Written by contributing writer, Bill Harris.
When I was about 20 years old, I and a couple of musically inclined friends would go around to different houses looking for someone to play with. One night a guitar buddy of mine suggested we go play with this guy who lived in this huge, rather creepy house in Kittrell. We went and I immediately recognized this huge house. I always wanted to go in but, unfortunately, the couple who lived there only lived in what would now be called the kitchen area. The rest of the house was closed off. Besides, they said, it was haunted and they were scared to death of the rest of the house.
It would be more than 30 years later before I actually got to explore the Josiah Crudup house. It sits on a low hill very close to U.S. 1 between Kittrell and the Tar River. It’s been sitting for quite some time now. Empty and deteriorating, slowly heading off into whatever sunsets old houses head off to.
Anyone who lives in the Old Granville area (Franklin, Granville, Vance, and Warren Counties) knows about the Crudup house. It’s one of the most impressive houses in the four-county area and an imposing presence along U.S. 1.
There are many imposing houses in the region: The Person Place in Louisburg, Tusculum in Warren County, Locust Lawn in Granville County and this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the architectural wonders from years gone by that exist in Old Granville.
Unfortunately, Vance County has suffered more losses of these great old houses than its three neighbors. The Williamsboro area has seen a significant loss of historic homes. Bambro, Nine Oaks, Cedar Walk, among others, have all been lost because no one cared enough to save these houses.
All of this makes the Josiah Crudup house stand out as one of the great Vance County houses that, as of March 2019, can and should be saved. Like anything relating to older houses, nothing is ever easy. Whether that is finding out the history of the home, the family or how to get the property into the right hands that will work toward bringing the home back to its former glory seems to bring about its own set of problems. Let’s start with the family, which is perhaps more straight forward than discovering the history of the house or getting it restored.
The Crudup family’s roots go back to Wales. According to some genealogies, the first Josiah Crudup settled in Virginia, possibly Nansemond County. Eventually, he married in Halifax Co. to a woman we only know as Mary. We know that Josiah was dead before 1760 as Mary’s will was dated February of 1760 and probated in 1761. Josiah and Mary had at least one son named John. John Crudup married Mourning Dixon and they made their home in Northampton County. John died in 1752. He and his wife had four children including Chloe who married Nathan Boddie and the second Josiah who married Elizabeth Battle in 1767. She was related to Gen. Jethro Sumner who figured prominently in the Revolutionary War and in the early history of Warren County.
By 1784, Josiah and Elizabeth were living in Wakelon on Little River in Wake County. Wakelon was near Wakefields, the plantation of Augustus John Foster, around the Zebulon area. Foster and Crudup were large landowners on the Little River. Crudup died around 1819 leaving nine children. Among those were the third Josiah Crudup who was born in January of 1791, the youngest of Josiah and Elizabeth Battle Crudup’s children.
He was educated at John Bobbitt’s Academy in Louisburg and later at Dr. William McPheeter’s academy in Raleigh before finishing his education at Columbian College (now George Washington University) in Washington D.C. By the age of 22, Crudup was an ordained Baptist minister and a quite popular one at that but Crudup’s interests weren’t limited to the Gospel. He was a successful farmer with extensive land holdings in North Carolina and Mississippi, a breeder of stallions and held an interest in the politics of the era. He was elected to represent Wake County in the state senate in 1820 at the age of 29.
Unfortunately for Crudup, state laws, at the time, meant he could not serve in the state Senate and be a minister at the same time. He was not to be deterred and, apparently, gave up the ministry and ran again in 1821 where he served one term before being defeated. He ran a third time in 1823 losing to Willie P. Mangum. The story goes that it was a close election and Crudup was essentially defeated by a rainstorm. Crudup was scheduled to attend a political function in an area that was considered important to the election but a sudden, heavy rainstorm prevented him from crossing a stream/creek/river and he was unable to attend. He lost the election to Mangum by either less than 20 votes or by 58 votes, depending on the source. In any case, it was a close race. Had Crudup been able to attend the political gathering Crudup’s story might have unfolded a different way.
It has been said that Crudup was more successful preaching than as a politician. T. H. Pritchard stated in the Recorder in 1922 that the Baptists of North Carolina had produced no one with greater pulpit power than Josiah Crudup. There was also a rumor that in 1821 Crudup allegedly attempted to influence voters by plying them with liquor. I suppose you could say that race was “spirited”.
