862 Main Street - Penn-Wyatt-Hoffman-Levine House

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This historic house is located in the portion of Millionaires Row on Main Street known as Penn’s Bottom. The Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates for the site are N 36 degrees 34.992’, W 079 degrees 23.917’, Elevation 543’.

The history of the house itself has been documented on pages 10 and 11 of the Second Edition of the book, “Victorian Danville” by Mary Cahill and Gary Grant which was published in 1996 and will not be repeated here. Instead we will touch briefly on some of the people who have owned or lived in the house over its long history.

The seven-bedroom, six-bath Victorian home was built in 1876 by James Gabriel Penn, a prominent Danville business man in the tobacco manufacturing business, at a reported cost in the $50,000 to $60,000 range. It was built on a 67-foot lot on Main Street which Penn had purchased from J. Mac Smith and Martha W. Smith on July 31, 1875. Over the years additions were made to the property. Most of the houses and churches built along Main Street during the 19th century were financed, at least in part, with money derived from the tobacco manufacturing business. Many of the houses were lost due to fires or demolition during the following century until they were incorporated into a Historic District late in the 20th century with restrictions on changes that could be made to them in an attempt to preserve them. The house at 862 Main Street is one of the houses which has survived and is one of 15 sites included in the National Register of Historic Places in Danville and one of two residential homes included, the other being the Langhorne House at 117 Broad Street.

James Gabriel Penn was born on November 14, 1845 at Penn’s Store in Patrick County, Virginia. His parents were Thomas Jefferson Penn of Danville and Catherine Lucinda Penn. His grandparents were James Penn and Mary Leith and Greenville Penn and Martha Read. He attended Greenville Academy, which was named for his grandfather, and matriculated at V. M. I. on September 27, 1862 from Penn’s Store. He served as a cadet private in Company B in the battle of New Market. He came to Danville in 1868 and entered the mercantile business under the firm name of Peyton, Penn & Co. He sold his interest in that firm in 1870 and in 1872 formed a partnership, Pemberton and Penn, commission merchants for the purchase of leaf tobacco which became a very prosperous company and continued under the name of Pemberton and Penn after the death of Mr. Pemberton in 1873. Mr. Penn served as President of the Commercial Bank of Danville, vice-president of the Dan River Power and Manufacturing Co., and a director of Riverside Cotton Mills, Morotock Manufacturing Co., and Danville Storage Co. and had interest in other minor enterprises. He married twice, first to Sarah Elizabeth Pemberton, daughter of Thomas W. Pemberton, of Richmond, Virginia and adopted daughter of J. H. Pemberton of Danville, on October 15, 1872 at Main Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Danville. After her death at age 29 on February 11, 1882 he married Sallie Johnson, daughter of David S. Johnson of Madison, Georgia in 1885. All four of James Gabriel’s children who lived in the house at 862 Main Street were children of his first wife: Mary Kate Penn (August 11, 1873 – March 28, 1937), who married Barnes Rucker Penn; John Pemberton Penn (November 21, 1875 – October 17, 1947) V. M. I. Class of 1898, who married Nellie Cummings of Danville and had children, John Pemberton, Jr.,who married Elizabeth Roediger of Danville, Marie Alice who married John Dillard Watt of Reidsville, NC and Kitty Franz who married W. Robert Fuller of Danville; James Gilmore Penn (April 18, 1877 – August 9, 1942), sometimes listed as James Gabriel, Jr., V. M. I. Class of 1898, who married Kathryn Boyd, daughter of Robert C. Boyd of Charlotte Co., Virginia; and Annie Lee Penn (September 4, 1879 – July 11, 1942) who married Carrol Henderson Montague of Richmond and had one son, Carroll Penn Montague. James Gabriel Penn died at 862 Main Street on August 27, 1907, but his second wife, Sallie Johnson Penn continued to live there. She was the organizing regent of the Dorothea Henry Chapter of the DAR on March 4, 1894. She was known for her frequent carriage rides, exquisite dress, lavish entertainment and many travels abroad. Her lifestyle coupled with the results of the Great Depression resulted in the house and contents being sold at public auction in a Trustees Sale by the First National Bank of Danville on November 13, 1934 at which auction the property was purchased for $9,300 by Landon R. Wyatt.

