Impressive Virginia Farmhouse at the Center of Tragedy

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Situated on a commanding ridge overlooking the mountains in Carroll County, Virginia, this house is impressive for more than just its fanciful architecture. Its story began with a man and his wife who had the vision to build their dream house here. But shortly after construction was completed, their family would find themselves in the midst of a tragedy that propelled their quiet mountain community out of obscurity and onto the front pages of America’s newspapers.

Hillsville and Carroll County History

In 1842, Carroll County was carved out of a portion of Wythe County but European settlers had been setting down roots here since the 1790s when people of Scots-Irish descent first arrived. These early settlers were used to the highlands landscape that they found here and began to establish cattle farms where they also grew cabbage, corn, rye, and wheat. In those early days, travel routes into and out of this part of the Appalachian Mountains were few and far between, leaving places like this to be relatively isolated. This bred a certain kind of resiliency amongst residents who had to be largely self-sufficient.

View from the Sidna Allen house of the surrounding hillside.

Originally called Cranberry Plains, the community of Hillsville began as a trading post along the stagecoach route. Sometime in the late 1820s or early 1830s, the name was changed to Hillsville in honor of the Hill Family and for the landscape views of the surrounding hills. When it became Carroll County in 1842, Hillsville was named as the county seat, although the town wasn’t officially incorporated until 1878.

By the early 1900s, Carroll County was still sparsely populated with no paved roads and only one phone line in the county. But many of the early families who settled here and their descendants remained, their roots reaching throughout the county. And they still clung to many of the long-standing traditions of their Appalachian forebearers.

Allen Family History

One of the oldest families in this section started with William Allen Jr. who purchased 400 acres of land in this area in 1791. By the late 1800s, his great-grandsons, Garland, Floyd, and Sidna had come to be prominent citizens of the county with large land holdings who were farmers, merchants, teachers, and mill owners. Sidna and Floyd also had licenses for the legal production of alcohol while their older brother, Garland, was a Primitive Baptist Minister.

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And while the Allens were well-respected in their community for their various contributions, they were also known for a ‘rough-and-tumble’ side that was often characteristic of these resilient mountain-dwellers. According to local legends, newspaper articles, and arrest records, it seems that the brothers walked a fine line between law-abiding businessmen and what was sometimes referred to as: “The Allen Gang.”

Photos of the “Allen Gang.” Sidna Allen, Floyd Allen, Claude Allen, Friel Allen, Wesley Edwards, Sidna Edwards, Victor Allen, and Bird Marion.

The Sidna Allen House

Given its rural character and relative isolation, you might be surprised to come upon the ridge to see this fanciful home. Impressive for any locale, this home is made even more so because of the views that surround her. Situated in the Blue Ridge Mountain range of the Appalachian Mountains, it was the dream of J. Sidna Allen and his wife, Bettie Mitchell Allen. Sidna, a prominent farmer and businessman, designed the outside of the home with his friend and carpenter, Prieston Dickens, while Bettie was responsible for the design of the 8 interior rooms.

The Sidna Allen house is situated on a ridge, overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains

Construction began in 1910 on the Queen Anne style house. Many local craftsmen were employed in the building of the home, while others came in from Surry County, NC- a days ride by wagon. Made of only the finest woods, its components were all milled at Sidna’s brother Gardner’s mill nearby, which included oak and white maple wood for the floors and wainscotting for all of the rooms.

At a cost of $13,000 to build, Sidna and Bettie spared no expense bringing their vision to life. Windows and fixtures were shipped into the depot at Sylvatus and then carted to the site. The roof was made of slate tiles and lighting for the home was provided by acetylene gas which was popular before electricity. And to take advantage of its ideal location atop the ridge, the home also featured a windmill.

After a full year in construction, they moved in with their daughters, Maguerite and Pauline. But the time in their dream home would be short-lived when the family was flung into controversy only one year later.

A Skirmish Leads to Tragedy

As the story goes, there was a skirmish at a community event in December 1911 at Garland Allen’s church, and two of Sidna and Floyd’s nephews were involved. They were charged with disturbing a religious gathering, although they wouldn’t be apprehended until the following April. When they were eventually captured in North Carolina, deputies brought them back to Carroll County, passing the Allen Family farms along the way. By chance, they happened upon Floyd Allen, allegedly the toughest of the Allen brothers, who became infuriated that his nephews had been tied up without dignity. Floyd assaulted the officers, freed his nephews, and then later delivered them himself to the court where they could be presented ‘like gentlemen.’ This incident began a snowball that would end in tragedy for not just the Allen Family, but the community of Hillsville as a whole.

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In March of 1912, Floyd Allen was tried at the Carroll County courthouse in Hillsville for obstruction of justice as a result of his assault on the deputies and release of his nephews. On March 13, Judge Massie announced that judgment and sentencing would be handed down the following day. The community was on edge that evening as it was worried that the mood in the courtroom the next day would be tense. Floyd stayed here at his brother Sidna’s house that night, and the next morning, showed up to court with members of the Allen Family accompanying him.

The ‘Courthouse Massacre of 1912’

Rumors swirled that members of the Allen Family were prepared for a showdown and after Floyd was found guilty, tensions came to a head. Accounts differ about what happened next, but the sheriff made a move to arrest Floyd to which he proclaimed: “Boys, I ain’t a go-in.

