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Archive for virginia

The Lees of Virginia

By Linda Tancs

A successful tobacco planter and land speculator, Thomas Lee purchased property in Virginia in 1717 and began construction on a large brick Great House that survives today. Named Stratford for his grandfather’s home in London, the family homestead gave rise to a series of illustrious family members, counting among them two brothers who signed the Declaration of Independence, diplomats, a women’s rights advocate and one of the first judges elected to the commonwealth’s supreme court. But perhaps the most famous occupant of Stratford Hall Plantation (as it’s known today) is Robert E. Lee, the future General of the Confederate Army, who was born there in 1807. In addition to a tour of the Great House, visitors will enjoy the formal East Garden, restored to a typical 18th century English style. Nature trails follow the garden past the north gate. The south entrance to the house is equally impressive, described by General Lee himself as opening up to a row of poplars. The south lawn terminates in a ha-ha wall, an 18th century device which permits an uninterrupted view of the plantation while preventing the encroachment of livestock.

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Madison’s Montpelier

By Linda Tancs

James Madison was the fourth president of the United States and a chief architect of the Constitution. He did most of his research and writing for that document and others at his estate, Montpelier. Located in Orange County, just north of Charlottesville and east of Culpeper, combine a mansion tour with a walk through over eight miles of marked trails. In addition to offering spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the trails highlight notable tree and plant specimens, particularly along the James Madison Landmark Forest, an old-growth forest managed only to remove non-native invasive species.

America’s First Settlement

By Linda Tancs

Historic Jamestowne in Virginia is the original site of the first permanent English settlement in America. It all started in June 1606 when King James I granted a charter to a group of London entrepreneurs, the Virginia Company, to establish an English settlement in the Chesapeake region of North America. They landed on Jamestown Island, where the settlers built a fort and the First General Assembly (the oldest continuous law-making body in the Western Hemisphere) convened to govern the Crown colony some years later. Thanks to archeological efforts, the lives of the first settlers and their relations with Native Americans like Pocahontas are displayed through exhibits and artifacts at the award-winning Archaearium museum.

The Washingtons of Fredericksburg

By Linda Tancs

The land registry of Fredericksburg, Virginia, is brimming with history about George Washington and his family. For instance, there’s the first president’s boyhood home at Ferry Farm, so named because people crossed the Rappahannock River on a ferry from the farm into town. Later, George Washington purchased a home in town for his mother Mary, a white frame house on the corner of Charles and Lewis streets. It’s within walking distance to Kenmore, a Georgian-style mansion that was the home of Mary’s daughter Betty Washington Lewis. Betty’s husband Fielding Lewis once owned land upon which St. James’ House was built, one of the few 18th century frame houses still standing in Fredericksburg. It was owned by James Mercer, a lawyer for Mary Washington. And then there’s the frame home built by George Washington’s youngest brother Charles around 1760. Now known as the Rising Sun Tavern, it became a tavern in 1792 when it was purchased by the Wallace family and operated for 35 years as a stopover for travelers.

Virginia’s Oldest Plantation

By Linda Tancs

Shirley Plantation has survived Indian uprisings, Bacon’s Rebellion, the American Revolution, the American Civil War, and the Great Depression. In the hands of 11 generations of the same family, it’s Virginia’s first plantation and the oldest family-owned business in North America. A National Historic Landmark, it remains a working plantation, a private family home and a growing business, presided over by direct descendants of Edward Hill I, who founded the site in 1613. Lauded as the most intact 18th century estate in Virginia, the Great House is a treasure trove of original family furnishings, portraits, silver, and hand-carved woodwork, and its “flying staircase” and Queen Anne forecourt are the only remaining examples in North America of this architectural style. In addition to a guided tour of the mansion, the self-guided grounds tour includes formal gardens and eight original colonial outbuildings. This unique part of America’s heritage is located in Charles City, east of Richmond and west of Jamestown in the heart of Virginia.

On the Avenue in Richmond

By Linda Tancs

Dotted with Gothic and Classical Revival churches as well as stately homes in the Colonial Revival, Spanish Colonial, Tudor Revival, French Renaissance and Italian Renaissance styles, Monument Avenue Historic District is a leafy enclave in Richmond, Virginia.  One of only two National Historic Landmark districts in the city, it’s the nation’s only grand residential boulevard with monuments of its scale surviving virtually intact. The street, extending for some five miles from inner city Richmond westward into Henrico County, takes its name from a series of monumental statues that mark its major intersections. The statue of Virginia native Robert E. Lee is the largest and grandest of them all, featuring a 12-ton bronze statue that is over 20 feet high sitting on a 40-foot-high granite pedestal designed by French architect Paul Pujot. Although the avenue sports its share of Confederate heroes, a notable exception is the Arthur Ashe statue, dedicated in 1996 to Richmond’s native humanitarian, scholar and athlete.

Books and Brew

By Linda Tancs

There’s certainly nothing special about brew on a college campus.  But when the brew is an 18th century brewery unearthed at the second oldest college in the United States–well, that’s something special.  The discovery was made at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.  And what, you might wonder, comprised a brew of the 1700s?  One concoction was a mix of water, persimmons, hops and yeast.

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