On the brink of the Civil War, Abingdon, Virginia was a bustling small town thanks to the coming of the railroad in the 1850s. At the mid-nineteenth century, local businessman James Fields enjoyed a burgeoning career as a brick mason and building contractor. Mr. Fields built many stately homes and civic buildings throughout Abingdon and nearby Goodson, Virginia (now Bristol, Virginia). In addition to building the home now known as the Fields-Penn 1860 House Museum, Mr. Fields constructed the first train depot in Goodson, rebuilt the Washington County courthouse following its destruction during the Civil War, and served as the masonry contractor on the new Abingdon Male Academy (built 1872).
James Fields also experienced happiness in his personal life and married Susan Ellen Owen in 1849. As Mr. Fields’ career continued to expand, so too did James and Susan’s family. In 1857, James began construction on a larger, brick home for the family, which is today the Fields-Penn House. Completed in 1860, the house remains a symbol of Mr. Field’s success and influence in Washington County, Virginia.
After the Civil War, the Fields family experienced a series of financial difficulties which led to the eventual sale of the home in 1895. George Edward Penn, originally from Danville, Virginia, and his wife, Estelle Gilmore Penn, moved their large family into the home. The Penn family lived in the home for over 75 years, with Estelle Derrick Penn, the youngest of the Penn’s eight children, the last resident of the home.
In 1971, the Penn family sold the home to the Penn House Preservation Foundation, which later conveyed it to the Town of Abingdon. The William King Regional Arts Center managed the home beginning in 1995. Today, the Fields-Penn 1860 House museum is operated by the Town of Abingdon.
At the Fields-Penn 1860 House Museum, you can step back into James Fields’ antebellum world—and that of his wife, Susan, and their eight children—in a guided tour of this historic house museum. Investigate how the inclusion of Georgian proportions and Greek revival elements influenced the interior design of the home. Hear about the Civil War’s impact on the Fields and how a decline in the American economy led to financial constraints on a family who had once displayed their wealth and social status in the “Best Parlor”. Explore a Victorian bedroom to discover the history of the Penns, the second family to reside in the home. Learn about nineteenth-century textiles and housekeeping. Discover family ties and how people lived in the nineteenth century. Make history come alive with a visit to the Fields-Penn House Museum.