History of Historic Sandusky
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Charles Johnston, whose father arrived in Richmond from Scotland, built the fine brick house in the first decade of the nineteenth century, ca. 1808. He named it Sandusky to commemorate a narrow escape. In 1790, while navigating the Ohio River on his way to Kentucky, Johnston and his companions were captured by a party of Shawnees and taken to an encampment near Lake Erie, near a frontier settlement called Sandusky. A French-Canadian fur trader ransomed Johnston, who eventually made his way back to Virginia, stopping in New York to give George Washington an account of his adventure. By strange irony, a later occupant of Sandusky, Virginia, would also come to be held captive near Sandusky, Ohio.
built Sandusky in 1808
Johnston established Sandusky as the centerpiece of a 1,200-acre plantation, on a property he had purchased from John Lynch, Thomas Burgess, and James Steptoe. Johnston's business enterprises were many and varied. In 1810, he purchased Thomas Jefferson's entire Poplar forest tobacco crop. Jefferson duly recorded Johnston's payment of $2,003.11 in his Memorandum Book.
Two years later, as work on the house at Poplar Forest was progressing, Jefferson wrote Johnston asking for five bushels of plaster of Paris. Johnson had intended using it as fertilizer; Jefferson needed it for plastering the walls of his house. Again, Jefferson's Memorandum Book records the transaction: on November 19, 1812, he paid Johnston $6.75 for five bushels. In 1815, when Lynchburg feted Andrew Jackson, then on his way from Tennessee to Washington, the two neighbors saluted each other once again. At the banquet, which Jefferson pronounced "the most extravagant dinner" he had ever seen, Charles Johnston offered a toast to his friend and sometime neighbor, whom he called "our illustrious guest." Interestingly, their two houses--Sandusky and Poplar Forest--would become even more closely associated later in the 19th century.
On two occasions, in 1813 and 1817, Johnston insured Sandusky with the Mutual Assurance Society of Virginia. The still-extant policies provide valuable information on the house, while the assessments the company placed on it ($6,000 in 1813, $7,000 in 1817) certify that it was among the most prominent in the area. As described in the 1813 policy, Sandusky was "48 x 20 feet two story built of brick and covered with wood." In addition to the main block, there was (and is) a rear "wing 19 x 18, two-story, brick covered with wood." Although the present standing-seam metal roof is quite old, the house was originally covered with wooden shingles. The policies also prove that the L-shaped house has otherwise remained remarkably unchanged over the years. Still remaining are the handsome finishes that Johnston knew: reeded mantels, paneled wainscots, and--in the parlor--framed arches on either side of the chimney breast. Each insurance policy also lists a separate brick kitchen and smokehouse, while the latter one shows that a brick office and schoolroom had been added to the compound by 1817.
A few years later Johnston was financially ruined by the Great Panic of 1819 and forced to sell Sandusky. For a few years, a consortium of several individuals owned Sandusky and rented it out. In 1821, one of these individuals, John Matthews Otey apparently bought out the others and Sandusky became the Otey family home for the next twenty years. In 1829 Otey’s father Major Isaac Otey moved in with his son’s family at Sandusky. Isaac was a veteran of the War of 1812, a farmer, and for thirty years a member of the Virginia Legislature. John’s wife, Lucy Mina Otey, later became noted for leading Lynchburg’s women in establishing the Ladies Relief Hospital during the Civil War. All seven of Lucy’s sons served in the Confederate army. Three of them died during the war, along with her only son in law. Isaac Otey died at Sandusky in 1839, in 1841 John Otey sold Sandusky, and its 600+ acres, to George C. Hutter. It became the Hutter family home for more than 110 years.
When George first moved to Lynchburg he wrote to his half-brother, Edward, in Easton, Pennsylvania, informing him of an eligible young lady, Emma Cobbs, who then lived at nearby Poplar Forest. George professed that he "would not wish to influence you in any way," but Edward took his recommendation to heart. A year later the couple were married at Poplar Forest and once again relations between the two houses were close and frequent. In 1843, George sent Edward a note that his wife was "sending a cart to Poplar Forest for Raspberries" and added that he thought Edward's mother-in-law had "promised her some Box, which she should be now happy to get." During the Hutter occupancies, both houses had virtually identical groupings of boxwood in their front lawns. The boxwood at Sandusky remains, the raspberries do not.
John Matthew Otey
Lucy Mina Otey
In 1864, during the Hutter family occupancy, Sandusky had its fifteen minutes of fame. Actually, it was longer than that: at least a weekend, though the Hutters must have thought it an eternity. From June 17-18, Sandusky served as headquarters for Union General David Hunter and his staff, who were determined to capture Lynchburg and render its excellent transportation facilities useless to the Confederate cause.
