Built in 1892, the Red Brick House is historically significant as the first
residence constructed in the town of Crewe. Both its large size and
distinct southern colonial design made this house a town landmark; a distinction
it has retained through succeeding decades. Today, it is still referred
to as the Red Brick House, known by all residents of the area.
The builder, Catherine Crawley Ward Bouldin Chambliss, was a well- known and respected member of late nineteenth-century Virginia society. She was the daughter of Benjamin Ward, Jr., a wealthy and prominent Nottoway County landowner. Her mother, Sarah Fitzgerald Ward, was part of the distinguished Fitzgeralds of Amelia. Indeed, the Ward family was on of the founding families of Nottoway County and its largest landowner.
In 1844, Catherine Ward married Louis C. Bouldin from and equally prominent family in nearby Charlotte County. In 1852, he became Commonwealth Attorney. Bouldin died in 1862 and nineteen years later, Catherine married T.E. Chambliss, a farmer from Brunswick County. Very little is known about T.E. Chambliss; he disappears from all public and parish records after 1887. Certainly their union does not appear to have aided the family economy. He and Catherine sold off many of the family lands, which she had inherited. After his disappearance, Catherine began buying back much of the land including the tract on which the Red Brick House is located.
Catherine appears to have built the Red Brick House in 1892 both as an investment to spur surrounding development and as a sort of insurance policy in her old age. She never, in fact, lived in the house. Rather, in 1891, she deeded the house to Maria Fitzgerald, an unmarried niece with the understanding that Maria would live in the house with here and care for her in her declining years.
In the final months of her life, however, Catherine Chambliss, made her home with another niece, Sallie Ward Shore, along with the latter’s husband, Valley Shore. Following Catherine’s death in 1896, the Shores brought suit against her estate, testifying the Mrs. Chambliss had promised them her Crewe estate, and most especially, the Red Brick House. Indeed, Valley Shore went to some lengths in court documents to detail the financial reverses he had suffered as a result of his caring for Mrs. Chambliss. The courts, however, found in favor of Maria Fitzgerald.
Like her aunt, Maria Fitzgerald never lived in the Red Brick House. Timid by nature and fearful of living alone, Miss. Fitzgerald chose instead to make her home with a niece, Ellen Scott Guy Oliver, wife of T.B. Oliver. During the last years of her life, the Red Brick House was rented out to various tenants. According to Catherine Chambliss’s will, the house was supposed to pass to the Presbyterian Church, possibly for use as a manse, after Maria Fitzgerald’s death. But the local church, having no need for the structure, put the Red Brick House up for public auction. T.B. Oliver proffered the successful bid and assumed ownership of the house and lands for a final price of $2,070 on September 7, 1915.
T.B. Oliver fulfilled what appears to have been Catherine Chambliss’s original plan of developing the surrounding lands into a residential community to serve the growing town of Crewe, Burgeoning as a result of the railroad. One block away, Oliver built a grand home for himself and his family. He designed the surrounding streets (named for each of his children) to protect the Red Brick House and develop a residential area which became known as Northpark (also called Olivertown).
The Red Brick House was crucial to the development of this prominent residential section of Crewe. On February 28, 1925, Oliver commits suicide in the face of several financial reverses, dying intestate. When his assets were divided, one daughter, Sarah Maria Oliver Walsh (great niece to Maria Fitzgerald) succeeded in gaining ownership of the Red Brick House.
Sarah Walsh resided at the Red Brick House before selling it in March 1944 to William and Mattie Anderson. The Anderson resided in the home until their deaths, William in April 1984 and Mattie’s six years later. Mattie willed the house to a niece, Dorothy Waston Tonkins along with her husband, John B. Tonkins. The Tonkins sold the house two years later to Maria Oden, who sold it in 1992 to the current owners, Cynthia and Geoffrey Wood.
Today, the Red Brick House remains a landmark for the town of Crewe and Nottoway County. One of the town’s oldest structures, and the first brick home, the house was central to residential development in the town of Crewe. Its construction was part of the story of growth, primarily prompted by the railroad, in the post-Reconstruction South. Its presence and the lands of Catherine Chambliss prompted the construction of one of Crewe’s oldest and most distinctive residential community. Its southern colonial revival style is unique and a living reminder of late 19th century Southern history.