A shot rang out inside the courtroom and a gunfight ensued between court officials and the Allen Family. When the gun powder had settled, 57 bullets had been fired, 5 were dead, 7 were wounded, and this town would never be the same.

Victims that day were Judge Thornton Massie, Sheriff Lew Webb, attorney William Foster, juror Augustus Fowler, witness Betty Ayers, and court clerk, Dexter Goad, who survived his wounds.

A Memorial to three of the victims of the 1912 Courthouse Massacre, Judge Massie, Sherriff Lew Webb, and attorney William Foster.
Betty Ayers, who witnessed the incident between Floyd and the deputies, was only 17 when she was killed in the courtroom shootout.

On The Run

In the moments following the gun battle, members of the Allen Family ran from the courthouse. Floyd and his son Claude were caught a few days later due to Floyd having been seriously injured. The rest of the Allens fled to the Blue Ridge Mountains, including his brother Sidna, who had been shot through the arm and left side of his body. Sidna and a nephew were able to escape, although Sidna never had the bullet removed.

Meanwhile, the tragedy had garnered national attention and brought the small community to the front page of America’s newspapers. Virginia Governor William Hodges Mann enlists the help of the Baldwin Felts Detectives Agency from Roanoke, VAto track down fugitives. While Sidna fled capture, his wife Bettie and their daughters continued to live here in their dream home while the future of their family hung in the balance. When detectives arrived at the home to question her, she professed that she had no idea where her husband was or if he was still alive. By the end of that September, detectives had tracked down Sidna and his nephew who had been hiding out in Iowa.

Detectives from the Baldwin-Felts Agency pose in front of the Sidna Allen House where they had arrived to question Sidna’s wife, Bettie, about where he might be hiding out.

Sentencing The Allens

Once apprehended, Sidna was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role in the 1912 ‘Courthouse Massacre.’ Another nephew was given 27 years, one received an 18-year sentence, and another nephew, 15 years. His brother Floyd and nephew Claude were sentenced to death and electrocuted in March of 1913. 5,000 people attended the funeral.

Floyd Allen’s prison portrait. He was electrocuted in 1913 for his part in the 1912 Courthouse Massacre. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
J. Sidna Allen Mugshot. Sidna received a 35 year prison sentence for his role in the courtroom tragedy. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Because her husband was gone, Bettie struggled to provide for her daughters and took up jobs in the community doing housework and laundry. In May of 1912, the state seized the Sidna Allen home as a result of three wrongful death suits. Bettie and her daughters were forced to move out of the dream home where she had lived for less than 2 years. Sidna remained in prison until 1926 when his petition for pardon was granted after 13 years of incarceration.

Sidna Allen and his daughters pose for a photo after he is released from prison. Photo courtesy of the Carroll County Historical Society.

100+ Years of History and What The Future Holds

Over the next 80 years, ownership would transfer hands many times until 2005 when the home, which had fallen into disrepair, was donated to the Carroll County Historical Society with the hopes that it would be restored. In 2015, work began to bring the house back to its former grandeur. Today, the Sidna Allen home is periodically open to the public for tours and local events.

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  1. Loved this story & the house. So very sad!!!!! The ones who were also victim’s was the wife & daughters!!!!! X

    1. Garnet Faulkner: Yes, I thoroughly enjoyed the story. I love biographies/history. I’m terribly sorry but I can’t donate. The house is a masterpiece. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. I’m so curious as to how they got on after he was released from prison. Where did they live? How did they make a living? Did he ever express any remorse? So very interesting!

  3. I believe that the house was restored once for a historical group & then fell into disrepair again. I was past it after the first restoration & then again after it was neglected again. Glad to see that it has been restored yet again!

    1. From So Oregon here: I’m so glad that this old house finally was restored like it deserved. Beautiful house. Been researching this family history and it’s quite interesting. Love it. I do want to ask someone who seems to know this house a bit more intimately than the average looey-loo, but are you aware of any paranormal stories or bizarre, unexplainable happings associated with the house?

  4. Thank you for such an interesting story and the photos. I’m glad that beautiful house was repaired and is still used.

  5. That was tragic all the things that transpired. I’m glad they where able to save the beautiful old home. Thank you for sharing this story it was very interesting. I love the history of the old homes.

  6. Wow! Thank you for researching the history on these places. It’s so interesting to know the stories of who the families were, that built & lived in these homes. Would’ve never guessed the scandal tied to this family! So sad, instead of just going in and serving his time, he got himself and his nephew sentenced to death.

  7. Thank you for share this story! I found it very interesting. I love hearing the history of various homes, buildings and properties like this!

  8. I believe there’s a movie in there somewhere… Life and times were hard then. Well done on the research and presentation. I’d like to know more on what the nephew’s did at the church and how Floyd handled the deputies. Also would love to see the inside of the house to see it’s floor plan. Thanks so much for sharing.

  9. Thanks to your story and pictures, this is going on my bucket list of interesting places to visit. Thank you

  10. I like the history of Hillsville, my grandpa was born in Hillsville in 1900. He later moved to WV. but we always went to visit every year. I loved visiting all the family members.

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