Project: The Restoration of Historic Brattonsville’s Brick House
Awarded to: Cultural & Heritage Museums, Historic Brattonsville
Submitted by: Submitted by: Joseph C. Mester, Historic Brattonsville
In the summer of 1841, Dr. John S. Bratton, Sr. contracted with masons John L. Owen, Robert Owen, and John Powers to “build a house of brick” at Brattonsville in present-day McConnells. The “Brick House,” as it eventually became known, reflects the transitional Early Classical Revival architecture of the nineteenth century. Completed in 1843, the house served a variety of domestic, civic, and commercial purposes in the Brattonsville community.
The five-bay wide house uniquely had two front doors to facilitate its public and private functions. The two-bay wide parlor served as the formal reception room for the Bratton family living in the house. The formal use of the space is conveyed through the use of the fashionable window and door casings composed of symmetrical architraves with corner blocks typical of the Greek Revival. A staircase in the parlor provided access to the family room and sleeping quarters on the second floor. The addition of a two-story, five-room ell in the 1850s expanded the family use of the house.
After the Civil War, Napoleon Bonaparte Bratton, Dr. John S. Bratton, Sr.’s youngest son, re-opened the Brattonsville store inside the Brick House. Napoleon Bratton carried a wide range of “Dry Goods, Groceries, Hats, Boots, Shoes, Hardware, Notions, and Merchandise Generally.” The Brattonsville store was again center of life for the community, but it served a grim purpose on March 7, 1871 as the site of a coroner’s inquest into the murder of South Carolina militia Captain James Williams. Williams was an active civil rights leader and a vocal critic of the Reconstruction Era Ku Klux in York County. In the early morning hours of March 7, 1871, the Ku Klux raided Williams’ home near Brattonsville and lynched him. Later that day, the York County coroner took Williams’ body to the Brattonsville store at the Brick House to perform the inquest. Widespread racial violence throughout the South prompted Congress to pass three pieces of legislation called the Enforcement Acts.
In 1962, the Brick House was purchased from the Bratton estate by Judge Samuel B. Mendenhall. The Mendenhall family eventually sold the Brick House to the Culture & Heritage Museums of York County for its long-term preservation in 2001. The Culture & Heritage Museums conducted an initial phase of preservation/stabilization activities between 2013-14.
The 2015 Historic Brattonsville Interpretative Plan set the vision for the Brick House restored to the way it would have appeared in 1871 while serving as the Brattonsville store amid the Reconstruction Era.
On November 23, 2021, the Brick House was opened for public interpretation for the first time. The exhibit Liberty & Resistance: Reconstruction and the African American Community at Brattonsville 1865-1877 details the Reconstruction Era in York County, with a special focus on the life and legacy of Capt. James Williams. The adjacent recreated Brattonsville store was outfitted with reproduction merchandise to convey how the store would have looked in 1871.
The Liberty and Resistance exhibit is part of a larger effort to tell a more inclusive story at Historic Brattonsville. To this end, the community was heavily involved in the creation of the exhibit. CHM worked closely with local historians, advisors, and scholars including representatives from the South Carolina African American Heritage Commission, the local NAACP, and descendants of Capt. James Williams. Descendants were invited to a private preview of the exhibit prior to its opening to the general public. After receiving the tour, one descendant said that he “left with a sense of pride” knowing that his ancestor “fought for inclusion, equity, and representation.”