Old Virginia Houses & Families Who Lived in Them
"…To my old gable window creeps
The night wind with a sign and song,
And, weaving ancient sorceries,
Thereto the gleeful moonbeams throng."
(From Down Home, by Lucy Maud Montgomery)
VIRGINIA, also called the "Old Dominon" was established as one of America's 13 original colonies in 1607. Sometimes called the "Mother of Presidents," it was the birthplace of no
less than eight of them. This site features photos and brief descriptions of selected homes and information on some of the early residents.
Generally speaking the styles of Colonial Virginia homes, like others in North America, included Post-medieval English, Dutch Colonial, French Colonial, Spanish Colonial, Georgian
and Early Classical Revival. Between the 1790s and 1820s, the Adam style, named for Scottish architect Robert Adam, and the Federal style were introduced. More informal were the
generic "folk" houses, one-room-deep linear plan dwellings with external chimneys. They included the two-story I-house, two rooms wide and one room deep, which is particularly
common in the Tidewater regions.
Since brick wasn't as common, most homes were built of wood and many of those have succumbed to the ravages of fire, weather and time. Purer examples of the early styles have
been lost to alterations over the years. Building materials and practices were combined, and timber and hardware, salvaged from earlier houses and ships, was recycled and used in
construction, making establishing construction dates difficult.
On the grounds of many of these old dwellings are outbuildings, or dependencies, that served the main household in various ways, as slave or servants dwellings, barns, stables,
meat houses, smoke houses, corn cribs, dairies, laundries, offices, privys, or kitchens. They were mainly built of wood and consequently have perished at a greater rate than the
houses. By mid-18th century almost every home had at least some of these buildings. The kitchens, initially separated from the main house to lessen the likelihood of fire, were later
joined to the main structure, sometimes by means of a hyphen, a small hall-like pass-through or colonnade.
Less common extant outlying structures are icehouses or ice wells, brick-lined pits in the ground, often with a domed roof to control the circulation of air. Used mainly during the
18th and 19th centuries, they were generally built below ground, away from the house, sometimes under trees for shade and often cut into the side of a hill or bank with a cover of
earth and vegetation to increase insulation. The structures were small, usually a single circular chamber about 8' to 10' in diameter and about 10' deep. Harvested ice from nearby
waterways was stored, often packed in straw, to preserve and keep foods cool. Ice was loaded through a hatch in the roof and removed through a horizontal tunnel with double
doors. A drain allowed for run-off of water from melting. Ice stored in this way might sometimes last for two years.
DRAGON'S COVE, 1876, MATHEWS COUNTY:
This building on the grounds at Dragon's Cove is now contained in a guest house on the property built in the early 2002s.
It was thought to have been a slave house that pre-dated the Victorian-era home on the property, and indeed the land had been settled
during mid-1600s. During construction of the guest house, old mortice and tenon timbers were salvaged along with several square-head
nails. (Photo, 2002)
Perhaps the most significant group of dependencies for which there are few remains are the slave dwellings. In 1730 for example, 30,000 slaves served Virginia masters, a figure
representing 26% of the colony's population. By the 1750s 5,000 individuals a year were brought to America to be sold as slaves, and in 1783 a list of heads of families in Kingston
Parish listed a total of 353 "White" heads of households compared with 2,007 "Blacks." This latter group could have included slaves, indentured servants or "free" blacks from
among the African American, mulatto or Indian populations.
Plantation Negroes lived in attics or basements in the main house, above the detached kitchens, or in huts or hovels, also detached from the house. Typically, outlying slave
cottages were built of wood, generally with no windows. By the mid-1700s many were small log cabins with dirt floors and chimneys fashioned of wood and mud. Pits, used as
fire-pits or to provide storage for whatever belongings the slaves had, were dug in the floor. Furniture was sparse, made by the slaves themselves, or non-existent. Some slave
owners "furnished" the quarters with cast-offs from their own homes. For more informatiion on slavery in Virginia see the GEOGRAPHY OF SLAVERY IN VIRGINIA.
