McCONNELLS — Work to restore the roof at the brick house in historic Brattonsville is underway, kicking off a full restoration project that is expected to take several years and give the public a peek into the past.
The brick house was once a centerpiece of the community, serving as a general store, a post office, a schoolhouse, and a private residence for one of York County’s earliest settler families.
“All different classes would have intersected there,” said Carey Tilley, executive director of York County’s Culture and Heritage Museums. Tilley said the plan is to restore the old brick house to its former glory during the 1850s to 1870s, when it served as a focal point for the Bratton family as well as freedmen and slaves.
Tilley described the Bratton family as a prime example of the southern aristocracy of the time, with several family members involved in agriculture, hosting businesses and quickly dominating the area’s development.
The 775-acre Brattonsville district includes dozens of historic structures from the 1760s to late 19th century that have been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The brick house has not been open to the public and is one of the last buildings in the historic district to undergo restoration work.
The restoration will act as a physical site to recount the story of a tenuous period in York County’s past that involved the early beginnings of the Ku Klux Klan and more than 600 whippings and 11 murders against recently-freed slaves in a matter of months.
“People didn’t tell that story because it’s a painful story,” said Tilley, recalling the bloody reconstruction period after the Civil War. The area became fertile ground for racial tension as freedmen tried to uphold their new right to vote and Klansmen began to violently rebel against the changes.
The brick house was the site of the coroner’s inquest into the lynching of Jim Williams, a former slave of the Bratton family and the leader of an all-black militia based in the McConnells-Brattonsville area that sprung up under the direction of a reconstruction-era state governor.
Williams was forced from his house and hung from a tree in 1871 after he refused to disarm. His body was taken to the Brattonsville store in the brick house for a coroner’s inspection.
Tilley said the ensuing “Klan trials” highlight a tumultuous time in U.S. history with most Klan members suspected of lynchings and other violent crimes receiving light sentences or pardons.
On the outside, the brick house is a simple-looking two-story structure constructed in a Victorian style. However, according to D. Shawn Beckwith, preservation coordinator restoration specialist, the renovated house will harken to a more classical style.
Using a combination of historical records and technology such as microscopic paint analysis, Beckwith is working to restore the site as close to its conditions in the mid to late 19th century.
The end result of phase one, which will cover a new roof installation and some updates to the mortar and carpentry, will be a two-tone roof that includes a standard wooden portion as well as metal shingles. The shingles are a nod to Thomas Jefferson, who brought the style “en vogue” to some of his properties further north, Beckwith said.
The total cost of the project is estimated at under $800,000, with the current roof and mortar work comprising of the bulk of the costs.
The roof is slated to be complete in the coming months with additional updates planned for the front porch next year.
Jie Jenny Zou • 803-329-4062