The Obediah Shirley House stands a half-mile west of Honea Path. The original section was built as a log cabin in 1826. Shirley was born in Abbeville in 1802 and married Jane Armstrong in 1824. He and his family settled in Anderson County, and he became a large landowner. In fact, a portion of his property was developed to create the Town of Honea Path. A successful farmer, he hauled his cotton to the nearest market in North Augusta.
Over the course of 26 years, Shirley and his wife had ten children, eight of which survived into adulthood. Over the years, he and his descendants expanded the home to meet their growing needs. Logs were also used in the next phase of the house, which is the middle room of the home today. After 1850, a third room was added across the front with an enclosed stairway to reach the second level. The last major addition to the structure was a one-story wing used as the kitchen at the rear of the home. The end chimneys and foundation are fieldstone which was sourced from a quarry, across the road, that was once part of the original property.
Though many additions have been made over the years, the interior remains intact with decorative details being simply executed. The house has many modern conveniences such as electricity, running water and a kitchen, but while Shirley’s descendants lived here, no bathroom plumbing was installed. By the 1980s, the property was 86 acres, most of which was subsequently sold off and developed. In 1988, descendant James Austin, Jr. conveyed one acre and the historic house to the Shirley House Foundation to be restored. The house went through a major restoration effort in 1988 which stabilized and preserved the home for future generations. Today, the house exists as a museum; it is open for tours by appointment only.
Restoration of the Obediah Shirley House
The following information, as well as photographs and documents, were generously contributed by the Obediah Shirley House Foundation’s original president, Betty Shirley‘s daughter, Delaine Noyer. The South Carolina Picture Project cannot thank her enough for her generosity and help in getting this crucial information available publicly.
The founder of The Shirley Association, Betty Shirley, generated a genealogical newsletter starting in 1978 that was circulated to various Shirley family branches across the nation as a way to update them about family research projects, family conventions known as Shirley Conventions and meeting events. In a time before the instant gratifications of internet and email, this is how the family stayed up to date on genealogical information and kept in touch. When the family organization held a Shirley Convention in Anderson on July 9th and 10th, 1983, Sue Henderson invited Betty Shirley, a Shirley descendant, to go for a drive after the meeting adjourned to see the old Obediah Shirley home. Her hope was that with the help of the Shirley Association members, perhaps something could be done to save the home that had fallen into disrepair. (You can read more about that trip here.)
The land that the home sits on was originally owned by the parents of Obediah’s wife, Jemima, John and Isabella Bryson Armstrong, who originally received a royal land grand on March 2, 1764. One end of the home is hewn logs. Door hinges as well as some nail were hand wrought by an expert blacksmith. The two stone chimneys were built by David Moore, some rocks were four feet long and 16 inches thick, that came from a nearby quarry owned by the Armstrongs.
In April 1987, the property was under negotiations between owner Jim Austin and land developer Tom Langston to be sold, the house was slated for demolition. Invited to the negotiations was Obediah’s great, great, great granddaughter Shirley Faye Hill from Fort Worth, Texas who was visiting the ancestral home for the first time. Ms. Hill remarked at what a shame it would be to lose the house for both her Shirley family and the town. Both the owner and developer were so moved by the passion of these two women (Betty and Shirley) to see the home saved that they agreed to stop their plan and allow the house and one acre of property to be donated to the Shirley Association for the sum of one dollar. Plans for the restoration were presented to the Honea Path Civic Clubs at their regularly Scheduled meeting in September 1987 to determine the buildings use after the projects completion.
The entire year of 1987 was spent making phone calls to various organizations and a mailing to 300 Shirley family members by the association to secure the necessary monetary support to get the project off the ground. These proceedings took place while they awaited a tenancy agreement to run on the current occupants of the home as nothing could be done until they had vacated the property.
At a Shirley Convention in another state, Betty Shirley pitched her ingenious idea to save the house and use it for a Shirley Museum that would house and preserve Shirley family heirlooms, photographs and artifacts from all Shirley branches world-wide. The initial funds of $1,000 were raised in that one day. It is important to note that Obediah was one of three Shirley branches who lived in Honea Path so this project had wide appeal to more than one set of descendants.
On Sunday, March 6, 1988, the “Shirley Session” meeting was held at the First Baptist Church of Honea Path where usage of the restored building and fundraising ideas from Shirley family members were freely exchanged and the museum concept was in wide favor. At subsequent Shirley meetings, held all over the nation, Shirley family recipes were collected in person and by mail to be published into a cookbook as a fundraiser which created a true network of support through the Shirley family and local community. The cookbook sold for $7.95 plus $1.50 shipping and handling if mailed. In addition to the cookbook, Betty Shirley donated 50 lapel pins with the Shirley Coat of Arms only available from the Shirley Association to reward financial contributors of $25 or more.
