The Homes of the Virginia Historical Society
Past, Present and Future
William G. Stanard
Note: The following is taken from the January 1926 issue of The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (volume 34), pp. 1–18.
CHIEF JUSTICE JOHN MARSHALL
First President of the Virginia Historical Society
THE HOMES OF THE VIRGINIA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
By William G. Stanard
On December 29, 1831, a number of citizens, gathered chiefly through the efforts of Jonathan P. Cushing, President of Hampden-Sidney College, met in the Hall of the House of Delegates in the Virginia State Capitol. Dr. Cushing (who can justly be styled the father of the Virginia Historical Society) called the meeting to order, John Floyd, then Governor, was made chairman and John Hampden Pleasants, secretary, and the Society was organized with Chief Justice Marshall as President.
James Madison was the first honorary member and Robert E. Lee a later one.
From that night in Christmas week, ninety-four years ago, until 1893. the Society had many abiding places; but no home all its own.
At one time the Executive Committee busied itself over the design for a seal. Through a long period of years Noah's dove, the Wandering Jew or the Flying Dutchman would have seemed appropriate emblems.
For a few years after its formation the Society flourished. Then, for reasons which no record explains, interest decreased and a dormant period followed. A minute made at a time when there were living men whose memories went back to 1831, states that there were probably meetings of the Executive Committee of which no record remained. Neither do we know where the collections were kept;* but kept they certainly were for we still have articles given in 1831–1838.
In 1847 when the Society was reorganized, rooms were rented in the third story of “Mr. Minor's New Law Building”. This house, which is still standing, was built partly on land acquired from the State and partly on Franklin street, and adjoined, on the east, the Whig building at the northwest corner of Franklin and Governor. The two houses have long since been used as one. Mr. B. B. Minor, the owner, was active in the affairs of the Society and had been editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, which was then published from this building.
The rooms of the Society, close to its birthplace, overlooked the Capitol Square. A link connecting the present with the past is that “Minor's Law Building” is only a few yards from the place where our good friends of The Old Dominion Press now publish our Magazine.
In 1853 the City of Richmond gave the Society, free of charge, rooms in the Athenaeum building at the northeast corner of 10th and Marshall, and, for a time, donated $150.00 a year for the purchase of books. Here, too, we should have felt at home, for the former residence of our first President, John Marshall, was only a square away.
The Athenaeum was originally intended for a school and was built in 1835 under the supervision of Dr. John Brockenbrough, president of the Richmond Academy Association. The Academy was very successful under its first teachers, William Burke (who had taught Poe), Claudius Crozet, the eminent engineer, and his successor, Socrates Maupin, a distinguished scholar. Later, patronage failed and the house was used for other purposes and named The Athenaeum.
THE OLD HALL OF THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES
From the H. P. Cook Collection of Historical Photographs, Richmond, Va.
“MINOR'S LAW BUILDING” AND “THE WHIG BUILDING”,
FRANKLIN STREET BETWEEN 12TH AND GOVERNOR STREETS
The Law Building was the left and the Whig the right.
From the H. P. Cook Collection of Historical Photographs, Richmond. Va.
In the days when the Society had rooms there the Athenaeum was a pleasant place. It was a favorite haunt of young Edward Valentine, and our honored President has happy memories of the good talk on books and art to be had there, of John R. Thompson, then editing the Southern Literary Messenger, whose office was in the building, of Gait the sculptor in his studio, and of jolly groups of which G. P. R. James, British Consul, was frequently a member and who, though his stories ran so steadily to solitary horsemen, proved a genial companion. Mr. Valentine, with his wonderful memory, makes that far off Athenaeum time very real and one almost feels as if he were sitting by his side hearing Thackeray lecture in the hall.
These were also prosperous years with William Maxwell issuing the first really important publication of the Society, The Virginia Historical Register. But the city sold the Athenaeum and the Historical Society had to move. For some months, until arrangements could be made to obtain new quarters, the portraits were placed in the Capitol, and the books and other parts of the collection boxed and stored.
In October 1858 the Society rented rooms in the new Mechanics Institute building on 9th street opposite Bank, and removed its affects. It is difficult to make a complete and safe transfer of such collections and as late as July 26, 1860, there were manuscripts in the State Library belonging to the Society. Dr. Barney was requested by the Executive Committee to examine and arrange them and bring them to their proper place.
