I was born of a Virginian mother and a North Carolinian father, used to ride across the state-line between the two states on my bike growing up, and spent lots of time in each. So I heard early, and understood well, the old saying attributed to Confederate officer and wartime N.C. governor Zebulon B. Vance: “North Carolina is a vale of humility between two mountains of conceit,” Virginia and South Carolina.
I consider the 1820 addition to Mahockney a small exemplar of that towering conceit. It stands four feet taller than its humbler earlier sister-structure,certainly for no elegant architectural reason, and indeed is in a distinctively different style: federalist, with Flemish bond brick on the east and west sides and common-bond brick on the north end with a massive chimney extending fully to one corner of the house and forming closets (innovatively for the period) for the first and second floors and for the high-ceilinged English basement.
The rude disjuncture between the halves was evident in leaving the gambrel roof on the old portion but using a distinct gable on the new, as the only existing 19th-century photograph shows (click the image on left to expand it). Indoors, the addition introduces awkward step-up landings on the first and second floors. All in all, the addition provides a puzzling visage from close-up of two awkward halves jutted together – the Chang and Eng of dwellings.
The Latane family, which built it proudly, has a long and storied history back to Virginia’s Tidewater origins. Every genealogical offshoot, including the owner of Mahockney, had an understandable background from which to assert pride, and to do so architecturally. Mahockney had heretofore been a humble pile, the typical home of Virginia pioneer planters. It was no Mt. Vernon, simply because it dated much further back, before the builder and later owners had much money – they were simply carving out the land and establishing a working farm.
But when the Latane family lived there, they were growing a family as well, a succession of children beginning just as they built the addition. And they evidently could afford to add more and more acreage to Mahockney, adding up to its largest contiguous size in its history, around 1200 acres.
Their addition did create in Mahockney something of that plantation look we are more familiar with in later centuries – “the Tara look,” as you now see approaching from far off, seeing the matching grand chimneys at north and south rise above the fields, and a long multi-windowed facade standing astride the land as visitors approach – in 1820 it must have been quite a grander vision than before in the Roane era. And only up close did the awkward fault-line running down the middle become apparent.
Most importantly to a mind intent on building anew, in 1820 Virginia could still perceive itself as standing at a political apex. Marshall was only in the middle of his term as the nation’s Chief Justice, and James Monroe was in the White House, the fourth of the first five presidents to have been from the Old Dominion.
Certainly the Latanes had no idea that they would, within a few decades, witness the fall of Virginia, the fall of the South, the tip-past-apogee and utter, bloody defeat of Southern pride. As the proverb puts it (Proverbs 16:18), “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
And, in one of the most striking passages of good vs. evil in the Bible, the fallen angel himself is called out for his conceit:
12: How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
13: For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
14: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
15: Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.
16: They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms;
17: That made the world as a wilderness, and destroyed the cities thereof; that opened not the house of his prisoners?
18: All the kings of the nations, even all of them, lie in glory, every one in his own house.
19: But thou art cast out of thy grave like an abominable branch, and as the raiment of those that are slain, thrust through with a sword, that go down to the stones of the pit; as a carcase trodden under feet.
20: Thou shalt not be joined with them in burial, because thou hast destroyed thy land, and slain thy people: the seed of evildoers shall never be renowned.
(Isa. 14:12-20, King James version.)