Landon Russell Wyatt (January 1, 1891 – July 12, 1971) was a son of Emmett (sometimes Eliel) Jackson Wyatt, a farmer in the Callands community of Pittsylvania County, and Susan Gardner. He and his brothers grew up in an era when the nation was falling in love with the mobility afforded by vehicles powered by internal combustion engines fueled with petroleum products and General Motors, along with Ford and Chrysler, was becoming a giant in the automotive industry, oil companies were expanding globally and thousands of miles of highways were being paved across the country. Landon and some of his brothers became General Motors dealers, and Landon’s dealership, Wyatt Buick Sales Co. became one of the leading automobile dealerships in Danville. Landon Wyatt was educated at the Grady Grade School and the old Danville Commercial College. He became affiliated with Pollock and Shepards grocery store in 1911. He served in Army Ordinance during World War I and on returning home he purchased an interest in Piedmont Motor Company and later organized Wyatt Payne Motor Company which served as the forerunner of Wyatt Buick Sales Co. which expanded into automobile dealerships in Lynchburg and Martinsville. He was an astute investor and acquired interests in a number of profitable enterprises. In 1934 he was elected to Danville’s City Council where he served for 10 years. In 1944 he was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates where he served until 1954 when he was elected a State Senator for the 13th Senatorial District where he served until 1967 when he declined to seek a new term. Retiring to Danville, he continued to pursue his many business and civic interests. He held directorships and board memberships in Dan River, Inc., Danville Industries, Inc., and Piedmont Broadcasting Corporation. He was chairman of the board of First Federal Savings and Loan Association and served as president of the Danville Fair Association. He served as president and member of the board of trustees of Averett College and a trustee of Hargrave Military Academy. Danville Community College renamed its first major classroom complex the Landon R. Wyatt Building. He was a president of the Danville Chamber of commerce, the Kiwanis Club, the YMCA and Retail Merchants Association. He was a member of First Baptist Church where he served as chairman of deacons and a trustee. He was married to Mary Beulah Hundley (April 25, 1897 – October 16, 1976), and they had one son, Landon Russell Wyatt, Jr. and three daughters, Mrs. F. W. Townes III, (Kitty), Mrs. Robert J. Adams (Dot), both of Danville, and Mrs. Jack H. Wyatt (Bernice) of Richmond. After his death, his wife continued to live in the house until her death. Her heirs, having established homes of their own, sold the house to Dr. Allan A. Hoffman, Jr.

Allan A. Hoffman, Jr. (November 26, 1934 – October 7, 1994) was born in New York, NY, a son of Allan A. Hoffman, Sr. and Katherine Winnifred Mackenzie. He attended public schools in Glen Rock and Ridgewood, N. J. and graduated from Ridgewood High School in 1952. He graduated from Princeton University with a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1956 and from Harvard Medical School in 1960. After being an intern in surgical service at the University Hospital of Cleveland in 1960-61, a captain in the U. S. Army Medical Corps from 1962-63 and a resident in urology at University Hospital of Cleveland from 1964-67 he was in private practice in urology and urological surgery at the Danville Urologic Clinic from 1967-94. He was a consultant at Annie Penn Memorial Hospital in Reidsville, NC om 1967-94 and at Southern Virginia Mental Health Institute from 1977-94. He was appointed a member of the Malpractice Review Panel by the Supreme Court of Virginia in 1976. He was founder and former chief of Artificial Kidney Services, Danville Regional Medical Center and Danville Urologic Clinic. He was president of the Danville Regional Medical Center staff executive committee from 1985-86. He was chairman of the board, a director and a past president of the Roanoke River Basin Association. He was a board member of the Virginia Museum of Natural Science and History Foundation, a member of the Danville Area Chamber of Commerce’s board of trustees from 1973-76. He was a member of the Carlisle School’s board of trustees from 1974-82. He was a member of the Danville-Pittsylvania County Mental Health Association from 1972-75 and chairman from 1973-75. He was chairman of the Danville Republican Party from 1974-82 and was a member of numerous civic clubs. His children were Alexandra-Leigh Abbott Hoffman of Raleigh, NC, Ian Mackenzie Hoffman of Winston Salem, NC and Allan A. Hoffman III of Danville. Dr. Hoffman lived in the house at 862 Main Street from May 1977 until his death in 1994. He was influential in having the property placed on the National Register of Historic Places. A commemorative plaque honoring Dr. Hoffman hangs in the entranceway of the Danville Urologic Clinic at 1040 Main Street.

In May 1995 Dr. Hoffman’s executor sold the property to Max P. and Sara F. Levine who moved to Danville from Elkins, NC where they owned and occupied an 1872 historic landmark, the Gwynn House. Dr. Levine is a cardiovascular surgeon and his wife, who was from Kentucky, was a Saks Fifth Avenue model before her marriage. On August 12, 2010 the Levines offered the property for sale at public auction with a minimum bid of $350,000 established. No bid was received that met or exceeded the minimum so the property was not sold, but many of the furnishings and parts of the house that had been detached, such as stained glass windows, were sold at bargain prices. The results of the proposed sale are an indication that the old houses built along Millionaires Row on Main Street in Danville during the 19th century, while beautiful, have become expensive to maintain and live in and, with the restrictions imposed by Historic District regulations will probably be owned and occupied in the future only by those who have a passion for the old houses and the means to preserve and restore them.