Chief Vann House Historic Site
Chief Vann House
Chief Vann House
|Location||82 Highway 225 N, Chatsworth, Georgia|
|Architect||Dr. Henry Chandlee Forman|
|NRHP Reference #||69000044|
|Added to NRHP||October 28, 1969|
The Chief Vann House is the first brick residence in the Cherokee Nation, and has been called the "Showplace of the Cherokee Nation". Owned by the Cherokee Chief James Vann, the Vann House is a Georgia Historic Site on the National Register of Historic Places and one of the oldest remaining structures in the northern third of the state of Georgia. It is located in Murray County, on the outskirts of Chatsworth in northwest Georgia, which has a commanding view of the land around it and of the Cohutta Mountains, about 10 miles (16 km) to the east.
Construction of the Vann House
When James Vann was rising to become the wealthiest businessman in the Cherokee Nation as well as a chief, he decided to build a two-story brick house which would reflect his status. He brought in professional architects for its design. In addition to providing an education to local Cherokees, the Moravians contributed to the building.
In July 1803, a man named Vogt (perhaps James Vann’s brother in-law Charles Vogt), and Dr. Henry Chandlee Forman, arrived to begin construction. Work began in late 1803 and the house was completed early in 1804. Both the exterior walls (which are around eighteen inches thick) and the interior walls (around eight inches thick) are solid brick. These bricks came from the red clay located on the Spring Place Plantation (Vann House) property. Handwrought nails and hinges came from Vann's own blacksmith shop. Only the interior walls of the third floor are plaster on wood.
The house is a combination of late Federal style architecture and early Georgian style. It has two full stories with a half third story: the ceilings of both the first and second floor stand at twelve feet, while the ceiling of the third floor stands at only six feet.
The first and second floors have the standard three rooms. On both levels there is a room to the east, a room to the west, and a hallway dividing the two. On the first level, the dining room is to the east, while the west room is the drawing room, more commonly referred to as a family or living room. On the second floor, the east room is the master bedroom and the west room is the guest bedroom. Only the third floor, which operated as storage space during James’s life and then as children's rooms during Joseph’s life, strays from this common design.
The third floor is divided into two rooms. The room that the stairway leads into on the third floor is believed to have served as the boys' room. This room is two-thirds the width of the home and has two closets cut into its walls. The second room of the third floor is the girls'. It is only one-third the width of the home; however, this room could be shut off from the boys' room, giving the girls more privacy.
The Vann House also features a basement with two separate rooms, one of which was utilized as a wine cellar. The other is assumed to have been a chamber for misbehaving slaves, to whom James Vann was known to be exceptionally cruel.
The interior of the home is decorated in red, blue, green, and yellow. White is used throughout the home but only as a filler color. There are two possible reasons for these four colors in the home. The first possibility is that these four colors represent different elements of nature. Red represents the Georgia red clay, blue represents the sky, green represents the trees and grass, and yellow represents the wheat and corn of the harvest. The second possibility is that these four colors are part of Federal style colors.
These colors were often used in other homes of the late 1700s and early 1800s. The only difference between how these colors were used in this home versus how they are used in other homes of the time is the way in which they are distributed. Most homes of the Federal period would concentrate colors in one room, giving a house a red room, blue room, etc. However, in the Vann House the colors have been mixed in almost every room, for a multi-color appearance, as well as on the mantels, doorjambs, and wainscottings, all of which are original to the house.
The house's doors, known as Christian doors, are of special interest. Their details feature a cross and an open Bible.
In addition to the blacksmith shop, the 800-acre (3.2 km2) property around the Vann House included 42 slave cabins, 6 barns, 5 smokehouses, a trading post, more than 1,000 peach trees, 147 apple trees, and a still.
After constructing the Vann House, James lived at the house for 5 years before he was killed at Buffington’s Tavern in 1809. After his death, his favorite child, Rich Joe Vann, neither his youngest or eldest child, inherited the house.
Rich Joe's Vann House
After Rich Joe's father died, he made improvements and changes to the new house. After Rich Joe took control of the home, he commissioned and paid for decorating the house between 1809 and 1818.
Rich Joe hired a father and son construction crew for this work. In 1818, John McCartney and his son James arrived at the Vann House and began their work. The McCartneys added all of the current woodwork in the house, including ionic columns. They also built the house’s most unusual piece of architecture, a floating staircase in the hallway of the third floor. It is said to be "floating" or "hanging," because the second landing of the staircase sits over the first floor hall with no visible supports, with the illusion that the landing is hanging or floating in midair.
