In October of 1900, the home of Thomas and Mary Anna Dearing Fauntleroy was completely destroyed by a catastrophic and quickly-spreading fire that purportedly originated with a kerosene lamp. It was the second house named Avoca on that site to be ruined by such a disaster – the previous being destroyed in 1879. The Fauntleroys immediately began searching for an architect to oversee the construction of their new home on the site of the previous two houses.
In March of 1901, the construction phase of the third Avoca house was initiated and the house was completed by the end of October. This would be the third and final family home to bear the name Avoca . Standing and in immaculate condition today, the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Fauntleroy features several of the customary elements of Queen Anne residence architecture. Among these are the house’s prominent gables, wraparound porch, asymmetry and its majestic tower. Eclecticism was the order of the day during that historical period.
Lewis was a native of Culpeper and graduated from University of Virginia’s architecture school in 1891. Following his completion of the Fauntleroy home, Lewis successfully completed the construction of buildings on the campus of Woodberry Forest School, the Lynchburg Hospital (which stood in the Garland Hill neighborhood), the Lynchburg Cotton Mill, and several upscale residences in Lynchburg. In the year following Avoca’s completion, he entered into a partnership with William R. Burnham in the architecture firm of Lewis Burnham. He resumed individual proprietorship from 1912-1918 and eventually accepted the presidency of a Lynchburg manufacturing company.
J.M.B. Lewis’s private residence at 1314 Clay Street in Lynchburg (also built in 1901) stands today as a shining example of his skill. Perhaps Lewis’ most visible feat is the Academy of Music building in Lynchburg. In its heyday, the Academy hosted notables such as Ethel Barrymore, Mary Pickford, and Douglas Fairbanks.
Lewis died on April 17, 1950 at the age of 82. He is buried in Lynchburg’s Spring Hill Cemetery.
Today, Avoca is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is owned by the Town of Altavista and managed by the Avoca Museums & Historical Society. The museum and its grounds serve as a social gathering place and local history museum for its locality.