On September 28 Alison and I played tourist in our own backyard. Though we are fortunate to live in the cradle of United States civilization, rarely are we able to find the time to explore what is practically under noses. RVA is a mere 30 minutes from Charles City, home to historic plantation homes settled along the magnificent James River. The owners of those homes graciously open them once a year to benefit the Meals on Wheels ministry at Westover Episcopal Church, this year celebrating its
Our first stop was Berkeley Plantation. Established in 1619, it is the ancestral home of the Harrison family which includes two Presidents and a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
Berkeley is especially proud to proclaim its place in history as the site of the first Thanksgiving in the United States.
Our next stop was Westover Plantation.
This majestic example of Georgian architecture sits prominently along the James River and is frequently studied by architecture students because of its perfect proportions. A young family lives here, the next generation of Crane-Fisher-Erda descendants to call it home. The house is rarely open to the public, so it was a treat to tour the interior. I was particularly taken with the home’s
The grounds were as remarkable as the interior of the home, resplendent with ancient boxwoods and
Two specimens we repeatedly encountered throughout the pilgrimage were the trifoliate orange tree (Poncirus trifoliata) and spider lilies (Lycoris radiate), neither of which we have noticed in RVA, shown left and right below.
We stopped for a bowl of delicious Brunswick Stew at Westover Church. Still an active parish, one can sip from its old and new (both hundreds of years old) sterling chalice cups once used by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and most recently Theodore Roosevelt, to name-drop a few, if you attend the weekly worship service.
Next down Route 5 was Upper Weyanoke, an expansive site at the north bend of the James. The original section of the residence (with the wooden stair rail in the middle of structure) is the only remaining garrison house erected by English soldiers after the Indian massacres of 1622.
Initially restored by prior owners, the current owners have thoughtfully expanded it and created a breathtaking family retreat. We were particularly taken with
Another house on the property, built around 1850, is in such disrepair that the best the owners have been able to do is put a roof on it to prevent further decay.
Milton on the James
We could have overstayed our welcome at this remarkable site, but the sun was getting low, and we had time enough for one more stop: Milton on the James.
Milton has been painstakingly restored by owners Paynie and Harrison Tyler, owners of adjacent Sherwood Forest Plantation. Mrs. Tyler said it has taken four craftsmen twelve years of work, and although the interior is complete, the river side of the property is still under construction.
We bade farewell to the Pilgrimage without having time to tour Evelynton Plantation, Sherwood Forest Plantation or Green Oak Farm. While touring Italy this summer, I was struck with the comparison of its antiquities (the Pantheon in Rome was built in first century AD, and is still intact) with our relatively modern historical sites. All of the homes we visited endured Indian invasion and war occupation or destruction. I am grateful to have easy access to our American history and appreciate what the families have done through the centuries to restore and preserve our past.
When was the last time you played tourist in your own backyard? Do tell.
October 4, 2013