Architecture in Virginia

The English who settled in Virginia in the early 1600's "knew how to build only a brick or timbered house such as he had known in England; and with all the timbers and clapboards to be hewn and split by hand, this was a major undertaking, to be accomplished only by the more industrious and prosperous majority."1

In 1686, a Frenchman observed in the newly settled region of Stafford County:

"Some people in this country are comfortably housed; the farmer's houses are built entirely of wood, the roofs being mae of small boards of chestnut, as are also the walls. Those who have some means, cover them inside with a coating of mortar in which they use oyster-shells for lime; it is as white as snow, so that although they look ugly from the outside, where only the wood can be seen, they are very pleasant inside, with convenient widows and openings. They have started making bricks in quantities, & I have seen several houses where the walls were made entirely of them. Whatever their rank, & I know not why, they build only two rooms with some closets on the ground floor, & two rooms in the attic above; but they build several like this, according to their means. They build also a separate kitchen, a separate house for the Christian slaves, one for the negro slaves, & several to dry the tobacco, so that when you come to the home of a person of some means, you think you are entering a fairly large village."2

In 1638, the first brick house in Virginia was built in Jamestown by Richard Kemp, Secretary of the colony.3 "Structure 44," marked today by the ruins of the Ambler family later mansion, was built before the brick church in 1639.

Starting in the 1750's, gentry on the Northern Neck constructed mansion houses from brick, such as Robert Carter's family home at Sabine Hall. This showed the importance of the family through the permanence (and cost) of the family home. Clay was readily available, but there were few outcrops of stone suiltable for building purposes on the Coastal Plain. Where the stone was available, it was soft sandstone, subject to crumbling in the weather.

The vestry members of Pohick and Aquia churches added stone corners known as "quoins" to make their churches appear more magnificent, while George Washington added sand to the paint covering his wood-sided house to make it appear that Mount Vernon was a stone structure.

Stratford Hall
Stratford Hall
formal brick design - Stratford Hall
formal brick design - Stratford Hall
Stratford Hall - sandstone outbuilding
Stratford Hall - sandstone outbuilding
Weems Ordinary (in Dumfries)
Weems Ordinary (in Dumfries)
quoins at Weems Ordinary
quoins at Weems Ordinary
Mt. Airy local quoins
Mt. Airy - local quoins
Mt. Airy Aquia quoins
Mt. Airy - Aquia quoins
Sabine Hall brick
Sabine Hall brick
Gunston Hall
Gunston Hall
Gunston Hall
Gunston Hall
Gunston Hall quoins
Gunston Hall quoins
Menokin quoins
Menokin quoins
Mt. Airy sandstone
Mt. Airy sandstone
Mt. Airy sandstone
Mt. Airy sandstone
Sabine Hall brick
Sabine Hall brick
Sabine Hall - river side
Sabine Hall - river side
(click on images for larger versions)

However, John Tayloe II chose to quarry iron-rich sandstone from the Northern Neck to build Mt. Airy and Menokin. Tayloe imported Aquia sandstone from further up the Potomac River to accent the edges of his house with white quoins. He reversed the color scheme when he built Menokin for his daughter Rebecca and son-in-law Francis Lightfoot Lee, exposing the red sandstone on the quions and covering it with white plaster on the sides of Menokin.

The same Aquia sandstone was used to construct the White House and the original walls of the Capitol, when the Federal government moved to the new city of Washington DC in 1800.

Green Building in Virginia

Links

References

1. Abernethy, Thomas Perkins, Three Virginia Frontiers, Louisiana University Press, 1962, p.6
2. Durand de Dauphine, A Huguenot Exile in Virginia, or Voyages of a Frenchman exiled for his Religion with a description of Virginia and Maryland, (Gilbert Chinard, editor), The Press of the Pioneers, New York, 1934, p. 102
3. "The Jamestown Archaeological Assessment: Multidisciplinary Study of Jamestown Island," Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, http://research.history.org/Archaeological_Research/Research_Articles/ThemeTown/Jamestown.cfm?pageNum=5 (last checked December 29, 2006)

George Wythe house in Williamsburg
George Wythe house in Williamsburg


Virginia Places