Crudup was married twice. First to Anne Maria Davis, daughter of Archibald Davis and Elizabeth Jane Hilliard of Franklin County. Anne died in 1822 while Josiah was serving in the state Senate but not before giving birth to four children: Archibald Davis Crudup, James Henry Crudup, Martha Alston Crudup, and Edward Alston Crudup. In 1825, Crudup took his second wife, Mary E. Boddie. Mary was the daughter of George Boddie and his wife, Lucy Williams. Lucy was related to the huge Williams family of Warren County who owned many grand old homes in that area. George’s parents were the Nicholas Boddie and Chloe Crudup, who was mentioned earlier. Josiah Crudup and his second wife had eight or nine children depending on what history you read. They were: Andrew, William, Louisa, Lucy, Josiah, John, Henry, Mary and, possibly, George.
Naturally, with all of these children and a new wife, Josiah began looking for somewhere other than the Wakelon area to raise his family. He settled upon land in what was then Granville and Franklin Counties. This land is now entirely in Vance County today. He paid Lewis Green the sum of $5381.64 for 1500 acres in January of 1834. The land extended all the way to the Tar River where property bordered that of Thomas Blacknall, another owner of a large plantation in the area.
He additionally bought what appears to be an adjoining tract of land containing 1200 acres from Warner Taylor. The area around Tar River near the Franklin/Vance border is beautiful country with it’s rolling hills, creeks and the river. It’s easy to see why this land appealed to Crudup. Rumor has it that it appealed to others as well since there was supposed to be a tavern on the property which had been built around 1790. One story has it that the tavern was incorporated into the home that Crudup built there.
When Michelle Bowers, Mark Pace, Jeremy Bradham and myself examined the house a couple of years ago the idea was floated that what is now the kitchen wing could have been a tavern.
I have recently begun to think that is unlikely. Taverns of that era would have likely had a place for weary travelers to sleep and that kitchen wing just isn’t large of enough to accommodate guests. So if the tavern was incorporated into the house it must have been part of the main block. In any case, Josiah Crudup began construction somewhere during the 1830s.
It possibly was built to face the river but when the tracks were laid for the railroad the east elevation may have become the front of the house. However, that is not for certain. According to the National Register nomination form submitted in 1979 citing the 1976 Tar-Neuse survey, the Crudup house was originally in the Tripartite style, similar to the William Jeffreys House in Franklin County or The Hermitage in Halifax County.
According to the nomination form, the house began with a two-story, three bay central section with substantial one-story flanking wings. The evolution of the house would continue as other members of the Crudup family made alterations and additions over the coming years.
Josiah Crudup had put aside his political ambitions for the most part but did serve as a representative for Granville County at the constitutional convention of 1835. Whether due to his religious activities, political views or for some other reason, Crudup was the victim of an assassination attempt in 1842. According to an article in the Raleigh Register in January 1842, Crudup was at home with his family when shots were heard. One rifle ball smashed through a window pane very close to Crudup’s head and lodged in the wall opposite of him. Crudup grabbed his own weapon, rushed to the door and fired at the sound of retreating footsteps.
Crudup was a large slaveholder. Owning 160 slaves in North Carolina and Mississippi. He was opposed to secession. Despite his feelings, Crudup remained out of the political limelight. According to Mark Pace, once the Confederate States of America came into existence, Crudup was supportive despite the fact in his petition for pardon filed in August of 1865, that he did nothing to aid the rebels. It is in this pardon that we get a physical description of the man: fair complexion, grey hair, blue eyes and 5′ 10″ tall. He was 75, listed his profession as a farmer and was worth $20,000 at the time. That was a considerable amount after the devastating effects that the Civil War had on the economics of the former Confederate states. Crudup had three sons who fought in the war: John Boddie Crudup, Archibald Crudup, and Josiah Crudup, Jr. Josiah died very early in the war in 1861.
Apparently, Crudup was kind to his slaves and after the war, they remained on the property voluntarily. The Crudup family maintained a very close relationship with the former slaves. When Ellen Mishew McNeil Crudup, wife of John Boddie Crudup and Josiah’s daughter in law, died in 1928, the former slaves and their families made an aisle from the house to the cemetery that is on the property to pay their respects.
When Michelle, Mark, Jeremy and I first visited the Crudup house a few years back one of the interesting things we noticed was a sign on the stairway.