Using the funds raised, Betty Shirley hired Mr. William Watkins for a legal consultation regarding the house, he suggested she form a separate a foundation specifically relating to the house from her more broad Shirley Family Association to protect both her entities in case one of the other should fail financially. Mr. Watkins recommended to keep the foundation based out of South Carolina since so many descendants were scattered around the country. This organization was formed and named the Obediah Shirley House Foundation, Inc. with Betty Shirley appointed as president, Sue Henderson, vice president and Shirley Fay Hill as treasurer.
In April 1988, the Obediah House was issued its certificate of incorporation and by-laws were established to insure all funds received would be tax exempt and made available for the discharge of it’s purpose and with an annual audit. The by-laws established three types of membership in the foundation: Member, Founding Member, and Life Member.
During this time, Betty Shirley, of California, arrived to finish the last stages of the home’s renovation plan. She organized an event at the Honea Path First Baptist Church Fellowship Hall to exchange ideas about the project and to make a public call for volunteers. Carpenters, electricians, contractors and more were slated to arrive Memorial Day weekend from California, Texas and Arizona and to express they needed all the help they could get. The Shirley Hotel, which was vacant at the time, agreed to house 12 volunteer workers for ten days, free of charge, so they would have a place to stay while the house was being restored. The hotel had strong ties to the family, having been built by descendant, John Jasper Shirley, Obediah’s son. The hotel had not housed any guests since the turn of the century.
The organized work week was advertised in the Shirley newsletter, at the first Baptist Church in Honea Path and announced during other community events. As planned May 28 to June 3rd 1988, Shirley family volunteers converged in Honea Path to roll out the project which was overseen by the Hurley Bladders, Executive Director of Pendleton Historical Commission. The seven work days were spent on immediate needs of the home. (Read more about this work week here.)
Those needs included shoring up the foundation by using jacks to lift it up and insert large boulders were rolled from the field behind the house for the foundation to be level again, scaffolding was rented and the old roofing material was removed, weatherproof tarpaper was put down and a new roof was added. The panes of broken glass were replaced by three Shirley descendant in three cities in South Carolina who cut and re-glazed the glass. The doors were shimmed and squared up, door locks installed and fencing put up to secure the property from vandals. General clean-up and a termite treatment to the wood was performed by another Shirley Descendant from Georgia free of charge. The women worked inside removing debris, wall coverings; the walls needed to be scrubbed with brushes and a chemical to be completely back to their original state. They used catclaw tools to remove tons of nails the nails from the precious old lumber that made up the exposed walls of the interior. Good home cooked meals were prepared for lunch for the entire work crew each day. Two local Shirleys volunteered to be the permanent grounds keepers.
Two other historical events coincided with the Shirley work week, it was the ten year anniversary of the Shirley Association and the Honea Path First Baptist Church just so happened to be celebrating their homecoming that weekend as well. The Shirleys came home to help them celebrate on June 3rd with a potluck and festivities.
Once the Obediah House was saved, power struggles amongst the board members ensued. Nomination for board members were ignored and decisions were made about the project without foundation president, Betty Shirley’s consent or approval. Despite her title, Betty Shirley was left in the dark on all financial reporting, Mailings from the foundation were sent without her review or knowledge and meetings and communications were made without her participation or attendance. Newspaper articles were being published without any mention of Betty Shirley or the Shirley Association who got the land and house donated in the first place. The Shirley Association who furnished the funds to hire Mr. Watkins to transfer the property and form the foundation was being erased from history of the restoration. The members of the Shirley Association who paid for the majority of the costs of the restoration materials and the sweat of manual labor during the work week that was the actual saving of the Obediah House has been forgotten. The Shirley Associations was used as an influential subject to qualify for the tax exemption status and then dumped .Betty Shirley resigned as President of the Obediah Foundation on August 28, 1988 when the newly elected board reneged on the Shirley Museum as promised to all the Shirley Association members who generously donated the funds for, was overruled.
Shirley Creations Cookbook
The Obediah Shirley House is listed in the National Register:
The Obediah Shirley House sits on a one-acre site located outside Honea Path and is an excellent example of a simple plantation farmhouse, or I-House. The house is a two-story, 4-bay gable roofed frame structure. There is a one-story front shed porch and kitchen ell in the rear, and two exterior end chimneys. The fieldstone used for the chimneys and foundation came from a quarry that was part of the original property. The house was built in several phases, to accommodate the changing needs of the households who occupied it until the late 1880s. The original core of the building was a one-story log structure built circa 1826 by Obediah Shirley. This was extended at least twice by the addition of two rooms to the north and a second story. After 1850, another room was added, extending the house’s width to three rooms. The front porch and kitchen ell were added in the latter half of the nineteenth century. The log framing has inverted re-notched corners. The front façade has two entrance doors, symmetrically placed, leading to rooms at each end of the house. The Shirley family occupied the house for approximately sixty years and farmed the property for more than 150 years.