Further south, particularly in Florida, slave dwellings called coquina huts were built of tabby, a crude mixture of lime, oyster shell, ashes, sand and water. On Kingsley Plantation,
located on Fort George Island near Jacksonville, are remnants of over 20 of these huts, arranged in a semi-circle around the main house. One has been reconstructed, but the timber
frames, cedar roofs, and wooden shutters of the others have long since rotted in the Florida climate. Only portions of the tabby walls remain. When I visited the site many years
ago, upon entering I remember feeling a palpable chill, despite the Florida sun. SEE KINGSLEY PLANTATION at WIKIPEDIA.
By 1850 slave dwellings were built mostly of wood and were an average of 14' to 16' by 20.' One or two window openings were provided, covered by shutters since glass was
uncommon. Roofing was wooden shingles or boards and chimneys were constructed of brick, tabby, or sticks and mud. In the latter part of the 19th century plantation owners
who continued to own slaves began taking better care of them, if only to improve their image in the eyes of the abolitionists. Slave dwellings were raised off the ground and larger
quarters were built, usually side-by-side with a shared chimney. Oftentimes, these larger quarters housed more than one family and, in a very few instances, were constructed of
brick. In some cases the dwellings were evenly spaced along a wide street on the plantation in "European fashion," perhaps in an attempt to reduce the spread of disease.
GLENLOCHAN, 1907, MIDDLESEX COUNTY:
This building pre-dates the house on the property and was used successively as a slave house, schoolhouse and storage room.
SHALANGO, NORTHUMBERLAND COUNTY:
This wooden clapboard building with a tin roof is thought to be one of the slave houses documented during certification of the
property by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Their locations are noted in VDHR files. (Photo, 2009)
HOLYOKE, Est. 1840s, LANCASTER COUNTY:
This clapboard building, with a raised-seam tin roof and massive shouldered chimley, sits just to the rear of the main house. It is
thought to have been either slave quarters or a kitchen.
SPRINGFIELD, 1828, NORTHUMBERLAND COUNTY:
Rarely were slave quarters built of brick. This story-and-a-half, three-bay building was laid in Flemish bond with a gable roof of
standing seam metal. Three original doors survive. Located close to the house it may have served as a kitchen with a loft area for
sleeping above. Note the stuccoed jack arches over the door and windows. (Photo 2010)
WHEATLAND, 1840s, NORTHUMBERLAND COUNTY:
Dependencies at Wheatland include a "North Yard House and a South Yard
House"constructed ca. 1848-50. They were described as one-room, one-bay frame
structures on masonry foundations with gable roofs.
Also listed was a one-story, three-bay frame kitchen with a brick foundation, gable roof
and an interior end chimney. A building not far from the main house seems to fit the
description. There is a partial brick foundation, a massive chimney and what appears to
be a cellar access. The half-story above may have been a sleeping loft.
(c) 2010 - Website & Photos by Gayle N. Mandell. Use of content or photos is prohibited without written permission.
To be a Virginian
either by Birth, Marriage, Adoption,
or even on one's Mother's side,
is an Introduction to any State in the Union,
a Passport to any Foreign Country,
and a Benediction from Above……
This is a selected list of old homes in the Virginia counties of CAROLINE, GLOUCESTER & MATHEWS,
LANCASTER, MIDDLESEX, NORTHUMBERLAND and RICHMOND . They are presented here as an aid to
geneological research and preservation in Virginia. Featured homes are listed by county, and photographs are my
own unless otherwise noted. Please have a look around. I welcome any thoughts or comments. You can search the
site using Ctrl F & typing in the Find box.
Information herein comes from a variety of sources listed in the Bibliography and has been verified to the greatest
extent possible. If errors are found or if you would like to add your own photographs and documentation, please
CONTACT ME. All photographs will remain the property of the submitter and may not be reproduced, either in print
or electronically, without written permission. Submissions are subject to editing in keeping with the format of this site.
For additional information on homes or families consult your local library, historical society, the VIRGINIA
DEPARTMENT OF HISTORIC RESOURCES, THE VIRGINIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY and the LIBRARY OF
Window, Old Cow Creek Mill, Gloucester, VA