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Signers of the Declaration
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Historic Sites and Buildings

National Park Service Nelson House (Colonial National Historical Park)
Nelson House
Nelson House

Location: York County, northwest corner of Main and Pearl Streets, Yorktown; address: Colonial National Historical Park, P.O. Box 210, Yorktown, Va. 23490.

Thomas Nelson, Jr., may have been born in this house in 1738, resided fulltime in it from 1767 until 1781, and probably stayed in it on occasion during the following 8 years prior to his death. During the latter period, he was living in partial retirement at his Hanover County estate, Offley Hoo.

The probable builder, between 1732 and 1741, was Thomas ("Scotch Tom") Nelson, Sr., the signer's grandfather. Thomas Jr.'s father, William, lived in the residence until about 1738, the year of his marriage, when he moved to his own house across the street. Thomas, Jr., could have been born at either place. After "Scotch Tom" died, in 1745, his widow continued in residence. Upon her death in 1766, Thomas, Jr., who since his marriage 4 years earlier had apparently lived with his father, acquired her home and moved in the next year.

According to family tradition, the Nelson House served as the second headquarters of Gen. Charles Cornwallis during the siege of Yorktown (September-October 1781), and with Nelson's permission American artillery shelled and hit the house. The historical record indicates that both British and French military personnel likely used it, but their identities cannot be definitely ascertained. And the southeast face of the residence does show evidence of damage from cannon fire. The Marquis de Lafayette, who revisited the United States in 1824-25, was quartered there when in the former year he attended the celebration of the anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown, in which he had played a key role.

The Nelson House is an impressive specimen of early Georgian architecture, though the four south and five north dormers added in the 1920's detract from the original design. The broad roof is gabled and pedimented at the ends, with two massive interior chimneys and strongly dentiled cornice. The Flemish bond brickwork includes gauged belt course, water table, and flat window arches with segmental soffits. Corner quoins, as well as the window sills and lintels and their tall keystones, are of stone. The quoins and two levels of tall windows give the house a strong vertical effect. The north center door has simple gauged and molded brick piers that are topped by a brick pediment. Destroying the symmetry of the south facade is the off-center door, enclosed in a vestibule. A more elaborate door on the west side is modern, replacing an original untrimmed service opening.

On one side of the off-center hall are two small rooms, with a lobby and service stairs between them; on the opposite side of the hall, are two larger rooms, divided by a tiny one, probably a pantry. The general plan is repeated upstairs, where there are four bedrooms. Most of the original interior woodwork, highlighted by the first-floor wall-to-ceiling paneling, is still intact. From a decorative standpoint, the most striking chamber is the northeast drawing room. All the fireplaces in the residence are apparently reconstructions, as are also the balusters and handrails of the stairs.

The house remained in possession of the Nelson family until 1914. In 1920-21 its owners rehabilitated and restored it and renamed it York Hall. In 1968 the National Park Service acquired it. An extensive research and restoration program was carried out preparatory to opening the building to the public.

Nelson House
Nelson House. (National Park Service, Snell)

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Last Updated: 04-Jul-2004