The fair prospect continued. Never in its history had the Society been more sucessful, received more valuable gifts and pledges of support. A plan was on foot to build a fire-proof house and the site chosen was at 8th and Franklin, half a square from our present home.
Then, in 1861, came the crash. The effects of war were soon felt. In the latter part of 1861 the Confederate Government demanded the Mechanics Institute Building and the War Department occupied it. History was no longer recorded there, but made. A bronze tablet recently placed by the Kiwanis Club commemorates the War Department.
An interesting event of the last year at the Mechanics Institute was the gift to the Society of the books of the old Richmond Library, which had done much good in the city, but which had, in October 1861, decided to dissolve. We still have many volumes with the Richmond Library labels.
When war came the officers and committeemen showed the metal of which they were made. By long and careful saving and hard work an endowment of $4,614.50 had been accumulated and invested in Virginia State and Richmond City bonds. The Executive Committee directed that these bonds be sold and the proceeds lent to the Confederate Government. $6,100.00 worth of bonds and interest bearing notes were purchased. In regard to these one cannot do better than quote Mr. Joseph Bryan in his first presidential address, December 14, 1893, at the first annual meeting held in the “Lee House”.
These original bonds and notes are in our possession and have been transferred from our treasury to our archives, where they will remain as a perpetual memorial of the participation of our Society, to its utmost ability, in the disasters and losses which befell our people, whose history was never more glorious than at that period when their boundless sacrifices were most freely made.
The good example set by these gentlemen of 1861 was followed by their successors of 1917–18. When the World War began, all the Society's uninvested money (1,600.00) was used to purchase Liberty Bonds, and, though this was a time of great anxiety for our future, the Executive Committee, by resolution, made a pledge that, if the time came when there was need, the securities representing our endowment fund (also the result of strict economy and hard work for twentyfive years and consisting of high class bank stock and real estate mortgages) should be sold and Liberty Bonds bought. In each case it was, proportionally, a mite, but it was all we had.
THE WESTMORELAND CLUB AS IT WAS IN 1881–1892
From the H. P. Cook Collection of Historical Photographs, Richmond, Va.
When the Society was forced to leave the Mechanics Institute, permission was obtained to pile, in a small room, as many books as it would hold, while the portraits and other property were cared for by members of the Committee, especially by Dr. Charles G. Barney and Mr. Thomas T. Giles. No complete record remains as to how all of our collection was distributed at this time. Manuscripts and objects of historic interest were doubtless entrusted to other members of the Committee. We know that Mr. Gustavas A. Myers deposited valuable manuscripts in the vault of one of the Richmond banks where they were destroyed by fire in April 1865. Other articles were certainly removed to the Capitol. After the war a report was made to the Executive Committee that there were manuscripts and other things in that building which belonged to he Sociey and steps were taken to remove them. The same report said that during the war the room in which our property was stored had been accessible to the public and that there was evidence of pillaging during that time, as well as during the Federal military control.
Even the little room in the Mechanics Institute could not be held long. When it was needed by the Confederate Government, the City of Richmond gave the Society permission to store as many of its effects as possible in a room in a building at the southeastern corner of Bank and 10th streets. Again the stern needs of war required our storage place. There must have been heavy hearts among the friends of the Society; but they were faithful to their trust. Through the influence of Judge W. W. Crump, Mr. Memminger, Secretary of the Confederate Treasury, gave the use of a room in the Custom House.
In April 1865 came the great fire which destroyed so much of the city, and its occupation by Federal troops. Though Richmond had met what seemed an almost overwhelming disaster, those in charge of the interests of the Society showed the courage which animated their fellow citizens. The officers and members of the Executive Committee were men of affairs who had suffered severe reverses in fortune, and the future seemed very dark. Conditions were such that they would almost have been justified in putting aside all thought of historical matters. Instead, they at once did all they could for the Society. The indefatigable Dr. Barney, on his return to Richmond, visited the room in the Custom House, and found that the precautions he had taken to protect the books placed there had proved ineffectual and had not saved them from pillage.
Federal officials, as soon as they occupied the building, gave peremptory orders for the immediate removal of the books, and Dr. Barney had them taken to his own house.
It is proverbial that three moves are as bad as a fire; but with the Historical Society it proved that three moves, even with the consequent losses, were better than a fire. In April 1865 the Mechanics Institute building was entirely destroyed. If we had remained in it all of our possessions would probably have been lost.
