Much of the house dates to the early 19th century. The oldest portion of the house was constructed in circa 1820 by Will B. Wise. It began its existence as a classic Federal structure three bays wide and one room deep with two rooms on the first floor and two rooms on the second. The original enclosed staircase, which no longer exists, was located in the larger of the two rooms. Many architectural elements from this period do remain, however, including flat crown molding, door surrounds, wainscoting, the tongue-and-groove pine floor boards, and a number of Federal style mantels. In the late 1820s or 1830s a one-story rear ell room and a rear shed porch were constructed.
The house was acquired by the Methodist Church in about 1855 to be used as a parsonage. At that time the house was extensively remodeled and enlarged. One-story wings were added at each side of the house. These wings appear to have come from another early 19th century house which was moved to the site and cut in half, with each half then being attached to the Reed House on opposite sides. The original nine-over-nine and six-over-six windows were replaced by larger six-over-six windows of the period. One of the earlier windows still survives and is located in the East Bedchamber.
A center hall was created by the construction of a partition wall in the West Drawing Room or Parlor. The front door was “modernized” and a diamond patterned transom was added. This door does not survive, however, the south (rear) door probably dates from this remodeling. Also added was a distinctive shed roof front porch with sawn ornamentation. The earlier rear porch was modified to its present appearance as well. The wainscoting and some other woodwork in the parlor on the first floor received beautiful faux bois graining. The fireplace surround and baseboards were painted black and marbleized with white and red veins. This treatment is being reproduced during the current restoration. It appears that Brussels or Wilton carpet was installed during the 1850s remodeling also. Evidence of the carpet tacks are still evident on the floorboards.
Walter Reed’s father, Reverend Lemuel Sutton Reed was the first Methodist minister to reside in the remodeled parsonage. Rev. Reed, accompanied by his wife Pharaba White Reed and their five children, Laura S. (1840—1906), James Clayton (1842—1935), Thomas Walke
(1845—1921), Christopher (1849—1907), and Walter (1851-1902), moved into the house in 1856. Walter was about four years old.
This tenure was actually the first of two times that Rev. Reed served as pastor of the Methodist Church in Murfreesboro and resided in the house that now bears the name of his renowned son, Dr. Walter Reed. The second time was in the 1870s. Rev. Reed’s wife Pharaba had died in 1866, and he had married a widow, Mary Byrd Kyle. They moved into the house with their young daughter Annie. By then Walter was a young physician, having completed an M.D. degree from the University of Virginia on July 1, 1869, the youngest graduate to date in the history of the medical school.
During the 1870s Walter was able to spend time with his family in Murfreesboro. He fell in love with Emily Blackwell Lawrence whose family lived in the house across the street from the parsonage. He and Emily married in 1876 at the Methodist Church in Murfreesboro. The house served as the parsonage for the church until early in the 20th century when it was purchased by the Evans family. It was later owned by Hertford County and used as a nutrition site.
In 1988 Katie Evans Heath founded the Friends of Walter Reed. The mission of the organization was to restore the house, which had at that point fallen into disrepair. By all accounts, Mrs. Heath and the members of the Friends of Walter Reed were tireless supporters of this worthy cause. They made tremendous strides in the restoration of the house. They engaged a restoration consultant, Peter B. Sandbeck, who made a thorough examination of the structure, reporting his findings to the organization. They also asked George T. Fore, an architectural conservator, to prepare an analysis of the historic finishes.
Considerable work toward the restoration of the house was accomplished during this period. Woodwork and plaster were repaired, reproduction hardware was installed, and a decorative painter began the reproducing the faux grain. Unfortunately, when grant funds for the restoration were exhausted in 2000, the work stopped. The building behind the house served as a nutrition site by Hertford County, and the house was used by a community-based non-profit until 2015.
The Dr. Walter Reed House is currently undergoing a complete restoration by the Murfreesboro Historical Association. Painting and extensive repair of rotted wood on the exterior began in 2016. The next phase of the restoration will focus on the interior of the structure with emphasis on completing the repair of the plaster on both floors of the house, replacing mantels and woodwork on the second floor, and replicating the historic paint colors and finishes throughout the house.
The house will be furnished as it would have appeared during Rev. Reed’s second tenure as pastor of the Murfreesboro Methodist Church, when young Walter Reed courted and married his Murfreesboro sweetheart, Emily Lawrence. A former first floor bedchamber contains material about Walter Reed’s life and accomplishments, and has an exhibit of primarily 19th and early 20th century medical equipment.
Keep up to date with the Walter Reed Friends Newsletter:
April 2019 Issue