Middlefield Road, east side

Prominently sited above a brownstone retaining wall, the Thomas Lyman, IV House stands on a large open lot 1 ined with numerous stone walls. Facing south the house is bordered to the east by Middlefield Rd.in a rural residential neighborhood in the northwest portion of Durham.

  • Record ID: 146
  • Address: Middlefield Road, east side
  • Current Owner: Winder, Mary and Hardy, Lillian
  • Name of Building:
  • Historic Name: Thomas Lyman, IV House
  • Download PDF of Original Record

Notable Features

Georgian characteristics include the massive interior twin brick chimneys and center-hall plan. The facade features an elaborate eleven-panelled entrance door topped by a five-paned overlight. The entryway is highlighted by a decorative gabled portico supported by Doric columns. The hipped-roof features twelve-paned pedimented dormers. Twelve-over-twelve sash are displayed throughout the rest of the main block. Reminiscent of colonial period architecture, an overhang is featured between the first and second stories. A 1 1/2 story, gable-roofed ell with a tall center brick chimney extends from the north elevation. The ell displays a recessed porch with simple stick balustrade and twelve-over-twelve sash. Eight-over-twelve sash are also featured on the facade of the ell. The east elevation of the ell displays an entrance door topped with pent-roofed doorhood.

Historical or Architectural Importance

The eldest son of Thomas Lyman, III and his wife Anne, Thomas Lyman, IV was educated as a young man in the Durham public schools. It is said that at the age of fifteen
Thomas left home and traveled throughout the south only to return to Durham upon his father’s death in 1761. In 1771 he married Rachel Seward (1751-1797) and they had five children: George, Henry, Betsey, Rachel, and Sophia. Soon after his marriage Lyman was invited to spend a week at Monticello with Thomas Jefferson. Professor William C. Fowler in his History of Durham quotes Lyman as “a man of great intelligence, of extensive reading, dignified in his manners and impressive in his conversation” (p. 190). In 1774 Thomas accompanied his brother James, his cousins General Phineas Lyman, and Phineas Lyman, Jr. on a journey to Florida to claim land from the British. The trip proved fateful to all except Thomas. James drowned in the Mississippi River and General Phineas Lyman and his son died while in Florida, where they are buried. It is said that Lyman was so impressed with the domestic architecture of the Virginia Colony that he returned home with the plans for a new dwelling’ house, which was completed in 1778. During the Revolution Lyman served as a quartermaster under Colonel Wadsworth in the First Connecticut Regiment. Tradition asserts that General Lafayette visited the Lyman House a number of times during the war. Returning to Durham in 1777 Lyman took up farming and sheep-raising. Active in local politics, he was sent to the 1818 State Convention which adopted the State Constitution. A founding member of the Ethusian Library, Lyman administered the Library from his house for a number of years. In 1832 Henry Lyman (1782-1852) received his father’s homelot. Influential in the construction of the Methodist Episcopal Church,
Henry also served as a representative to the State Legislature in 1848. Leaving no heirs, Henry willed the house in 1853 to his two nephews, Frederick and Thomas W. Lyman. Henry’s will stated that “Sarah Crowell who has long lived in the family has use of two such rooms in my dwellinghouse as she may select, with privilege of cellar, kitchen, pantry and well” (MPR 8:418). Thomas, who resided in the Ithamar Parsons House just to the south of his grandfather’s mansion, willed his portion of his uncle’s estate to his brother in 1862. Frederick (b. 1812) married Mary Minor, a native of Martinsburg, New York. The Lymans had three children: George H., Ellen, and Frances. Frances (Lyman) Banks received full title of the property in 1915 and her daughter and son-in-law retained ownership until 1949. The present owners have restored the house to its original splendor.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Thomas Lyman, IV House is architecturally significant as Durham’s best example of Georgian-style architecture. The
house is historically significant for its association to the Lyman family, one of the town’s leading families in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.