During the Reconstruction period no one could pay much attention to the past. The only Committee meetings were held on January 10, 1866, January 27, 1868 and March 5, 1869. In 1867 Dr. Barney (whose action was later approved by the Committee) obtained the consent of the Young Men's Christian Association, then in a house on the south side of Main street between 8th and 9th, to allow him to place 5,553 volumes in their rooms. He retained, in his own home, between 450 and 500 volumes.
At a meeting of the Executive Committee held February 26, 1870, active efforts to collect the scattered property of the Society and to secure rooms were begun. Sub-committees were appointed which reported that Dr. Barney, who was leaving Richmond for a time, had delivered twelve portraits and other things which had been entrusted to his care. These were taken to the home of Mr. Thomas H. Wynne. When the Society removed from the Mechanics Institute, fifteen portraits had been placed with Mr. Thomas T. Giles at his home, No. 315 Main Street. The report stated that these portraits and others which had been located made a total of thirty-six.
707 EAST FRANKLIN STREET,
WITH THE ADJOINING HOUSES AS THEY WERE, 1861–65
From the H. P. Cook Collection of Historical Photographs, Richmond, Va.
The manuscripts and other things belonging to the Society which were in the State Library were removed and were for a short time cared for by Mr. William A. Maury; but later taken to the residence of Mr. T. H. Wynne, who had offered storage room.
After the disastrous fall, in 1870, of the floor of the Court of Appeals Chamber in the Capitol, the State bought or leased the Old Sycamore Church on the east side of 11th street, a little north of Broad. The Court occupied the lower rooms and the Historical Society was given the upper part for storage. The State government also gave us the use of rooms opening out of the second gallery of the State Library. Here the Committee meetings were held and part of the collections placed.
The weary wanderers now rested for some years; but there were still many difficulties to overcome. The Society could not afford to employ regular custodians and it is evident that the various rooms were not properly protected. As instances of losses after this time, it may be noted that the Committee reported the recovery, in 1870, of a half life-size terra cotta bust of Dr. James McClurg and that in 1871 Col. Frank G. Ruffin presented a terra cotta bust of Judge Spencer Roane. These disappeared before 1881. When Mr. Brock removed the portraits to the Westmoreland Club he could only find 28 of the 36 existing in 1870. It is probable that in some cases the frames had been broken and the portraits rolled up and misplaced.
The loss of books was particularly severe. In August 1875 the Corresponding Secretary removed from the Young Men's Christian Association 4,235 volumes of the 5,553 which had been placed there in 1867. The Society had no criticism for the Y.M.C.A. Doubtless the Association had lost an equal proportion of its own books, and had it not been for the generous offer of space we might be now without any books received before 1875.
It is with something of a heart-ache that one reads in the old minutes of so many things of value now gone forever. But, really, we have cause for profound gratitude that so much is left.
The officers of the Society and the members of the Executive Committee between 1860 and 1870 who did this great work for us should forever be held in grateful memory by all members of this Society and all who love Virginia's past. It would be a very fitting tribute to place their names and a statement of what they did on a bronze tablet in one of our homes.
They were: William C. Rives, Jaquelin P. Taylor, Gustavus A. Myers, Charles G. Barney, George W. Bagby, Thomas T. Giles, Thomas H. Ellis, George W. Randolph, Andrew Johnston, Conway Robinson, William A. Maury, Archer Anderson, H. Coalter Cabell, Thomas H. Wynne, Beverley R. Wellford, Jr., William H. Macfarland, Rev. J. L. M. Curry and Anthony M. Keiley.
Under trying circumstances the Society continued its work and in 1881 came the first really effective step towards rehabilitation.
The Westmoreland Club, at 6th and Grace streets offered to allow the portraits and engravings to be hung in its first floor rooms and hall and gave the use of rooms on the third floor as an office for the Society and a place to house the rest of its collection. The removal was made in August.
Here, at last, our belongings were at least safe. The very energetic and able Corresponding Secretary, Robert A. Brock, was given sufficient salary to secure his services for the entire day. Mr. Brock not only arranged the property of the Society as far as space would admit and constantly engaged in historical and antiquarian research; but edited the notable series of “Collections” including the Spotswood and Dinwiddie papers, the Minutes of the London Company, Grigsby's Virginia Convention of 1788 and other valuable works.
After a little more than ten years it became evident that, in spite of the zeal and activity of the officers and members of the Committee, the Society could not operate successfully under the conditions in which it was placed.
