Black History Special: The New Millers

Southwest Virginia is home to historical sites like the Natural Bridge in Rockbridge County, the Booker T. Washington Monument in Franklin County, all the way to the Bloody Monday marker in Danville.

Virginia also has a lot of unknown history that sits in Gretna.

“Welcome to Sharswood. This is the foyer of the original house,” Karen Dixon-Rexroth, our tour guide, said.

Karen Dixon Rexroth just happened to see the house while running errands with her mom in the spring of 2020.

She was shocked when she saw a for-sale sign in the yard.

“It always seems like an old house that nobody resided in, maybe one person lived in that may have stayed here, but I always called it a scary house,” Dixon-Rexroth said.

It may be a scary house with its unique features like the Gable Finials on the roof.

10 News learned the architect designed the white two-story house with a Swiss Gothic influence.

Inside – there are diamond-shaped pane windows in every room, about 3,000 in number.

The house looks like a museum with furnishings and items from both the 18 and 1900s.

Karen said the house smelled “old” at first, but the scent is mostly gone with the help of air fresheners and candles.

In the parlor, sits a couch, a piano from the 1800s, a desk, and a bookcase.

Over in the dining room, there’s a family table for six and this antique television in the corner.

“It doesn’t work,” Dixon-Rexroth said.

However, there are more treasures this house still holds.

Karen was interested in the house because it could be a gathering spot.

“It could accommodate our huge family. We can have gatherings and parties. I mean, we could do a lot with the house,” Dixon-Rexroth said.

10 News continued on the tour of the home. Fred Miller showed a renovated cellar.

“These bricks were put by hands back in the 1800s,” Miller said.

Fred, Karen’s brother, put in a bid for the house from California.

“I got a call out of the blue from my sister and the rest is history,” he explained.

Fred always wanted to host family reunions and allow the family to gather in one spot with enough room, but the Air Force veteran didn’t really want the gothic-looking house.

Originally, he wanted to build a home from the ground up next to his mom’s house.

It was another family member who encouraged him to place a bid.

“My older sister was the one who really convinced me to do it, my younger sister Karen, I was just going to blow that off,” Miller said.

But his sister, Karen, wasn’t taking no for an answer.

“Any kind of notion where he was like, I don’t know, I’m not able to do that, I made it happen,” Dixon-Rexroth said.

Fred eventually put in a $225,000 bid for the house in March of 2020, $5,000 more than the asking price.

“They didn’t accept the bid, I was happy about that,” Miller said.

The reason they turned it down — he’s unsure and he went about his life like normal over the coming months until the sellers put the house back on the market.

Fred got another call from his sister, Karen.

He put in the same bid, $225,000, and this time, Fred got the house.

“I went into shock because this time, everything I was trying to do was not working, I mean to sabotage this thing was not working,” Miller said.

Dixon-Rexroth was pleased.

“Yes, I saw past that I saw. I mean, this was a great investment even if he didn’t want it,” Dixon Rexroth said.

In the summer of 2020, Miller secured a place to meet for his family. It includes more than 10 acres of land.

“This big beautiful house here with a few outlying buildings. It just said outlying buildings. I just didn’t know what it meant; they say it was part of the farm so I thought it was storage buildings, but it turned out to be something more,” Miller said.

When Karen took another walk through the home with her keen eyes, she saw a photo of the Sharswood house in a book called “Pittsylvania: Homes and People of the Past.”

After a quick online search, she learned the Sharswood home was originally a tobacco plantation on more than 2,000 acres.

“A Miller Plantation this was a plantation, unbelievable,” Dixon-Rexroth said.

It’s unbelievable because Fred’s last name is Miller.

Nathaniel Crenshaw Miller originally owned the plantation.

Fred’s family wondered if their ancestors could have worked on the same land because of the last name, like Sarah Miller.

“They had always been looking for Sarah, which is my great-grandmother,” Fred said.

Fred’s sister had doubts.

“I don’t think so, maybe it’s just coincidence that we got the same last name,” Dixon-Rexroth said.

Karen kept researching and asked for help from a genealogist in Danville.

Karice Luck-Brimmer took on the task of finding out if Sarah Miller was enslaved on the same land her great-grandson Fred bought in 2020.

Brimmer found her first piece of evidence while digging through old Pittsylvania County Courthouse records.

“For this family, I think it was a move of God the way how things came together the way it happened. I found this labor contract dated August of 1866 immediately after slavery, where it lists David and Violet as the ancestors,” Luck-Brimmer said.

Brimmer said the labor contract connects David and Violet on the plantation among 58 slaves. They are Sarah’s parents.

Brimmer also went a step further by looking on

The site hosts old documents like the slave birth index and an 1870s census.

We also learn Sarah was born on March 10, 1868 — two years after the 13th Amendment abolished slavery.

She is the youngest of eight children and lived until the age of 80.

Fred and Karen now have at least two documents proving their great-grandmother, Sarah Miller was on the same plantation they purchased as a family gathering spot.

Fred’s family is pleased to now know of his ancestor’s history.

“Wondering what around here they touched, were they breathing the same air, there are different things in the house that I often think about,” Dixon-Rexroth said.

Brimmer is pleased to solve the mystery.

“It’s like rewarding because that is like the number one thing that I want to find and connect people to their ancestral home, where they lived, where they worshipped, where they worked,” Luck-Brimmer said.

Fred feels now he has work to do to preserve the land.

“It’s heavy because it comes with a whole lot of responsibility, I own this place that my ancestors was once enslaved.”

Here’s a link if you would like to help with donations.

About the Author:

Duke Carter returned to 10 News in January 2022.