Historic farmhouse burns to the ground

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
Elaine Gilland couldn’t help but grieve a bit Thursday when a morning fire destroyed the old farmhouse that many generations in Morgan Township had referred to as “the Phillips place.”
Gilland was one of six children who grew up in the house, while her father, Walter Morgan, was renting it from the Nash family. The children worked in their father’s nearby cotton fields.
Elaine and her husband, Bobby, sometimes joke that he rescued her from the cotton fields when they decided to marry 51 years ago.
But nothing could rescue the old farmhouse Thursday morning. The structure at Stokes Ferry and Agner roads was fully involved in flames when Liberty firefighters arrived, followed by other departments offering mutual aid.
“There wasn’t much they could do to save it,” Rowan County Fire Marshal Tom Murphy said, describing how the departments had to go into a defensive mode from the start.
The fire destroyed the entire house, the oldest portion of which dated back to 1834, according to records Gilland found several years ago in the Rowan Public Library’s History Room.
The two-story, wood-framed house had been vacant for many years, and the windows had been removed. There was no electricity connected to it, which makes the fire’s origin suspicious.
“They usually don’t start on their own without a power source,” Murphy said.
Murphy said the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office has the fire under investigation.
In its heyday, the house stood as the focal point to one of eastern Rowan County’s more prominent dairy farms.
Gilland said David Barringer, who operated a saw and grist mill, built the original part of the house in 1834. Barringer was instrumental in the founding of Providence Methodist Church, where he and his wife are buried.
The youngest daughter of the Barringers married Paul Monroe Phillips, whose herd of Jersey cows produced milk, butter and cream for Salisbury stores. Because of those strong dairy farm days, it became known by many as the Phillips place.
Gilland remembered the house having eight rooms, including three bedrooms upstairs.
According to her research, a free-standing kitchen and dining room were pulled up to the main structure in 1896 and connected by a porch. In 1910, those rooms were relocated to another part of the house.
Gilland lived in the house 19 years before marrying. She and Bobby live in Rockwell today.
The late Rep. Robie Nash started growing pine trees on his family’s acreage about 1960, and Gilland’s father moved away to find another place where he could grow cotton.
Sam Nash, a son of Robie’s, was able to save some portions of the house in the years before Thursday’s fire. He said he had taken “quite a bit of material” out of the farmhouse and used it in the restoration of his own 1840s log house on Heilig Road.