GENERAL R. E. LEE
From a photograph made at 707 E. Franklin Street in 1865.
GENERAL R. E. LEE, WITH GENERAL G. W. CUSTIS LEE ON HIS RIGHT
AND COL. WALTER TAYLOR ON HIS LEFT
From a photograph made at 707 E. Franklin Street in 1865.
The Westmoreland Club was very hospitable, but the public in general did not feel at liberty to enter, freely, what was practically a private house. The rooms occupied by the Society were overcrowded with its collections. There seemed little interest in its work, membership decreased greatly and our finances were at a low ebb. In a resolution adopted in 1892 a prominent member of the Committee said that the future existence of the Society was problematical.
Then, at a time of keen discouragement, came the greatest gift the Society had ever received—that of a house of its own.
We will ever be grateful to the Westmoreland Club for tiding us over a period when such help was urgently needed.
The offer of the new house, 707 East Franklin street, built by Norman Stewart in 1845, came from Mrs. John Stewart, of “Brook Hill”, Henrico County, and her daughters. These ladies were doubtless somewhat influenced by the enthusiasm of Mrs. Stewart's son-in-law, Joseph Bryan, who soon became President.
As this is a story of the homes of the Society and not of its officers, we omit much which might well be said of Mr. Bryan, as we do of his distinguished predecessors and successors.
Any home would at that time have been a most valuable aid to the Society—a life preserver it might well be called—but the gift of Mrs. Stewart and her daughters had a significance beyond that of almost any house in Richmond. In 1861 it had been rented from Mr. Stewart by General Robert E. Lee. This was his only war-time home, he came here whenever he was in Richmond during the war and returned to it from Appomattox. As Dr. Douglas Freeman has said in an eloquent editorial: “When he walked up the same steps that are now there and closed behind him the same door, the war had ended.”
One loves to linger over the associations of General Lee with this house. The late Mrs. Julia Page Pleasants, whose keenness of mind and accuracy of memory no one who knew her would question, lived near the Lee home, and some years ago gave to Mrs. Stanard an account of the General's homecoming, on April 15, after Appomattox. It is reproduced in Richmond: Its People and Its Story:
He rode Traveller and was, as usual, a commanding figure, though his grey coat was dingy from hard usage, and both he and his horse looked tired and dispirited. With him were some of his Staff gaunt and pallid, in ragged uniforms, on bony, weary old horses. Dilapidated army wagons creaked after them. One of these was covered with an old quilt in the place of the customary canvas. Not a very imposing cavalcade, it would seem, yet when the blue-coated soldiers of the winning side, who then occupied the city, recognized the defeated hero, the air rang with cheers, loud and prolonged; General Lee acknowledged this tribute by gravely raising his hat. Again and again the the cheers rang out, again and again they were acknowledged in the same manner until he reached his home. Here he dismounted and still acknowledging the vociferous greetings of the men in blue, backed up the stone steps of his house and through the door which closed behind him.
He was sitting in the front parlor when he heard of the murder of President Lincoln and showed strong appreciation of the evils it would bring upon the South. The back porches where he liked to sit and where he was several times photographed, have, with the exception of necessary repairs, been kept as he knew them.
Year by year comes to the old house evidence of his growing fame and of the admiration felt for him by the North as well as the South—though “love”, not “admiration” is the word for us. One Northern man says “He happened to be born in Virginia; but he belongs to us all.” Another, from the far West: “I am in entire accord with a British instructor I heard during the World War, who said that the three greatest English-speaking soldiers were Lee, Wellington and Jackson.” Still another, who was the son of a sutler in the Federal army of occupation and who was brought to Richmond as a little boy, told how he was chased and fought and called “Little Yankee” by the Richmond boys and how, when one attack occurred in front of 707, a gentleman called them all into the yard, put his arm around the “Little Yankee” and urged the Richmond boys to be kind and friendly to the stranger.
THE SOUTH FRONT OF SULGRAVE MANOR, NORTHAMPTONSHIRE, ENGLAND
Next day the sutler's son and his father were passing the house, and, happening again to see the gentleman who had befriended him, was told by his father, “That is General Lee”. The visitor to General Lee's former home concluded his account by saying: “Sir, the proudest memory of my life is that General Lee once put his arm around me.”
