Shelbyville's historic Gilliland House is a unique vernacular stone building completed by locally renowned African American stone mason James S. “Jim” Gilliland in the late nineteenth century. Born near Shelbyville on November 15, 1858, Gilliland began as a builder of stone foundations, retaining walls, and fences but soon developed extraordinary abilities in the detailed stone work associated with window and door openings, chimneys, tombstones, and carved decorative objects. In addition to his thorough knowledge of working stone, he was an accomplished brick mason. Gilliland's stone and brick work became an integral part of many public, commercial, and residential buildings in Shelbyville. Gilliland died in 1949, after a long life dedicated to his masonry craft and to civic affairs.
Gilliland's house is an excellent example of his craftsmanship. According to tradition, beginning in 1898 Gilliland erected the fifteen-inch-thick stone bearing walls around an existing log building, subsequently dismantled when the logs were removed. The skillfully laid coursed ashlar limestone walls incorporate stone lintels and sills as well as a prominent water-table course, testifying to Gilliland's exceptional craftsmanship.
The single-story stone building is two rooms wide (about thirty-two feet) and two rooms deep (about twenty-eight feet), surmounted by a hipped roof with a single dormer. The asymmetrical facade includes a substantial off-center doorway and two windows. One of the two original internal brick chimneys still survives. Some original exterior features have been lost, including the wooden denticulated cornice and front porch. In the 1960s a rear concrete block addition was added to serve as a bathroom and interior surfaces were covered with modern materials.
The Gilliland House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. The Gilliland Historical Resource Center acquired the property in 1996 and rehabilitated the building as a multicultural museum and educational center. The restoration returned the building to its original appearance, with a few minor concessions to modern functionality. The tours and exhibits at the restored building focus on the contributions of James Gilliland and interpret the lifestyles of African American families from 1890 to 1920. The Gilliland House is a valuable resource for studying family and community history in Bedford County.