of the community. The Research Center is staffed by a part-time genealogist and a professional librarian, and individuals can use the center for a $10-per-day fee. Individuals can also request for research to be done by the genealogist at a rate of $25.00 for the first hour of research and $15.00 each hour after.
"Andrew Johnston House Museum." Virginia is for Lovers. Accessed September 6th 2019. https://www.virginia.org/listings/HistoricSites/AndrewJohnstonHouseMuseum/.
Col. Andrew Johnston, Find a Grave. Accessed November 17th 2019. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/83504804/andrew-johnston.
"The House." Giles County History. Accessed September 6th 2019. http://www.gilescountyhistory.org/the-house.html.
"Pearisburg." Virginia Center of Civil War Studies. Accessed September 6th 2019. https://civilwar.vt.edu/pearisburg/.
Rose, Amy K. Andrew Johnston House, National Register of Historic Places. December 1990. Accessed November 17th 2019. https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/VLR_to_transfer/PDFNoms/279-0001_Andrew_Johnston_House_1993_Final_Nomination.pdf.