Lucy Crudup Kittrell was Josiah’s granddaughter. Apparently, despite Lucy’s death in 1964 and burial in the Kittrell cemetery, she still had some business to attend to at the old home place as the sign will attest to. I’ve never heard what precipitated the placement of the sign at the top of the stairs but perhaps one day Lucy will appear and we can ask her.
As the years rolled by after the Civil War, Josiah’s health began to fail. Upkeep of the house fell to his son, the aforementioned John Boddie Crudup. John B. Crudup was quite successful. He managed to obtain a small fortune in real estate and investments. Some of this success was from ventures in the Chicago area. Despite his success in the windy city, he and his wife, Ellen remained in the old family home place in Kittrell. During his thirty years in the house, he made a number of alterations and improvements. Apparently, John B. Crudup was responsible for building up the wings of the house and may have attached the kitchen and brick icehouse.
Even more remarkable is the fact that John installed an elevator in the house along with running water and indoor plumbing, the first house in the area to have such facilities. The elevator was a hand cranked elevator! It was long ago removed, but this is the closet that it would have been installed in.
For the indoor plumbing he placed a hydraulic ram in a spring that was located near the house. He used the energy supplied by the running water and the principles of gravity to bring the water to a tank fitted in a barn that Josiah had built.
The elevator was likely installed to help his father maintain his mobility. The elevator would have allowed Josiah to go upstairs since climbing the stairwell may have been difficult for his elderly father. Josiah Crudup would die in 1872 at the age of 81 and is buried in the family cemetery behind the house. His wife, Mary, would die the following year and she is also buried in the family cemetery.
John Boddie Crudup went on to make a name for himself in the area. When Vance County was created in 1881 from portions of Franklin, Warren and Granville counties, Crudup was recognized as one of the new county’s wealthiest and most influential citizens. He never held political office but was named as one of the first members of the Vance Co. Board of Commissioners. He died in 1899 in Chicago while on a business trip and he is also buried in the family cemetery behind the home. After Ellen, his wife, died in 1928 the house remained in the Crudup family.
By 1935, the interests in the property by various family members were acquired by Thomas H. Crudup Sr., son of John Boddie Crudup. The house would remain with the Crudup family until 1956 when it was sold to Malcolm E. Pulley. Pulley had been renting the property for some time prior to his purchase. Pulley died in 1981 and his heirs had the property surveyed in 1988. At some point, after this survey, the property was sold to Herman J. Holder of Franklinton. During his ownership, Holder would hold Christmas parties at the house, even though work on their was ongoing.
Holder had a great love for the Crudup house and set out to restore the home to its former glory. It was not to be as Holder died in the Crudup house while working on it in 2001 at the age of 63. In recent visits to the house, much of the work Holder accomplished is still evident.
At some point during Holder’s work on the house, a large mural was painted depicting what is thought to be the area around the house.
In 2005 Carolyn Holder sold the house to Sherri Ewing of Maryland who, initially, also had the intention of restoring it and had some structural work done to the house but has done little else but let it sit and slowly be ravaged by the elements.
Ewing has been contacted time and time again about the house but she will not or can not do anything about the condition of the Crudup house. Old House Life met with her and her family in an effort to purchase and restore it but the offer was soundly rebuffed. A second offer was made but was told that the house had been sold. As of March 2019, according to Vance Co. Tax records, the house remains the property of Ewing.
The current condition of the house is not good. The roof is in serious need of repair. There are holes that allow water to pour in and the water has damaged ceilings and flooring in an upstairs room and in the room beneath it.
This damage is severe and may threaten the structural integrity of the house if allowed to continue. Windows are missing and allows access for animals. Recently, a dog died in the house while chasing a cat. A neighbor who keeps the grass mowed had to go in and retrieve the dead animal. There has been some who want to see it the house torn down. Complaints about the house have been filed with the county but nothing has come from these complaints so far. The house is one of the first significant structures one sees when entering Vance County on U.S. 1 and in its current condition is not conducive to forming a good opinion of the county. If restored, it could be a positive image for a county that desperately needs one.
While it is unfortunate that Old House Life could not come to an agreement with Sherri Ewing to purchase the Josiah Crudup house we continue to hope that someone will be able to step up and bring Ewing to the table and convince her of the importance of restoring the house or selling it to someone who will give this National Register property the care it so much deserves.
A big thank you goes out to Naomi Midkiff, Mark Pace, Jackie McNamara and Luke Reynolds for having and supplying information and photos.