There are many such stories; but one more must be sufficient. A lady whose aunt, Miss Jessie Gordon (afterwards Mrs. English) taught a famous girl's school here, states that they had constant visits from ex-Confederate soldiers who wished to see General Lee's home. One brought his grandson with him and when in the hall about to leave, said: “Son, turn the parlor door-knob”. The little fellow did so and asked his grandfather why he wished him to do it. “Because”, said the veteran, “that is one thing General Lee must have put his hand on several times every day and I wished you to do it too.” Years afterwards this little story was told to a party of New York visitors. They exclaimed “We must do it”, and one after another turned the knob.
No. 707 East Franklin is an exceedingly substantial brick house. The brick partition walls are thicker than the outside ones in most modern homes. Within a short time after it was occupied by the Society, though the work seemed superfluous, additional girders were put under each floor.
It contains eight large rooms, one small, and two hall rooms, besides halls and passages. The structure has been preserved, in every detail, as it was when General Lee lived in it. Keeping such a house in repair has not been a light matter, financially, and if at times, there has been need of paint, papering, etc., it is because after attending to the absolutely essential things there has not been money for the others.
The move to the Lee House from the Westmoreland Club was made in August, 1893, and the Society at once took on new life. The Corresponding Secretary and Librarian, Mr. now, Dr. Philip A. Bruce, was a host in himself; the membership rapidly increased and, consequently, the income. Most important of all, in its lasting effects, was the beginning, with Mr. Bruce as editor, of The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, which has just completed its thirty-third volume.
Several societies of ladies, the D.A.R., Colonial Dames, and A.P.V.A., accepted invitations to hold their meetings in our rooms, and their generous contributions, especially those of the D.A.R., largely paid the cost of moving and of installing necessary fittings. It is understood that these contributions were made chiefly through the zealous and untiring efforts of the late Mrs. James Lyons.
At the end of our first year in the Lee House our membership was 657 and our endowment fund $1,792.00. Now we have 1300 members and an endowment of $22,100.00.
It may be well to add that in 1895 our Magazine cost $1,128.00 a year and now between thirty two and thirty five hundred. Other expenses have, of course, increased in proportion. It will be readily understood that in the future we will have urgent need for a larger membership, and, very especially, for a sufficient endowment.
For some years after we came to 707 there was ample room; but as time passed, the steady flow of additions to our library and collections has crowded the house to such extent that if a new one had not come we would have been obliged to store our less used books elsewhere in order to make room for those more in demand.
Our Presidents have, year after year, in their reports, told of difficulties caused by lack of means to conduct properly the business of the Society; of the great need for a larger endowment, without which no such Society is absolutely safe, and, above all, of the anxiety daily (and nightly) felt over the fact that our collection (whose loss could never be replaced) had not the protection of a fire-proof house. These troubles will not be restated in detail here.
DOOR AT WARWICK PRIORY
The “Lee House” will long remain the office of the Society, the place where a considerable proportion of its property will still be kept and where its Magazine will be edited. When the time comes for the removal of our office and the remainder of our collections, we look forward to seeing this, our very precious possession, made a memorial to General Lee. We hope, without at all competing with the Confederate Museum, to make this house, by pictures, maps and other objects, an illustrated history of Lee, his family, his times and his contemporaries. We already have much material illustrative of this plan and are constantly obtaining more.
In concluding this account of our present home I am speaking the united voice of the Society in saying that Mrs. Stewart and the other donors whose good work on earth is ended, will ever be gratefully held in honored memory and to those now living thanks are given which fall far short of what we feel because their modest generosity would not allow more. If it had not been for their gift, in all human probability, our Society would have ceased to exist or have been hardly more than a name.
As the “Lee House” came to us, most unexpectedly, at a time of great need, so now, when space and fire-protection have become absolute necessities—vital things which we could see no prospect of obtaining—has come, as if out of the sky, the fulfillment of our longings and hopes in a most beautiful and appropriate form.
About a year ago the Executive Committee was informed that Mr. and Mrs. Alexander W. Weddell, of Mexico City (where Mr. Weddell is American Consul General) wished to give the Society a home. Not merely a home like the handsome modern buildings of many historical societies but one of very unusual interest and distinction.
Richmond has been Mr. Weddell's home from boyhood, though much of his life has been spent abroad in diplomatic and consular service. Mrs. Weddell, a native of another State, has Virginia inheritance.
After much thought they determined that their gift to this Society should take the form of a reproduction of Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of the Washingtons in Northamptonshire, England. This reproduction will not be of the entire house, but of its most striking and interesting portion—the south front, which contains the old doorway with the arms above it.
The generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Weddell will not end with the presentation of the house the Society will soon occupy; but will extend beyond their lives. In order to accomplish this they will make their own home, to which they will come when Mr. Weddell retires, a spacious and handsome structure in Elizabethan style, adjoining, at a right angle, “Sulgrave Manor”, or “Virginia House” as it will be called.
After their deaths, which the members of this Society hope will be at a very, very distant date, the house they have lived in and their garden will revert to us. All that will be needed to put it to its new use will be to cut some doors and, perhaps, remove a few partitions.
Sulgrave Manor is, to Americans, the most interesting mansion in England. At an early date it was bequeathed by Simon de St. Liz to the Priory of St. Andrew, whose property it remained until the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1539 it, with other lands, was granted to Lawrence Washington, Mayor of Northampton, who had been bred to the bar but had acquired wealth by dealing in wool. He built the present house on the site of the Priory and it doubtless contains part of the former building. A shield of the Washington arms on the south side of the house over the doorway has the date 1540.
PART OF WARWICK PRIORY
George Washington's ancestors and kinsmen occupied the place from 1539 to 1606, when financial reverses compelled them to sell it and remove to a cottage at Brington in the neighborhood of their rich and friendly kinsman, Lord Spencer. An inscription on the wall of the cottage, placed there in the year the three ships sailed from Blackwall to Virginia, shows the spirit in which the Washingtons met their misfortunes. Up to 1893 it would have been a fitting inscription over the door of our Society, and indeed, is in words and doctrine suitable for any door.
The Washington Manor House, published by the Sulgrave Institution says that though Sulgrave Manor is comparatively small and severely plain it is one of the best examples of Sixteenth Century manor houses in England. Within, its Jacobean stairs, its panneled rooms and mullioned windows give it an antique charm. It is built of lime-stone, has a steep roof and dormer windows.
For many years the old house had suffered from neglect and mistreatment, and seemed to be going to “wrack and ruin”, when in 1913 it was bought by a group of English men and women who committed it to trustees to hold for the people of Great Britain and the United States. From this purchase grew the Sulgrave Institution, with branches on both sides of the Sea, which has done great work in the restoration and proper furnishing of this most historic place.
Such is the house our friends will reproduce for the Virginia Historical Society. In addition to its high architectural and historic interest it will give us, for the first time, an entirely fire-proof place in which to preserve all of our most valued treasures.
To the Society, as no doubt to our people generally, the gift is not only an act of most timely generosity, but in admirable taste. As our home and as an ornament to the City of Richmond the building of this house is a memorable event. We are very grateful.
Mr. and Mrs. Weddell intended to build Virginia House of materials obtained in this country; but, by accident, learned that Warwick Priory, a fine old mansion in the town of Warwick, was to be dismantled and sold. After they had purchased what remained of it there was some criticism in English papers by writers who thought that a complete old house had been bought and would be removed to America and rebuilt here. Mr. Weddell's statement to the London Observer is the best reply.
Mr. Alexander W. Weddell, of Richmond, Virginia, U.S.A., who, with Mrs. Weddell, has purchased Warwick Priory, explained in an interview yesterday the reason for his action.
“There has been a misconception of our ideas and plans,” he said. “Before we had even heard of Warwick Priory and before our arrival in England, the old place had begun to be stripped of practically everything—stairs, flooring, panelling, iron-work, guttering, roofing, etc.—and the empty shell was announced for sale at auction in September.
“It was then bought in by a local contractor, who intended to dispose of the stone and brick to builders in the neighborhood. At this juncture my wife and I made an offer which he accepted, and this material thus became ours.
“It is not our purpose to attempt to reconstruct the priory in America, but it has seemed to us that the use of the stone and brick from this old place, material with the bloom of centuries upon it, would not be inappropriate for a structure which will become eventually in the nature of a national monument, housing an institution—the Virginia Historical Society—which has for many years been a guardian of historical treasures in Virginia and whose work has incidentally been a powerful factor in the promotion of a better understanding between the two countries.
“It really seems to me that between the use of this material for a factory in Warwickshire and its use to form the walls of a public institution in Virginia, devoted to the promotion of historical studies, the true Briton could make but one choice”.
VIEW FROM SITE OF “VIRGINIA HOUSE” (“SULGRAVE MANOR”),
WINDSOR FARMS, HENRICO COUNTY, VA.
