Hickory Hill was built in 1809 by Solomon Cunningham and his wife Catherine Seymour. The home has a phenomenal view over looking river bottom farm land and is nestled in a grove of ancient oak trees with an Indian Mound situated in the front yard.
Solomon & Catherine Cunningham had nine children: six boys & three girls. In 1821, Soloman Cunningham passed at the age of 41. He was the first to be laid to rest on a nearby bluff.
In 1839, Solomon & Catherine’s sixth child, Jane, married Felix Branson Welton and the house was updated with new paint in the interior, a portico and a large decorated dode was added to the front of the house. The newlyweds moved into Hickory Hill with the rest of the Cunningham family. In 1840, Felix and Jane welcomed a daughter, Elizabeth ” Betty” Branson Welton. Two years later a son was born, Eugene Seldon, however he passed at two years old and was laid to rest with his grandfather in the family cemetery. Their second daughter, Felicia Jane, was born in 1845. On November 26, 1846, Jane died at the age 28 from tuberculosis and was buried at the family cemetery with her father and son. Jane’s mother, Catherine, still resided at Hickory Hill along with her son-in-law Felix, her two granddaughters, three unmarried sons and one unmarried daughter.
In 1848, Felix became involved in local politics and was elected to the Virginia Legislature. Felix became acquainted with Thomas and William Nelson, grandsons of the Thomas “The Signer” Nelson of Yorktown, Virginia; Thomas Nelson was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. William Nelson’s daughter, Sally, was well educated and trained as a teacher, so Felix used her services to teach his daughters. In 1854, Felix and Sally married and had six sons, however one of their sons was a stillborn.
When the Civil War broke out, times became harder at Hickory Hill. Crops were stolen and utilized by both the Union and the Confederate and cattle were rustled. Between 1863 and 1865, Hickory Hill was searched several times by Union soldiers for signs of Confederate affiliations. It was not unusual during this period of time to hear gunfire in the Gap area of the farm.
In late winter of 1864, Felix and his family gave refuge to an injured Captain, Jesse McNeill of the McNeill’s Rangers. During the three months of rehabilitation from his gunshot wound, Captain Jesse McNeill and his rangers planned the raid on February 21, 1865 in Cumberland, Maryland. The raid resulted in the successful capture of General George Cook and General Benjamin F. Kelly of the Union army.
Catherine Cunningham died on May 22, 1872, and was laid to rest beside Soloman Cunningham in the family cemetery.
The home saw dramatic changes; the family kept up with the times by adding a Delco generator for electricity, a new kitchen was built on the east end of the house and indoor plumbing. A dairy was established to generate more revenue and the section of the farm known as Orrs Mountain was cleared for an orchard. In 1910, the railroad was built through the property allowing the family to trade for a right-of-way (thus the name the Welton Switch) and this enabled the family to ship their crops of apples, peaches, and timber to market by rail.
Felix Welton died in 1896 and one of his sons, Will, bought his brothers’ shares of the farm. Will married Mary Heiskell; in 1900, they had a daughter, Vernon. After high school, Vernon attended Mary Baldwin Seminary in Staunton, Virginian for higher education. Upon Vernon’s return to Moorefield from school, she married Carl Welton, however they never resided at Hickory Hill. Carl and Vernon had three children: William Nelson, Patricia, and Judith. William passed at eight years old.
As the times changed, wars began and ended, farming continued but the family began to dwindle. In 1962, Vernon welcomed her nephew John “Jack” Welton Sr and his wife, Frances, along with their four children into the home. With the exception of two years, when the Welton family lived in Moorefield in the mid 1970s, they continued living at Hickory Hill . In 1963, their fifth child, Eleanor, was the first Welton infant to join the family in the home in more than forty years.
In 2001, Jack and Frances moved to Moorefield and for 14 years the house waited for the next part of its history to begin.
In 2015 Jack and Frances’ eldest daughter, Donna A. Alexander, purchased the home from cousins, Judith and Patricia Welton. Currently, the home is a work in progress, with restorations underway and a plan to encourage all to enjoy the beauty and historical background of the magnificent farm and home.
Open courtesy of Donna Alexander
Directions: Travel 9 miles south of Moorefiled on Route 220 toward Petersburg. House is on the Right, look for green flag!