(Editor’s note: Fifth in a series on the history of Ronda.)
Claymont Hill has stood for more than 200 years overlooking the southside of the Yadkin River in Ronda.
It has been the home of several families who have contributed to life in Wilkes County in agriculture, government, law enforcement, public service, business, education and other ways.
The house was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of Interior National Park Service in September 1985.
The house, surrounding buildings, and artifacts represent a lifestyle of the early settlement of the county, said Dr. Bill Davis, owner of the house.
The house was built by Benjamin Herndon in the late 1700s, near what was known as the Horseshoe Bend in the Yadkin. For many years it was part of what was called Horseshoe Plantation. The first part of the house was a two-story log structure with a fireplace and a one- or two-room downstairs. It had a stairway leading to the second floor, where there were probably two rooms, said Davis.
The log cabin portion was about 18 feet by 30 feet with a large chimney on the west end.
The kitchen was a separate log structure located on the south side of the cabin approximately 75 feet away. The house and log kitchen are both standing today. The log part of the house includes the den, two halls and an upstairs bedroom.
Benjamin Herndon came from Fredericksburg, Va., with his brothers, who also played an important part in the settlement of the area and in establishing Wilkes County, said Davis.
Herndon was appointed one of the first justices of Wilkes County and was a captain and lieutenant colonel in Col. Ben Cleveland’s regiment at King’s Mountain. Herndon served with Maj. Richard Allen, also of Wilkes, during the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.
After the war Herndon was twice a member of the House of Commons and the Senate, before moving to Newberry District, S.C., in 1786.
The second known owner of Claymont Hill was David Witherspoon, who was an officer in Cleveland’s regiment at King’s Mountain. He was of Scotch origin and a native of New Jersey. He served in the House of Commons for two years after the Revolutionary War and was a longtime magistrate in Wilkes.
The third known owner of “Claymont Hill” was Capt. Thomas Thurmond. He purchased the property in 1797 and sold it to John Martin in 1805 when he moved to Georgia.
John Martin bought Horseshoe Plantation five years before he died. He and his wife Elizabeth and four children worked on the plantation along with African Americans to produce agricultural products that included corn, rye, fruit, livestock, brandy and whiskey, said Davis.
Isaac Martin inherited his family home when his father died in 1810. He and his wife, Nancy, continued to carry on the farming tradition and raised four children. One son, Isaac, was a veteran of the War of 1812.
In May 1858, John W. Martin and Nathan Green Martin inherited their home place from their father, Isaac.
Nathan Green Martin died in July 1863 during the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War. He had no heirs and John Martin sold Horseshoe Plantation in 1870 to Albert Leondas Hendrix, a representative from Surry County in the 1868-1870 N.C. General Assembly.
Hendrix and his wife Celia Ann Woodruff expanded the log structure into a 10-gable house with five porches decorated with gingerbread work. The renovated structure had 10 large rooms, eight fireplaces, two hallways, a staircase, and a full size attic.
The couple owned the house for nearly 33 years. All of their 11 children were born there. Hendrix served as a justice of the peace in Wilkes while also being a merchant and farmer. He was in the mercantile business with W.A. Gwyn and James Hickerson in the 1890’s and operated a store in Ronda. The merchandise sold included dry goods, notions, shoes, hats, hardware, groceries, and crockery. The name of the store was Gwyn – Hendrix Company.
On April 18, 1903, Hendrix sold his farm to an Elkin merchant, N.W. Fowler and wife, Minnie. Two years later they sold the home and 250 acres to W.H. Sale for $4,750. The farm and home was later sold to A. J. Russell for the same amount.
On May 26, 1909, W.A. Hendrix and wife, Eva Jane Hampton Hendrix, bought the 190 acres farm and home for $5,000. Hendrix had already bought 60 acres. These two transactions enabled W.A. Hendrix to obtain his birthplace. He held this property for the remainder of his life, said Davis.
Being a gentleman farmer and public servant, W.A. Hendrix was one of Wilkes County’s best-known citizens in the early 1900s, said Davis. He served as postmaster of Ronda, revenue officer, and U.S. deputy marshall.
The home was completely redecorated in 1909. This included painting, refinishing the woodwork, and replacing the wooden-shingled roof with metal-lock shingles.
The spring house has a concrete basin where water from the spring was used to cool milk, butter, and other perishable items.
A large brick furnace was located near the spring. The furnace contained large cast iron wash pots over three feet in diameter, which were used for washing clothes.
A large cellar with six rooms was located near the spring and used to store vegetables for winter use. Across the road from the house were several buildings. These include a large horse barn, granary, and wagon house that were built in the 1870s or before. In 1909 a crib, cattle barn, chicken house and shop were added.
In 1915, the farm was given the name “Claymont Hill” by the Hendrixes oldest daughter, Ola. A sign was displayed near the road bearing the name, “Claymont Hill.” It was also used as the official address for mail correspondence.
Farming was a big operation for the Hendrix family. After buying additional parcels of adjoining land, his farm had a total of 730 acres. There were rich bottoms and good upland for growing crops and caring for livestock. An abundance of vegetables, fruits, pork, chicken, and beef were produced each year.
There were seven houses on the farm that were used by the farm hands and their families. Each family worked on the farm for a living. They received food, grain, and staple goods as well as money for their labor. The farm was tended by horses, mules, oxen, and manual labor. There was no electricity or tractor power. A telephone was installed about 1920. However, electricity was not available until 1948.
W.A. Hendrix died when he was 55 years old. His widow, Eva Jane Hendrix continued to carry on the farming operation using the renters and work hands that were on the farm. Her son Carl who had assisted his father in managing the farm took work grading and scraping the county roads. During the depression years of the 1930s times were difficult.
Renters and share croppers began to leave and the fields began to be uncultivated. People had very little money and much work had to be done to grow food to feed their families.
The youngest child, Willie Agnes Hendrix Davis Lindsay, inherited the home place, Claymont Hill, and lived there until her death, Nov. 23, 1980.
Davis, a retired vice-president of Wilkes Community College and his wife Linda Lyon Davis, a teacher at C.B. Eller School have lived at Claymont Hill since the 1970s.
Significant changes have been made to modernize the home. Six fireplaces have been removed, three bathrooms added, closets built and a modern kitchen was installed, as well as a large bedroom added downstairs. New wiring, plumbing and central heating and cooling were installed, as well as other changes and updates.