Courtesy of Allen J. Saville, Inc.
Photograph by Henry Bagby.
As its name shows the house in Warwick had also been a Priory. In 1124 Henry de Newburgh, Earl of Warwick, founded the Priory of St. Sepulchre here. In 1547 it was granted to Thomas Hawkins, alias Fisher, who pulled down part of the old buildings, and, says an old chronicler, quoted by the New York Times, built “a very fair house as is yet to be seen, which being finished about the 8 year of Queen Elizabeth, he made his principle seat.” The same paper continues:
He built a quadrangle, utilizing the monastic remains. The southern range was a fine example of the Elizabethan style of architecture. Entrance to it was gained by a flight of steps leading up to an arched doorway, over which stood a sun-dial with the initials T. H. and the date 1556. Within was a fine porch, with the arms Fisher gained at Pinkie displayed on the ceiling.
In the other wing were plainer windows, belonging to the great hall. This hall was a lofty chamber, its ceiling ornamented with elaborate pendants. Over a stone chimney-piece was graven the legend:
Where no wood is the fire goeth out;
Where no tale-bearer strife ceaseth.
The roof was broken by a fine row of gables and the chimney stacks were gracefully contrived.
Two great events stand out in the life of Fisher at the Priory. In 1571 Robert, Earl of Leicester, Elizabeth's favorite, arrived and stayed at Warwick. He quartered himself and his very extensive suite on the Duke of Northumberland's former secretary at the Priory.
The next year Elizabeth herself visited the Priory. She was staying at Kenilworth, a few miles away, and one day, says the local chronicler, “because she woold see what chere my Lady of Warwick made, she sodenly went unto Mr. Thomas ffisher's house, my lady of Warwick kept his house and then fynding them at supper satt downe awhile and after a little repast rose agayne leaving the rest at supper and went to visit the goodman of the house Thomas ffisher what at that time was greviously vexid with the gout who being brought into the galory end woold have knelid or rather fallen downe but her Maj. would not suffer it but with most gracious words comforted him.”
Great quantities of material from every part of the house, representing distant and widely separated dates, are now being removed and will be carefully packed and brought to Richmond. Mr. Weddell's statement above says that the old stone and brick will be used in the construction of a house which will ultimately revert to the Virginia Historical Society. Most of the material will be used in the house which will come to us at a later period; but the donors say that there will also be enough to build Virginia House. It is interesting to know that Warwick Priory was built of the same stone as Sulgrave.
On their return from England Mr. and Mrs. Weddell stopped in Richmond and purchased a site. It is on “Windsor Farms” on the Cary Street Road, a locality which within a year or two will become one of Richmond's most attractive suburbs. The houses with the gardens will occupy about an acre and will be in park-like surroundings, with a view of the River. The old garden at the English Sulgrave, known as “Madam's Close”, will be reproduced in front of Virginia House, the Society's building, while in the angle between the two houses will be another garden.
Final arrangements in regard to interiors will not be settled until later in 1925 (this is written in November) when the architect, Mr. Henry G. Morse, of New York, will be in Richmond for a consultation with Mr. and Mrs. Weddell.
Until Virginia House is finished the Executive Committee cannot determine what will be placed there; but we can say now that our portraits, historic relics, and valuable manuscripts will be made safe within its walls. There will also be room for portraits, collections of papers and other gifts which we think will probably be made.
Our Committee has expressed to Mr. and Mrs. Weddell the very deep and sincere gratitude felt by the Society. The present writer has always tried to refrain from any personal note in our Magazine; but he may be pardoned for saying that he has spent twenty-seven very happy years in the old home of General Lee. If the Society sees fit to retain him he expects to end his work for it here. Though he loves every brick in the house he will have a feeling of intense relief when all of our collections, whose loss would be irreparable, are safely in the fire-proof “Virginia House”.
Any injury to General Lee's former home would be a calamity; but it would be greatly aggravated by the loss of the priceless objects which during nearly a hundred years have been entrusted to us.
MAP SHOWING SITE OF VIRGINIA HOUSE (“SULGRAVE MANOR”)
AND THE NEIGHBORING PART OF WINDSOR FARMS
Courtesy of A. J. Saville, Inc.
* Since the above was written it has been ascertained that in 1835 the Trustees of the Richmond Academy offered the Society a room. It is probable that the
collections remained there during the dormant period.