“An important plantation along the lower Landsford Road….bringing prosperity to the Blackjacks…”
City Directories and History: This distinguished home is characteristic of many historic houses in the region, in that they evolved and continued to change as norms
and styles dictated. At least four major renovations have taken place over the past two-hundred years to bring this home to its current state. Known locally as the Steele-Falls-Fairey home on the corner of Falls and Oak Park roads, just south of Rock Hill, it is one of the area’s oldest and most interesting homes. Originally constructed as a two-story log house of oak and chestnut timbers, the house retains its original fireplace and board-and-batten doors. Facing the home from Falls Road, the oldest section is just to the right of the front door and back toward Oak Park Road. One of the nicest remaining features of the dwelling in this section are the exposed “beaded” rafters that were beautifully hewn and then the bead molding was added to each side of the exposed ceiling rafters. Some evidence “suggests” that this was the portion of the home constructed by Revolutionary Captain Joseph Steele, either prior to the American Revolution, or shortly thereafter. The property had long been in the Steele family and the house was constructed on what became known as the Lower Lands Ford Road, leading from York to the canal at Lands Ford in Chester County, S.C. This log cabin is certainly one of York County’s oldest and clearly may have been the home of Captain Steele. However, some family members are emphatic that the house was about a quarter mile east, on Squire Road, where the home of J.M. Steele’s residence stood in the early 20th century. (No conclusive evidence yet exists but the Falls Road house clearly was standing during the time of his life, on his property.)
In the early 19th century, circa 1820s, the right two-story section of the house was added using a construction method called timber framing. The beams in this section are hewn from pine trees with no desire other than that they are straight and strong. The hewn tool marks remain in these exposed beams and the exposed flooring from the second floor room. This section of the house had paneled doors, not the original board and batten. The walls were finished with finished horizontal tongue and grove boards, as were the ceilings prior to exposing the beams in the first floor room circa 1975.
To the rear of the original log cabin, a one story “L” was added to the dwelling that extended to the rear of the house. Along this section a porch was added. The interior of the section had gone through extensive architectural changes. The only paneled wainscoting found in the house was in the room immediately behind the log portion. This beautifully made wainscoting matches the workmanship of the doors from the second addition to the house and may date to approximately the same period. The rear room of the “L” retains none of its original architectural features. Later, perhaps in the early 20th century, a third bedroom was added to the upstairs rear section of the house.
The Rock Hill Herald reported on April 8, 1880 – “Mr. J.R. London is the local agent for Portable and Stationary Engines from the Eclipse Steam Engine Company.”
In the mid 1970s Wade and Cathy Fairey purchased the home from local realtor, Mr. Marvin Ray Johnson, along with five acres. Their friends thought they had moved to the other end of nowhere and couldn’t understand giving up a nice home on Eden Terrace for what they viewed as a derelict country farmhouse. At the time, the house had been lived in by renters who had simply abandoned the house, leaving years of junk and abuse. However, with the help of family members, the 20th-century additions such as a front porch, newer siding, etc., were removed one layer at a time to expose the historic nature of the home. Historically, the house has belonged to the Steele, London, Falls, and Fairey families who each placed their stamp on the house. With the help of many individuals, both volunteers and hired, the house took shape.
The Fairey family added the first modern kitchen, HVAC units, a new electric system, bathrooms both upstairs and down, new windows, siding, roofing, and more to make it into a comfortable dwelling. Closets were also added for the first time. The project took on a life of its own as modern additions and sheet rock were removed. However, subsequent owners since 1981 have made many additional contributions to make the home an enjoyable piece of architecture worthy of continued use and therefore workable preservation.
It was at this location that Wade Fairey made furniture and repaired collectables. One of the biggest projects during this period was the renovation, repair, and reproduction of architectural materials for both the Homestead House and the Colonel William Bratton cabin at Historic Brattonsville. Over a period of several years, under the leadership of S.B. Mendenhall and Joseph “Joe” Rainey, materials were removed from the Homestead and brought by the truckload to the Falls Road workshop. Mantels were repaired, shutters rebuilt, windows repaired or reconstructed, shutters built from scratch and dozens of paneled doors repaired. Vandals and the elements over time had destroyed much of the original architecture of the Homestead house. Many of the current (2012) windows and shutters in use at the Homestead House were made from scratch to meet the preservation standards set forth by the S.C. Department of Archives and History.
Likewise, most of the architectural elements from the Colonel William Bratton home were also restored during this period or later. At the time, it seemed strange that Mr. George Petty, York County’s house member serving in the S.C. House of Representatives, would deliver these items on a routine basis as well as pick them up for use at the historic site. It was also during this period that Wade, Jr. and Frank Fairey were born and brought home to 1102 Falls Road to begin their lives. The family enjoyed residing here until the early 1980s, when Cathy’s family home became available in Ebenezer. It presented a whole new project.
The Herald contained an ad on Jan. 11, 1883 for the John R. London Company featuring phosphates and fertilizers.
The Yorkville Enquirer reported on Nov. 9, 1887 – “On last Friday the gin house of Mr. J.R. London made a narrow escape from burning. While in operation, a spark from the engine ignited some cotton. His hands helped extinguish the flames.”
In the 1880s, the Steele family property belonged to John R. London, a prominent Rock Hill printer and businessman, who took the time to send a soil sample to Washington, DC, for testing. It came back that the soil of Mr. London’s farm was just like that of much of the region; a common term for the soil was “Blackjack”. This soil type had long been regarded as poor agricultural land, and crops often “rusted” or failed to mature. Blackjack properties sold for far less than other productive farms. However, it had also been discovered that potash would make the soil productive. Readily available, potash was added within a short time, and once-poor lands were transformed into highly productive farms. It was shortly after this period that farmers from out of the area began acquiring blackjack farms between Rock Hill and Chester. Many of these families, including the Percival, Boyd, Robinson, and Chappell families, remain active farmers. Long-term residents such as the Roach, Hollis, Sadler, Neely, Fairey, and Poag families also took advantage of Mr. London’s findings which brought new prosperity to the section.
*** The “London Place” shows on the 1910 Walker Map of the area, below. Also see additional information on J.R. London and other Rock Hillians who made a difference under the picture column – the MORE INFORMATION link.
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