Constructed in 1826, the Elizabeth and Mark Iddings House on the GTCC Jamestown Campus stands among a small group of three-room “Quaker Plan” houses remaining in the central Piedmont of North Carolina. In the nineteenth century these Quaker Plan houses were primarily erected by individuals of status and leadership within the Quakers community. Architecturally, the Iddings House demonstrates what architectural historian Thomas Tileston Waterman considered “a Quaker house with unusual style characteristics” including lozenge shaped door details that were uncommon in Quaker architecture in the region. Historically, the house represents a touchstone to a Quaker family that, in time, followed a path away from the precepts of the religion.
The Iddings House is an important representation of early Carolina Piedmont architecture, a broad tradition that comprises a patchwork of religious and cultural traditions that settled in the region in the mid and late-eighteenth century. African free and enslaved, English Quakers, German Lutheran and Reformed, Czechian Moravian, and Scotch-Irish Presbyterian people composed a majority of the early settlers of central North Carolina. This house is a strong representation of Quaker culture.
Although the foundation of the house features a brick dated 1782, the brick likely originated from an earlier house located nearby built by Jonathan Howell. The structure of the two-story house is of hewn timber frame construction, which is in turn infilled by bricks, called nogging. Brick nogging, rare in Guilford County, was used to insulate exterior walls from winter drafts. More examples can be found in Old Salem within the German architectural tradition, but the Iddings House is of Quaker tradition. The house the most intact known example of the nogging technique in the county.
The plan of the house was originally a three-room plan that was altered in the mid-twentieth century. The plan has now been restored to the three-room plan—included a large room flanked by two smaller chambers—also known as the “Quaker Plan.” This house form was a visual manifestation of Quaker social codes; akin to use of “thee” and “thy” in speech, use of linsey woolsey-style “plain dress,” and belief in pacifism and social equity. In the nineteenth century these Quaker Plan houses were primarily erected by individuals of status and leadership within the community of Quakers as a symbol of unity and shared values. Additionally, the plans served occupants with a generous number of private sleeping quarters for children and guests.
Waterman attributed the Quaker Plan to William Penn, who gave careful directions to European settlers for house construction. Penn advised immigrants to America to “build then, a House of thirty foot long and eighteen broad, with a partition neer the middle, and an other to divide one end of the House into two small Rooms…”
A local example of the Quaker Plan was described by English Quaker Anna Braithwaite in her diary from her visit to Guilford County in 1823. Upon visiting the home of Mary and Nathan Hunt in Springfield (now destroyed), the house was described as “a room, late which we enter from the front, perhaps fourteen feet square with a clean boarded floor, and hearth fire…out of this are two lodging rooms and a neat little pantry.” This description nearly represents the Iddings House as well.
Approximately twenty-two Quaker Plan houses were identified in the region through a study of the architectural tradition published in 1999. The Iddings House was identified as one of those structures.
In the 1941 pictorial survey by pioneering female photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston entitled “The Early Architecture of North Carolina” published by the University of North Carolina, accompanying text by Waterman shows he was drawn to the house as “an early and significant example, with a kitchen wing” added to Penn’s three-room floor plan. He described the Armfield House (named for later owners) as “a timber-framed building, nogged with brick between he studs and weather-boarded on the exterior. The wall construction is exposed on the interior and colorwashed, a completely individual treatment in the writer’s observation. The ceilings, until recently, showed the floor construction, but are now boarded over.”
Waterman was particularly intrigued that “interior doors are divided into two-panels, with the lock-rail cut into a lozenge shape in the French style.” The exterior and interior details were photographically documented in the 1930s by Johnston which allowed for these doors—placed elsewhere in the house in mid-twentieth century renovations—to be returned close to their original location as part of a 2021 restoration project.
The Iddings family is representative of middle-income agriculturally oriented Quaker families who settled the region beginning in the mid-eighteenth century. The Iddings family roots can be traced to the arrival of Elizabeth and Jonathan Howell from Chester County Pennsylvania to the family land in 1752. On this land, the Howells built a modest structure approximately 200 feet northwest of the present house. The Howells were Quakers and did not participate in the slave economy, nor did their daughter, Alice, who married Joseph Iddings in 1775. The Iddings were also prominent members of Deep River Friends (Quaker) Meeting in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. They had eight children, including Mark, their fourth child.
