J. M. Cunningham and The Sears Hillrose

Last August, my husband I visited a beautiful Hillrose in Brandy Station, Virginia. We were traipsing about the great Commonwealth, doing our own self-guided “Tour of the Confederacy”, and we traveled from our home in Norfolk to Richmond (where we toured the White House of the Confederacy) to Appomattox (site of Lee’s surrender) and then Lexington (Lee Chapel and VMI Museum) and then on to Brandy Station (Graffiti House) and last but not least…

The home of Confederate hero Captain J. M. Cunningham and it’s a Sears Hillrose!

Truthfully, I didn’t know about the home’s ties to Civil War history until after we arrived there, and talked with the homes’ owners, Brian and Melody. They shared a 75-year-old newspaper article containing the obituary for Captain J. M. Cunningham, and proudly explained that he’d lived in their Hillrose for many years.

Brian’s parents purchased it from the Martin family, who’d purchased it from the estate of Captain Cunningham.

In the early 1900s, John Miller Cunningham was known around Culpepper County as “the grand old man.” He was born in 1843 in Powhatan County, and graduated from Virginia Military Academy in 1861. The 18-year-old soldier was brought to Richmond by Commandant Thomas Jackson (later known as “Stonewall”), to help train the newly formed army. The 1,500-word obituary for Captain Cunningham tells of many heroic deeds on the battlefield, but the most remarkable story is this one, attributed to Federal General Winfield Hancock:

The greatest obstacle to our advance [at the “Bloody Angle” at the Battle of the Wilderness] was a young artillery officer, standing in the breach, rallying his men so courageously that [I] did not have the heart to order my sharpshooters to pick him off. This young officer was Cunningham.

The 22-year-old Captain mustered out of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865 at the Appomattox Court House.

After the war, Captain Cunningham returned home and sometime between 1925-1930, he purchased the Hillrose in Brandy Station, where he kept Shetland Ponies on the farm. By all accounts, the diminutive horses were treated more like pampered pets than livestock. In a Richmond Times-Dispatch article dated November 18, 1934, Cunningham said his little ponies were “just a vest-pocket edition of a horse.”

When he died in July 1939, he was 96, and the highest ranking surviving field officer of the Confederate Army.

That’s the story behind the Hillrose in Brandy Station.

Today, Brian and Melody appreciate and understand their unique role as owners and caretakers of this wonderful old kit home. As you’ll see from these photos, the house is lovingly cared for, and the 100-year-old oak and pine trim inside the house retains its original finish, and there are even a handful of original light fixtures scattered throughout. In the kitchen, the hard-rock maple floor is flawless, and down in the basement, Brian has salvaged and preserved other original fixtures from the house, with the hopes of restoring them.

Thanks so much to Brian and Melody for allowing me and Wayne to spend a couple hours oohing and ahhing over their grand old home. It was a memorable afternoon and the highlight of our fun trip.

To read more about the Hillrose, click here.

Want to learn more about how to identify a Sears House? Click here.


1916 Hillrose

The Hillrose, as seen in the 1916 catalog.



The Hillrose was one of the largest kit homes offered by Sears, with more than 2,200 SFLA.


Floorplan 1916

It featured five bedrooms, which could be six (if you counted the parlor).


Brandy Statino

The Hillrose in Brandy Station was the very first Hillrose I'd ever seen.



One of its many unique features is this: The front door is not centered. The window arrangement is also unique. Very few foursquares have three windows on the 2nd floor and single windows on the first.



The dormer is another eye-catching feature. That's a mighty small window for such a big dormer.



The Hillrose, as designed, has a small closet window on this side (first floor). The Hillrose in Brandy Station was modified to have a full door here. Another interesting feature are the two dormers. These are the only dormers (front and left side) on this house.


Come inside

The front door is original. How delightful is that! And the beveled glass is original too!


Photo is

And here's a photo of Captain John Miller Cunningham, the highest ranking surviving field officer of the Confederate Army. He died in 1939 at the age of 96. Photo is courtesy Clark B. Hall.


house bought

Brian, the home's owner, found a shipping label on the back of some millwork. The home's purchaser and builder was Dr. George M. Sparks. According to the 1920 Census. Dr. Sparks was a 50-year-old man with a 30-year-old wife (Daisy) and three children, 12, 10 and 2. Busy fellow, that Dr. Sparks. Seems that George married Daisy in 1905. In other words, in 1905, the 35-year-old doctor married a 15-year-old girl. Yowza. He died in 1925, and by 1930, Daisy was renting a home (with her three children) in Washington, D.C.


original trim

As mentioned, much of the trim in this century-old house retains its original finish.



And what would a Sears House be without those classic Sears hinges?



The French Doors that separate the living room from the parlor also retain their original finish.



A built-in buffet, as per the home's original plans.



And even a vintage electrical switch.


Sink 1920

One way to "date" an old house is to look under plumbing fixtures. This old pedestal sink (now relegated to the Hillrose's basement) has a casting date of January 1920, telling us that the house was built after January 1920.



God bless these wonderful homeowners. They've saved every piece and part that they've removed from the house, with the high goal of restoring these old fixtures and re-installing them.



Hopefully these sconces will one day grace the dining room walls again.


Hillrose stair

The Hillrose staircase is in an unusual spot: Behind a door. It's also quite steep for a house of this size and vintage.



Close-up of the floorplan shows that staircase. And note the placement of that closet behind the stairs.



A little piece of that 2nd floor closet window remains on this Hillrose.



In a Sears kit home, the floors in the kitchen and bath are typically hard maple. The original intention was that linoleum or some other traditional moisture-resistant floor covering be used. I've been in countless Sears kit homes where the homeowner removed layers of old flooring to expose the original maple. Beautiful, aren't they?



And this is what that large bay window looks like inside.


house windo

I love this intricate detail on the wood trim.


another angle

Another view of that spacious bay window.



Didn't I promise you that it was a grand and glorious home?


To read more about the Hillrose, click here.

Want to learn more about how to identify a Sears House? Click here.



  1. Wayne Atchley

    Thanks for all of your hard work. I love these old kit homes.

  2. Deborah Heal

    I just purchased your book “Sears Homes of Illinois” as part of my research for a novel I’m going to write about the Sears homes in Carlinville.

    I’m so grateful God led me to you and your books ! I appreciate your enthusiasm for the old days, a subject dear to me.

    The book will be the last in my “Rewinding Time Series” in which my characters use super-duper software to see the past of various old houses they encounter.

    I figured a Sears Home was bound to have an interesting past. I pray I do the subject justice. SDG

  3. Sears Homes

    Hi Deborah,

    Glad to hear you’re enjoying (and using!) the book!

    And it tickles me to no end that you know about SDG! šŸ˜€

    My other favorite Latin phrase is sic transit gloria mundi. Helps me keep things in perspective as I struggle to write a new book on Penniman, Virginia.

    Writing is no fun!