The John and Ella Hillman House – St. Paul’s oldest surviving residence

© Jerry F. Couch

You have probably noticed the impressive two-story home that occupies the southwestern corner of Sixth Ave. and Wise Street in St. Paul.  But did you know it is St. Paul’s oldest surviving residence?  Though the St. Paul Virginia Railroad Museum on Russell Street is older, it was not constructed for residential purposes.

The John and Ella Hillman house was completed in 1899.  It replaced the Hillman’s original house which had been built around 1892 and was destroyed by fire in April of 1898.  The fire started in the kitchen chimney and quickly spread to the shingle roof.  Because St. Paul had no fire-fighting equipment at that time, the house burned to the ground. 

Take a look at the featured image at the top of this page and you’ll notice the Hillman’s new house featured a standing-seam tin roof.   The possibility of a wood-shingle roof catching fire was eliminated. 

John Hillman, Rolfe, Audrey, Lora, and Ella watermarked
John and Ella Hillman with children Rolfe, Lora, and Audrey at the Riverside Hotel

Construction of a replacement house probably began as soon as the rubble of the burned house could be cleared.  In December of 1898, the first floor of the new house was sufficiently complete for the family to move in.  The upstairs was completed in 1899.   

The John and Ella Hillman House is often confused with “Tbe Hillman House” which is currently occupied by the Heart of Appalachia Tourism Authority.  The latter building is newer, having been constructed by John Hillman in 1914 for use as a tenement.


October 14, 1891 –T. F. Sisinger and H. G. Chandler to J. M. Hillman, Lots 27 & 28, Block 9 (these are the lots upon which J. M. Hillman built both his original residence and its post-fire replacement).  Additional contiguous lots were subsequently purchased.

March 23, 1899 – John B. Moon to John M. Hillman, Lots 25 & 26, Block 9.

March 26, 1911 – St. Paul Land Co., Inc. to J. M. Hillman, Lots 23 & 24, Block 9.

April 18, 1934 – J. M. & Ella Hillman to Love B. Rouse and George L. Taylor, Trustees, to secure a loan from Homeowners Loan Corp. (loan brokered through the St. Paul National Bank).

March 14, 1938 – J. M. Hillman dies of pneumonia.  He was buried March 17, 1938 in the St. Paul Cemetery on Gray Hill.

John Hillman Obituary- March 17, 1938 Kingsport Times

John Hillman Funeral 1.jpg
John M. Hillman Funeral, March 17, 1938 – Hillman Plot, St. Paul Cemetery

April 12, 1938 – Following default of the Home Owner’s Loan Corp. debt, a court-ordered auction sale of the Hillman’s collateral property was conducted in front of the St. Paul National Bank.  Homeowners Loan Corp. was the high bidder at $4,500. 

February 11, 1939 – Home Owners Loan Corp. to C. E. Purcell, Lots 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, and 28, Block 9.

February 15, 1939 – C. E. & Thelma Purcell to A. L. Barbee (husband of Anna Hillman Barbee) , Lots 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, and 28, Block 9 for $3,000.  This secured the home for J. M. Hillman’s widow, Ella Broadwater Hillman.  Al and Anna Barbee continued to live at their snug 1920’s bungalow home on Broad Street (pictured at left below).

Al Barbee on Broad Street
Al Barbee with neighbor’s children on Broad Street, ca. 1940.

August 19, 1942 – Al Barbee dies intestate.

July 29, 1956 – Ella Broadwater Hillman dies.  She was buried in the Hillman plot at the St. Paul Cemetery on Gray Hill. 

Ella Broadwater Hillman ca. 1953
Ella Broadwater Hillman at her home, ca. 1953.

March 7, 1971 – Anna Hillman Barbee and the heirs at law of Al Barbee (44 of them) to Richard and Mildred Joselin, Lots 23 24, 25, 26, 27, and 29, Block 9 for $10,000.

In subsequent years, the John and Ella Hillman House was sold to the Biggerstaff family then to the Trent family.  Raymond and Amelia Trent are its current owners.  This year, the house will celebrate its 120th birthday.



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