Mark Iddings married Elizabeth Ballinger in 1805 and he was subsequently disowned by the Quakers for “accomplishing his marriage contrary to Discipline.” At issue was that Mark married his wife without the the approval measures of the society, so he was excluded from membership. Many of Mark’s siblings were also disowned. Additionally, their interests in music and dance were considered worldly tendencies that were not representative of simple Quaker ways. However, the couple remained in the neighborhood of Quakers for the rest of their lives, and at the age of 42 years, he embarked on construction of his Quaker house-type. He also avoided participation in the slave economy and their deaths, both Mark and Elizabeth were interred within the Deep River Friends Cemetery. Disownment may be practiced in varying degrees, and perhaps Elizabeth and Mark were disowned in a lesser manner.
The couple had nine daughters and one son who survived childhood named Paris. They are thought to have erected the house on the Salisbury to Hillsborough stagecoach road. In addition to being farmers, the Iddings family raised money by providing accommodations. The Greensboro Daily News of Oct 21, 1962 reported that “Several of the stagecoach lines also maintained inns and hotels in Greensboro or maintained stopping places along their routes. Mark Iddings, for example, had a ‘stand’ on his farm near Jamestown where stagecoach passengers could spend the night.”
Elizabeth and Mark were remembered to be lighthearted. Mark played the fiddle and his wife loved to dance…so elegantly that she could glide across the floor with a glass of water perched upon her head without spilling a drop!
Of the Iddings children, Paris showed inclinations that were perhaps nourished by his parent’s love of music and dancing. As a young man, he left home for Memphis, Tennessee and joined a circus band. His great niece Myrtle Armfield said in an article published in the Greensboro Record dated July 28, 1956 that he owned two violins “one was loud and was used for his band work; the other was softer in tone and was played at home.” Federal Census data from Memphis in 1860 indicates he was also a saloon keeper with a a net worth of $16,000, a great departure from the modest and sober Quakers of Jamestown.
Paris was remembered by his great niece as being wayward in other ways. In the article of 1956 she stated “while Paris was like his father in many ways, he was quite different in others—particularly in his attitude toward slavery. The father would have none of the business. Yet Paris believed so strongly in the South’s cause, says Miss [Myrtle] Armfield, that he sold all his property except his home and invested the returns in slaves. When the smoke had cleared from the Civil War he was wrecked financially. He did not live long after that.”
When Mark Iddings died in 1848, he bequeathed his life estate and all of his lands to his wife, Elizabeth. He provided for their three yet unmarried daughters. Their youngest daughter, Aseaneth, was the last of the Elizabeth and Mark Iddings family when she died at 84 years of age in 1912.
The property then was held by a number of investors before being sold by J. E. Latham to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners in 1922 for use as the county sanatorium from 1924 to 1955. After the sanatorium closed, the property was sold by the County Commissioners in 1974 with restrictive covenants to the Guilford Technical Institute (today’s GTCC) on the condition that “the Board of Trustees of Guilford Technical Institute will maintain and preserve, or cause to be maintained and preserved, the residence located on TRACT 1 for the purpose of preserving the said residence’s historical significance in the County.”
This condition of acquisition caused the house to be preserved and led GTCC staff and members of the community to partner to preserve the house. In 1999, GTCC instructor Shelley Lutzweiller and preservationist Benjamin Briggs wrote a Conservation Plan for the building that outlined its history, condition, significance, constraints, and opportunities. This documentation and planning process provided a template for restoration that prepared for restoration of the nearly 200-year-old house.
Today, the Iddings House provides special meeting and gathering space for the campus community. A comprehensive restoration of the house in 2020-2021 resulted in addressing safety issues and the installation of a wood roof, restoration of the original three-room floor plan, exterior painting, and window replacement. The house is a strong contender as the oldest house on a North Carolina community college campus…providing another preservation superlative to Guilford County!
NOTE: The three black and white photos illustrating this article were taken between 1935 and 1938 by the pioneering female photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952). These images were published in her book “The Early Architecture of North Carolina,” accompanied by history from Thomas Tileston Waterman. Her work was commissioned by the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South and is today housed in the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. Her book, The Early Architecture of North Carolina. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1941, can be found in libraries and museums.
Written by Benjamin Briggs
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