You are here

Southwest Virginia Museum

-A A +A
Rufus A. Ayers House
1888-1895, Charles A. Johnson. 10 W. 1st St.
  • (Virginia Department of Historic Resources)

The rough-faced, brown sandstone construction of this house makes it unusual for the area. Drawing inspiration from Queen Anne and Richardsonian Romanesque, the two-and-a-half-story hipped-roof building has gabled projections and pedimented dormers and rests on a raised limestone basement. It was built for Ayers, who served as attorney general of Virginia from 1886 to 1890, was director of the first coal mining company in Wise County, and was instrumental in bringing rail transportation to Big Stone Gap. The house was one of the first buildings to reflect a sense of permanence and solidity in a new town of mostly simple frame structures. Although a wraparound porch and a bay window were removed in the 1940s, the house retains much of its original character, especially on the interior. An L-shaped hallway has a paneled ceiling with cove cornice, ceiling pendants, a staircase of red oak with a massive square newel, paneled wainscots, and door and window wooden surrounds with corner blocks. The house and its painted brick carriage house is encircled by a low wall of large sandstone blocks.

C. Bascom Slemp, a U.S. congressman and former private secretary to President Calvin Coolidge, acquired the house in 1929, but it did not serve as his primary residence. Instead it housed his large collection of historical and political artifacts that eventually became the nucleus of the Southwest Virginia Museum's collection. Occupying the house since 1948, this state-owned museum is devoted to depicting life in this region of Virginia.

Writing Credits

David Edwards
Anne Carter Lee



  • 1888


What's Nearby


David Edwards, "Southwest Virginia Museum", [Big Stone Gap, Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of Virginia vol 2

Buildings of Virginia: Valley, Piedmont, Southside, and Southwest, Anne Carter Lee and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015, 510-511.

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.