The Vann stairway is one of the oldest examples of cantilevered construction in Georgia. This was on one side of the main entrance, which originally faced the Federal Road, and works like a set of scales. To get a set of scales to balance themselves, an equal weight must be applied to each side. Though half of the staircase is suspended over the first floor hallway, roughly six inches of the opposite side of the stairway is in a solid brick wall. The brick wall is far denser than the second landing; this means there will never be enough weight on the landing to “tip the scale.”
In 1819, President James Monroe and his three men were on a trip from Augusta to Nashville. They intended to spend the night in the Spartan Moravian mission at Spring Place, but instead President Monroe went to a nearby location, The Vann House, which he found more comfortable than the mission, so he asked Rich Joe permission to spend the night. Rich Joe was 20 years old when he met President Monroe.
Eviction of Rich Joe and seizure of Vann House
After the Georgia Gold Rush, Rich Joe hired a white man, a Mr. Howel, to run Vann House. Although he never actually worked for Vann, the Cherokee had unknowingly violated a new Georgia law forbidding whites from working for Cherokees without a permit. Leading up to the Cherokee Trail of Tears, Rich Joe and his family were caught in the midst of the struggle between two opposing claims for the house. Colonel William Bishop and the infamous Georgia Guard tried to take over the house on the grounds of his hiring a white man without a permit. Spencer Riley, who claimed to have won the house in the Land Lottery of 1832, known as the Sixth Georgia Land Lottery, made a claim for the house at the same time. Rich Joe was then evicted by Colonel Bishop.
Colonel Bishop used the house as his local headquarters and permitted his brother, Absalom Bishop, to live there. Riley then took action on his claim and settled in the house. In order to get rid of Riley, Bishop took a smoldering log and threw it on the cantilevered steps to smoke him out, causing some damage to the house. This had its intended effect, and Bishop's brother returned to the house.
Although Vann and his family lost their home and property, he later sued for the loss and was awarded $19,605 by the government as compensation. It is worth noting that the house alone was valued at $10,000, so the compensation was far from the actual property value.
In November of that year, Colonel Bishop imprisoned John Howard Payne for 13 days on the grounds of the house. Payne, noted as composer of "Home, Sweet Home", had been charged with sedition for supporting the claims of the Cherokee over the state of Georgia.
Restoration of the Vann House
Over the years, the Vann House has had seventeen different owners. In 1952, J. E. Bradford, a physician who had purchased it in 1920, sold the house to the Georgia Historical Commission and the State of Georgia. The house was then in such a state of disrepair that the roof had come off and the elements were taking their toll.
One of the owners had added a room after Rich Joe left Georgia. A restoration project began in 1958, which took six years to complete and included demolishing this additional room that was not present in the original house, and repainting the house according to its original color scheme. Today it is administered by the Parks, Recreation, and Historic Sites division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Robert E. Chambers Interpretive Center
The State of Georgia, Cherokees, and the State of Oklahoma, as well as other supporters, donated to build a newly designed museum called the "Robert E. Chambers Interpretive Center" in 1999, next to the Vann House. It was opened on July 27, 2002, to honor the Cherokee people and their history. The new center also highlights the lives of Chiefs James and Joseph Vann, as well as featuring the history of the Cherokee Nation over the past 200 years, including the infamous Trail of Tears. Robert E. Chambers was named for supporting the Cherokee, as he was native businessman of Chatsworth.
- Ashmore, Durant, An Interpretive Garden Design for the Chief Vann House, Spring Place, Georgia, (master's thesis, University of Georgia, 1992).
- Gleason, David King, Antebellum Homes of Georgia, (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987), ISBN 978-0-8071-1432-2.
- "National Register of Historical Places - Georgia (GA), Murray County". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-03-08.
- "Memorial of Protest of the Cherokee Nation" as included in The Cherokee Removal by Theda Perdue.
- Chief Vann House Historic Site - official site
- Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record/Historic American Landscapes Survey, Library of Congress
- Chief Vann House Historic Site @ ngeorgia.com
- Treaty of New Echota
- Chief James Vann @ ngeorgia.com
- The New Georgia Encyclopedia
- Chief Vann House map