Department of Historic Resources
For Immediate Release
June 2, 2021
Contact: Randy Jones, DHR
—Abijah Thomas’s Octagonal House is one of the most refined examples of such architecture in Virginia; Thomas established Holston Woolen Mills, a major supplier of textiles during the Civil War—
—The marker texts reproduced below—
RICHMOND – Two state historical markers issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources will be dedicated this week in Smyth County that highlight Abijah Thomas’s 17-room Octagonal House, a highly-refined example of such architecture, and the Village of Holston Mills, which arose around a textile operation Thomas co-founded about 1860 that produced cloth for Confederate soldiers’ uniforms.
The Octagon House Foundation (OHF) will dedicate the “Abijah Thomas and His Octagonal House” sign this Friday, June 4, starting at 11 a.m. The ceremony convenes at the house and marker’s location at 615 Octagon House Road, near Marion. An unveiling of the “Village of Holston Mills” marker follows at 12 noon at the sign’s location at the intersection of Virginia Routes 650 (South Fork Road), 604 (Red Stone Road), and 648 (Old Mill Road). The Holston Mills marker is sponsored by the family of the late Victor C. and Minta R. Neitch.
During the formal ceremony at the first marker, event speakers will include OHF members Derek A. Orr, Lesa Greer Keyes, Cynthia J. Robertson, Nancy Smith, Rita Blevins, Holly S. Sword, and Kenneth R. Hall; and Smyth County Administrator Shawn Utt, and Michael Pulice of the DHR. VFW Francis Marion Post #4667 will present colors.
Abijah Thomas was an industrialist who in 1844 bought a 344-acre property in Smyth County that included a sawmill and grist mill. Around 1860 he found a partner to open Holston Woolen Factory, a major producer of textiles. After the Civil War, the mill was dormant until it flourished under new ownership after 1875, when it became Holstein Woolen Mills. It later relocated to Salem.
Thomas’s octagonal house was built in 1856-1857, during a surge in eight-sided domestic architecture. His house is considered one of the finest examples of octagonal design in Virginia. Thomas acquired more than 10,000 acres in the area by 1860. In addition to his mills, he established an iron furnace southeast of Marion where he produced pig iron for the Confederacy.
Enslaved African Americans and hired workers labored on his properties.
The two markers were approved for manufacture and installation last year by the Virginia Board of Historic Resources, which has authority to designate new state historical markers. The sponsors covered the costs of manufacturing the markers.
Virginia’s historical highway marker program, which began in 1927 with the installation of the first historical markers along U.S. Route 1, is considered the oldest such program in the nation. Currently there are more than 2,600 official state markers, most maintained by the Virginia Department of Transportation, and by local partners in jurisdictions outside of VDOT’s authority.
[PLEASE NOTE: DHR erects markers not to “honor” their subjects but rather to educate and inform the public about a person, place, or event of regional, state, or national importance. In this regard, markers are not memorials.]
Text of markers:
Abijah Thomas (1814-1876) and his Octagonal House
Just east of here is one of the most refined examples of an octagonal house in Virginia. Built for Abijah Thomas in 1856-1857, during a surge of interest in octagonal domestic architecture, this two-story brick structure contains 17 rooms and handcrafted interior treatments. By 1860, Thomas had acquired more than 10,000 acres in this area. He established the Holston Woolen Mills, around which a village emerged, and operated a sawmill, grist mill, and tannery. Southeast of Marion, he opened an iron furnace that produced pig iron for the Confederacy. Enslaved African Americans and hired workers labored on his properties. Financial mismanagement brought an end to his industrial ambitions.
Village of Holston Mills
Industrialist Abijah Thomas bought a 344-acre tract in this area, including a sawmill and a grist mill, in 1844. Here ca. 1860 he and a partner opened Holston Woolen Factory, a major producer of textiles around which the village of Holston Mills developed. During the Civil War, Co. A of the 23rd Battalion Virginia Infantry was organized here; the woolen mill made cloth for Confederate uniforms. Dormant following the war, the mill flourished under new ownership after 1875, when it became known as Holstein Woolen Mills. The town expanded to include a school, shops, a post office, and a telegraph office. After the mill moved to Salem early in the 1890s, the village declined and later vanished.
Originally posted: June 3, 2021
Updated: June 3, 2021