General David Hunter,
aka "Black Dave".
Hunter was following orders that General U. S. Grant had issued earlier that month: "the complete destruction [of the railroad] and of the canal on the James River is of great importance to us...You are to proceed to Lynchburg and commence there. It would be of great value to us to get possession of Lynchburg for a single day." Fortunately for Lynchburg, Hunter tarried on his way, taking time to burn the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington before crossing the Blue Ridge to attack the city. Hunter and his troops stopped long enough to plunder Poplar Forest early on the 17th, then reached Sandusky, which they commandeered for their use. Hunter's delay allowed time for Confederate General Jubal Early to arrive from Charlottesville to defend Lynchburg. Fighting commenced that afternoon, but even during the fray, Early's men were hastily preparing the city's outer defenses. Their major effort was a breastwork fort, named for General Early, alongside the Salem Turnpike (today's Fort Avenue). Fighting temporarily ceased at nightfall, and Hunter and his men had dinner at Sandusky that evening. According to an account, the Lynchburg Virginian published a week later, "the general offices were in very high spirits at the supper table on Friday night, and boasted that they would be in Lynchburg the next day." Hunter bragged to Hutter that "he had fifty thousand men and could take Lynchburg easily." Hutter replied that it might not be an easy task.
The battle commenced in earnest early Saturday morning, with skirmishes raging along Lynchburg's southwestern outskirts. Union signal officers cut a hole, or scuttle, in Sandusky's roof, reached from the attic by a ladder. They then positioned themselves "on the top of Major Hutter's house" to report the battle's progress. What they saw was not what they expected. Although a lookout first reported that the Union cavalry "were charging splendidly," he later saw them giving way, "and finally left his eyry in disgust." That evening, a somber mood prevailed at Sandusky's dinner table. As the Virginian reported, the officers "took their meal at the same board in perfect silence." After dinner, Hunter told Major Hutter that he wanted to hold a council of war in the house. He appropriated two rooms, carefully locking the doors so he and his men could decide their next course of action in private. Hunter, thinking that additional enemy troops were arriving and would overwhelm his men, and knowing that he was running low on ammunition, decided to retreat.
Later, in his official report, General Hunter recorded that during the night of the 18th, "trains on the different railroads were heard running without intermission, while repeated cheers and the beating of drums indicated the arrival of large bodies of troops in the town." It was an extremely clever ruse, and it worked. Lynchburgers gathered at the station throughout the night to cheer the repeated "arrival" of a single engine and empty boxcars that continuously ran out of town, then reversed to return to the depot. There had been no reinforcements.
The next day, Sunday, June 19th, the Union forces retreated, retracing the path they had used before, via the Peaks of Otter, then across the Valley of Virginia and the Alleghenies into West Virginia. Before they left Sandusky, they took time to plunder Miss Hutter's chamber, "carrying away various ornaments and valuables." They also left "some 90 odd wounded Yankees...in Major Hutter's barn," four or five of whom died on Sunday. The battle was won, but the war, of course, would soon be lost.
Although Major George C. Hutter had retired from active military duty at the commencement of the Civil War, his three sons all served in the Confederate forces. The youngest, Colonel J. Risque Hutter, was wounded and captured during Pickett's ill-fated charge at Gettysburg. He was taken to the Union prison at Johnson's Island, just outside Sandusky, Ohio. In later years, he came to own Sandusky, and, after his tenure, his son inherited the property. Sandusky remained a Hutter family home for over a hundred years, serving five generations.
In 1952, Mr. and Mrs. Neville Adkinson purchased Sandusky, by then the centerpiece of a four-acre curtilage. The Adkinsons began a gradual restoration of the house while modernizing service areas and installing heating, air-conditioning and new bathrooms. During their tenure, they were always mindful of the architectural and historical importance of the house and took care to ensure that modern conveniences would not intrude on the historic fabric. In 2000, Mrs. Adkinson, a widow, decided the time had come to sell Sandusky, noting that "when it is next sold it will be the second transfer in 158 years." Mrs. Adkinson let it be known that she would prefer selling it to a group who could purchase it and open it to the public.
With Mrs. Adkinson's wishes in mind, the Historic Sandusky Foundation was created, and a group of men, now known as the Sandusky Six, purchased the property and began the process of restoring the site. In 2006 the foundation entered into a partnership with local Lynchburg College (now the University of Lynchburg) to allow students a place for more hands-on education in their fields of study. At the end of the five-year partnership, Lynchburg College acquired Historic Sandusky and continues to use it as a place of experiential learning for students and faculty.
Now owned and operated by the University of Lynchburg, Sandusky is seen as one of the prominent Civil War sites in Virginia.