Virginia is where the first permanent colony in the entire United States began— we’ve been here a long time. It makes sense that we would have some of the oldest homes in the nation. Add in the fact that many of the Founding Fathers and 8 U.S. Presidents are from Virginia. Now consider that there are countless other famous authors, statesman and innovators that hail from the Old Dominion. Needless to say, we have hundreds of historic homes and sites in the state — and it’s nearly impossible to visit them all.
So to keep you from feeling overwhelmed, we’ve given you a list of some of amazing homes in Virginia that carry some of the most incredible stories. Each of them will give you a chance to step back in time, learn about a unique part of our amazing history and maybe, just maybe, provide a little insight in to the men and women that made not just Virginia, but the entire nation, a better place.
We’re aware that these uncertain times are limiting many aspects of life as we all practice social and physical distancing. While we’re continuing to feature destinations that make our state wonderful, we don’t expect or encourage you to go check them out immediately. We believe that supporting local attractions is important now more than ever and we hope our articles inspire your future adventures! And on that note, please nominate your favorite local business that could use some love right now:
1. Bacon’s Castle, Surry
There’s no better place to start than the beginning. Bacon’s Castle is the oldest documented brick home in Virginia. Built in 1665, less than 60 years after the first colonists landed, the home originally belonged to Arthur Allen, a wealthy merchant. First called the “Arthur Allen House”, the home only later became known as “Bacon’s Castle” when it was taken over by followers of Nathaniel Bacon in 1676 and used as a fortress during Bacon’s Rebellion. What makes this house especially unique is its architecture. It is the only remaining “Jacobean Great House” left in the nation – a distinction recognized by it’s triple stacked chimney, carved compass roses and distinct gables. Preservation Virginia now owns Bacon’s Castle and hosts many special events, including guided weekend tours.
2. Berkeley Plantation, Charles City County
There aren’t many places that can claim more history than Berkeley Plantation. The land was originally called “Berkeley Hundred” after the Berkeley Company of England. It is the site of the first recognized Thanksgiving in the United States in 1619 and an Indian Massacre in 1622. In 1726, Benjamin Harrison IV built a Georgian style brick mansion on the land, where his son Benjamin Harrison V, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and Governor of Virginia, was born. His grandson, William Henry Harrison, 9th President of the United States, was also born at Berkeley in 1773. The home would later serve as the ancestral home for the 23rd President, Benjamin Harrison. Berkeley Plantation was occupied during the Civil War and twice visited by Abraham Lincoln, as well as being the place where the now famous “Taps” melody was composed and first played in 1862. Tours are available every day but Thanksgiving and Christmas.
3. Stratford Hall, Stratford
Located on the Northern Neck of Virginia near the Potomac River, historic Stratford Hall was the boyhood home of 2 signers of the Declaration of Independence, a President of Congress, Revolutionary War heroes, diplomats, women’s rights advocates and finally, the leader of the Confederate Army, General Robert E. Lee. Once a thriving plantation, called “a towne in itself” by a Stratford guest, Stratford Hall now offers dining (including some of the best pan-fried chicken and she-crab bisque anywhere) and lodging at the Stratford Hall Inn. Special events are ongoing, as well as daily tours of the great house and self-guided tours of the grounds, gardens and beach that provide a first-hand look at life in early Virginia from Pre-Revolutionary War to Post-Civil War.
4. The Ball-Sellers House, Arlington
What is special about this house is not its size or grandeur, but what it shows about life in the 18th century. It is considered to be the oldest house in Arlington, having been built c. 1742. While many of the homes available for tours in Virginia are stately plantation manors, the Ball-Sellers home give a look into the life of the working class. John Ball, the original owner of the land, built the log structure and attached lean-to for his wife and 5 daughters. Later, the house was owned by George Washington’s tailor, whose later descendants owned and operated a dairy farm at the site. Showing off a rare, original clapboard roof, the Ball-Sellers house is a unique look into “ordinary” life in Virginia at a time when plantations and manor houses were in their heyday. Email
or call 703-942-9247 to schedule a free tour.
5. Scotchtown, Beaverdam (Hanover County)
Patrick Henry, most well-known as an American patriot and deliverer of the famous “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech, lived at Scotchtown from 1771-1778 with his wife Sarah and their 6 children. The house was built in 1720, but expanded in 1760 and today, is one of the largest surviving 18th century homes in the nation. Although the Henrys did not live long at Scotchtown, it still holds a fascinating history, particularly with regards to mental illness in the 18th century. Sarah Henry began to show signs of mental illness after the birth of their 6th child. The only mental hospital was in Williamsburg and given the barbaric treatment of mental patients at the time, Henry kept his beloved wife at home, but in the final 2 years of her life, was forced to confine her to the home’s basement, often in a colonial version of today’s straitjacket. After her death in 1775, Sarah was buried in an unmarked grave, because of stigmas surrounding mental illness. Today, visitors to Scotchtown can see the spacious home and beautiful grounds, as well as the rooms where Sarah was kept. Guided tours are available in addition to trails, self-guided cellphone tours, a gift shop and many special events.
