Sweet Briar House has been home to the presidents of the College since 1906. The former estate residence has been on the Virginia Landmarks Register since the 1970s and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The original house was built in the late 18th century by Joseph Crews. Originally known as Locust Ridge, the structure was a two-story, six-room farmhouse of red brick. In 1830, Elijah Fletcher bought the house and 1,000 acres for $7,000 from Penn family relatives of his wife, Maria Antoinette Crawford. Fletcher, a schoolteacher from Vermont who had come to nearby New Glasgow (now Clifford) to teach at an academy, rose to prominence in the local community and in Lynchburg following his marriage in 1813.
Called “Sweetbrier” for the abundance of wild roses on the property, it became the summer home for the Fletchers and their four children, Indiana, Elizabeth, Sidney and Lucian. In 1841, the family made it their permanent residence, and in 1851-1852, the original T-shaped farmhouse was enlarged with the addition of the tower wings, showing the daughters’ attraction to Italianate architecture they had seen during a grand tour of Europe.
The house was furnished with pieces bought in New York and Philadelphia. In 1858, upon Elijah’s death, his daughters Indiana and Elizabeth inherited Sweetbrier. By 1860, the elder, Indiana, was the sole owner of the portion of the property that would become the Sweet Briar College campus. She renamed the plantation “Sweet Briar.” In 1865, Indiana married an Episcopal clergyman from New York, James Henry Williams, whom she is thought to have met years earlier through school friends. Though the couple traveled back and forth between New York and Sweet Briar — spending winters in the city and summers here — they considered Sweet Briar their home and raised their only child, Daisy, here.
Sweet Briar College’s first president, Mary K. Benedict, used Sweet Briar House as her residence. In the first years of the College, it also housed faculty members, the post office and the infirmary. The first floor also served as the administration building for the College until 1926. A 1927 fire damaged the central part of the house and led to the rebuilding and modernization of the central part and east wing of the house.
Sweet Briar House is surrounded by gardens restored by The Garden Club of Virginia, and is filled with many of the furnishings original to the Fletcher and Williams families.