Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Bacon's Castle (Surry County)

Bacon’s Castle
465 Bacon’s Castle Trail
Surry, VA (south shore of the James River)

With its cruciform shape, triple diagonal chimneys and curvilinear gables, Bacon's Castle is a rare surviving example of Jacobean architecture in America, and one of the oldest surviving brick homes still standing in English North America. Built in 1665, the house was home to a prosperous planter, Arthur Allen, who also planted a garden adjacent to his house for the use of his family and household. The house passed to Major Arthur Allen at his father's death; Major Allen was a wealthy merchant and a Justice of the Peace in Surry County. A supporter of the colonial governor and member of the House of Burgesses, Allen was driven from his house in 1676 when Nathaniel Bacon and his men staged what came to be known as Bacon's Rebellion. Bacon was the leader of the rebels who revolted against Royal Governor Berkeley. The house was taken over by some of his men during the revolt.

The house had many owners throughout the eighteenth century. John Henry Hankins purchased the Castle in 1844 and later built a Greek Revival addition. Later in 1880, Charles Warren purchased the house. His grandson, Walker Pegram Warren lived in the house until his death in 1972. This important early colonial site was acquired in 1973 by the Association for the Preservation for Virginia Antiquities and opened to the public in 1983 as one of its museum properties. Bacon’s Castle is a National Historic Landmark. National Register of Historic Places #66000849.

Note: only three Jacobean plantation houses survive in the Western Hemisphere; the other two are in Barbados -- Drax Hall and St. Nicholas Abbey -- both constructed in the 1650s.

Visitors today can step back to the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century through the doors of Bacon's Castle. Using the Allen's inventories from 1711 and 1755, furnishings have been selected to interpret daily life. Much of the early and original massive hand hewn beams are evident on the upper floors of the home. On the first floor, the raised panel woodwork in the downstairs chamber and great hall reflect the early eighteenth-century renovations of Elizabeth Bray, wife of Arthur Allen III. Several dependencies survive, including a smoke house and slave quarters, and the recreated garden can be visited.

Bacon's Castle is located across the James River from Williamsburg on Route 617 in Surry County, just north of the intersection of Route 617 and Route 10. Admission is charged. Seasonal opening dates, but always closed Mondays and Tuesdays and July 4. Phone 757.357.5976.

The multi-story staircase is contained in the shallow brick projection at the rear of the house, and thus takes up no interior space; these two projections give the house its rare cruciform shape.

Friday, May 8, 2009

1797 Wayside Inn in Middletown


The Wayside Inn, since 1797, has been serving the public for over 200 years. Nestled in the Shenandoah Valley, at the foot of the Massanutten Mountains in Middletown, this historic inn trades on its 18th-century ambiance. On offer are 22 guest rooms and suites, each decorated in period themes. Dining features regional American cuisine served in seven dining rooms by a waitstaff dressed in Colonial costumes.

The first travelers to the Inn started coming in 1797, pausing for bed and board as they journeyed across the Shenandoah Valley. The Wayside was then known as Wilkenson's Tavern. When rugged highways were hacked out of the wilderness twenty years later, and the Valley Pike, now Route 11, came through Middletown, the tavern became a stagecoach stop, a relay station where fresh horses were readied, and where weary passengers could dine, drink, rest and refresh themselves in comfort while the team of horses was being changed.

During the Civil War, soldiers from both the North and South frequented the Inn in search of refuge and friendship. Serving both sides in this devastating conflict, the Inn offered comfort to all who came and thus was spared the ravages of the war, even through Stonewall Jackson's famous Valley Campaign swept past only a few miles away.

Jacob Larrick bought the Inn before the war, changed the name to Larrick's Hotel. In the early part of the 20th century, when it was again sold, the new owner Samuel Rhodes, added a third floor, wings on each side, and a new name, The Wayside Inn. In the next few years, as pot-holed pikes were transformed into paved roads, and automobiles begin touring the Valley, the Inn proclaimed itself "America's First Motor Inn."

In the 1960s a Washington financier and antique collector Leo M. Bernstein, with an enthusiasm for new projects and a fascination with Americana, purchased the Inn, which he restored and refurbished with hundreds of antiques. He also bought and refurbished another Shenandoah Valley hostelry, the Battletown Inn (c. 1809) in nearby Berryville. Mr. Bernstein died in the fall of 2008, and the future of the Wayside Inn is uncertain.