The Chairman Blake House
The Chairman Blake House, a white antebellum house now located on Chairman Blake Lane, was originally located at 127 South Main Street. It was reportedly built and first occupied by John Rennie Blake, who taught astronomy at Davidson College. The house is Greek Revival in style and is patterned after those of small planters from Blake’s native South Carolina. In 1871, after the death of President G. Wilson McPhail, the college trustees decided to put the college under a new system of governance. Like other institutions of the time, including the University of Virginia, instead of choosing a president, the faculty appointed a Chairman of the Faculty, who assumed executive duties. Blake was elected and served in this capacity until the board reverted to the system of having a president in 1877.
As chairman, he helped the college successfully weather the effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Dr. Blake lived in the home until 1885, when he returned to his hometown of Greenwood, South Carolina. After he left, the house was occupied by mathematics professor, William Daniel Vinson (called “Old Vince” by the students), who lived there until he died in 1897. According to Davidson historian, Chalmers Davidson, his daughter Maude was “an outstanding teacher in the local academy and a strong supporter of high moral, social, and religious standards in the village.” In succeeding years, the Chairman Blake House was home to a procession of both Davidson residents and college professors. Its longtime neighbor to the left was the Sentelle-Brown House, and to the right were variously a school house, Davidson’s movie theater, and Cashion’s Gulf Station. It was named a historic landmark in 1979.
We had the pleasure of living next door in the Sentelle-Brown House from 1979-1989, when Susan and Tony Abbott and their boys were living in the Chairman Blake House. During that period, the house was host to many wonderful gatherings, including Valentines’ parties, and a festive Thanksgiving dinner that assembled many of those who had no families nearby. We attended several of these, the most memorable of which was the time a flying squirrel came down the chimney and caused mayhem when the Abbott’s dog K.O. and the assembled children started to chase it. As I recall, we finally caught it in a butterfly net.
By 2000, the house was empty, and to make way for the new Davidson Public Library, it was moved to the newly opened Chairman Blake Lane. In 2002 the college sold the house to Craig and Tish Hevey. They embarked on a three-year renovation, adding a master bedroom and two bathrooms, expanding the kitchen, and adding a screened porch. In 2004 the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Nancy Griffith lived in Davidson from 1979 until 1989. After a career as an archives and special collections librarian, she retired to Davidson in 2015. She has published a number of books and articles on local history, and has just completed a history of the Ada Jenkins Center.