350 West Main Street - The Ayres House

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The three-story Queen Anne house at 350 West Main Street located between the Mary B. Blount Library and the Schoolfield Bookstore (GPS coordinates N 30 degrees 34.652”, W 070 degrees 24.720”, Elevation 598’) was the home of the Ayres family from 1911 until 1969 when the property was purchased by Averett College and became its Fine Arts Building. Although Ayres (presumably pronounced “airs”) was the original spelling of the name, it was often spelled Ayers in newspapers, census records, funeral home records and even on some tombstones. The two spellings often seem to have been used interchangeably. In this article we have chosen to use the spelling “Ayres” except in the case of quotations from sources which used the “Ayers” spelling.

William Wallace Ayres (28 October 1866-15 January 1957), the son of William Ayres, Jr. (14 May 1840-22 September 1905), who was a tax collector, and Venetia Davis(15 February 1841-24 January 1901), was born in Danville, Virginia and spent his entire life there. He was with W. L. Gravely and Co. and in the banking business until 1910 when he became associated with Dan River Mills, Inc. as a bookkeeper from which he rose to be secretary of the Corporation until his retirement in 1947. He was an active member of Main Street Methodist Church where he taught Sunday School for many years and at the time of his death he was theoldest living Trustee of the Church. His death was caused by a cerebral hemorrhage which he suffered at his home after which he died at Memorial Hospital in Danville. He lived at his parents’ home at 624 Wilson Street until his marriage to Miss N. Dakota Guerrant at the home of her mother, Mrs. Lucy R. Guerrant, at 113 South Main Street on December 11, 1911 after which they moved to their new home at 350 West Main Street where they remained for the rest of their lives. Mrs. Dakota Guerrant Ayres (spelled Ayers in the announcement) was cited in her wedding announcement as being “one of the most cultured ladies of Danville and a brilliant musician”, and her obituary stated that “Mrs. Ayers long had been a leader in the religious and cultural life of the city”; although the headline read “Heart Attack Proves Fatal To Mrs. Ayres”. Born in Rockingham County, North Carolina she was the daughter of Hugh L. and Lucy Rebecca Watkins Guerrant. She moved to Danville with her family during her early childhood. Her father was for many years a member of the board of stewards of Main Street Methodist Church and librarian of the Sunday School. Miss Dakota Guerrant entered the Danville College for Young Ladies in the fall of 1883 and graduated in 1885. The next year she joined the music faculty at the college and taught there and at Randolph-Macon Institute, which later became Stratford College, for 25 years. Known as “Miss Dakota” she was quite active in Main Street Methodist Church for many years where she was organist for 25 years and sometimes choir director. She formed a Bible class which bore her name, was for many years pianist for the Rosebud Missionary Society and Sunday School and was a member of the Board of Stewards for many years. She was a charter member of the Music Study Club, president of The Wednesday Club from 1929 to 1931 and a president and member of the executive committee of the Stratford College Alumni Association. Her portrait which hung in Main Street Methodist Church until it closed now hangs in The Wednesday Club.

Wallace W. and Dakota Ayres had no children, but Mr. Ayres had a brother and two sisters. The sisters never married, but the brother, Percy Davis Ayres (19 April 1878-28 June 1910) died at age 32 after moving to Hampton Virginia, marrying and having a number of children. The sisters, Mary Clifton Ayres (12 June 1870-24 December 1955) and Sallie Garnett Ayres (23 July 1881-2 Jan 1969) continued to live in the home at 350 West Main Street until their deaths. Many of the Ayres mentioned in this article are buried in plot Q14 in Greenhill Cemetery. Since there are no descendents from this branch of the Ayres family still living in Danville, it has faded from the scene in Danville, but the building in which they lived at 350 West Main Street continues to contribute to the artistic and cultural life of the City as the Fine Arts Building of Averett University.

Since this article is primarily about the Ayres house at 350 West Main Street we have chosen to concentrate on the members of the Ayres family who lived there, but the history and genealogy of other members of the family provides a fascinating and ongoing story which hopefully can be covered in other articles.