6. Belle Boyd Cottage, Front Royal
Perhaps one of the most intriguing characters of the Civil War, Belle Boyd, also know as the “Siren of the Shenandoah”, became a Confederate Spy when she was only 18. After supposedly shooting a soldier who tried to put a Union flag above her home in Martinsburg, West Virginia, she was sent to live with her aunt and uncle at their hotel in Front Royal. She stayed in the small cottage behind the hotel and it was from this vantage point that she reported comings and goings to Stonewall Jackson himself. Said to have been arrested six times, imprisoned three times and reported more than 30 times, she managed to talk her way out of each scrape and went on to have 3 husbands, 5 children and a successful stage career. Her former cottage home behind the Fishback Hotel is one of the oldest buildings in Front Royal and provides an incredible look not only at her life, but at life in Warren County during the Civil War. Visit www.warrenheritagesociety.org for tour information.
7. The Sutherlin Mansion, Danville
Built in 1859 by William T. Sutherlin, Danville’s mayor and a wealthy industrialist, the Sutherlin Mansion was considered to be one of the most elegant and palatial homes of its time. When Richmond fell in 1865, Confederate leaders reassembled in Danville and it was in the Sutherlin Mansion that Jefferson Davis made his final proclamations. The beautifully preserved home now serves as the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History and provides a look into life of the Sutherlin Family, the Civil War and how the home served as the Last Capitol of the Confederacy. Danville also offers a number of other nearby historic homes, including Millionaires Row where visitors can take a self-guided walking tour of some of the grandest examples of Victorian and Edwardian architecture in Virginia.
8. Ingles Farm, Radford City
Ingles Farm, also known as Ingles Ferry, can easily be called one of the most important examples of historic preservation in Virginia. As opposed to grand plantation or urban life depicted by so many well-known historic homes, Ingles Farm shows 18th century pioneer life through the eyes William and Mary Ingles and their descendants. The farm was built in the 1750s after Mary Ingles was captured by Shawnee Indians, escaped and walked 600-miles home. In 1762, The Ingles built a ferry and tavern to carry hundreds of thousands of westward pioneers across the New River. The farm is now run as a working farm with significant efforts made to replicate life as it would have been in the 1700s, including a reconstruction of the Ingle’s original cabin. Tours are limited, so call the Radford Visitor’s Center at (540) 267-3153 or go to www.visitradford.com to schedule a visit to this incredible Virginia historical treasure.
9. Belle Grove Plantation, Middletown
Belle Grove was built in 1797 as the manor home for a grain and livestock plantation run by Major Isaac Hite and his bride, Nelly Madison Hite, sister to would-be President James Madison. At the height of its production, Belle Grove consisted of 7,500 acres and Hite also owned a grist mill, a sawmill, a general store and a distillery. But by 1851, after Hite and his second wife died, the home was sold out of the family and by the start of the Civil War had begun its decline. Thanks to the efforts of 20th century owners who recognized the home’s beauty and historical significance, Belle Grove has been brought back its original glory. Today, Belle Grove is the only remaining “authentic” antebellum plantation in the Shenandoah Valley and serves as an education center and working farm, providing tours, events and innovative interpretive programs.
10. Anne Spencer’s House, Lynchburg
Built in 1903, The Anne Spencer House is not the oldest on the list, but it carries massive historical significance all the same. Born to former slaves, Anne Spencer was a major player in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and a pivotal civil rights’ activist. She lived in the lovely two story home in Lynchburg’s historical district with her husband, using a small cottage in the back of the house named “Edankraal” as a haven for her writing and political work. With 30 poems published in her lifetime, she was the first Virginian and first African-American to have work submitted into the “Norton Anthology of American Poetry.” In addition to her writing, Spencer worked as a librarian at the all-black high school for 20 years, often supplementing the limited book supply with volumes from her own collection. As activists, she and her husband opened their home to other civil rights advocates travelling through, as segregation barred many of them from hotels. Eventually, she helped found the local chapter of the NAACP and hosted such greats as Langston Hughes, W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., George Washington Carver and Marian Anderson in her home. The Anne Spencer House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976 following her death. Today, her home and gardens are open to the public who can see much of her work, both literary and political, on display.
Just imagine if these walls could talk, the stories they would tell. Let us know your favorite historical home in Virginia and why you love them. Maybe they will make our next list, because with so many places to visit, there will definitely be more lists!