Saturday, May 18, 2013

James River: Shirley Plantation Queen Anne Forecourt

Shirley Plantation

Located in Charles City County on the James River between Jamestown and Richmond, Shirley was the first plantation in Virginia. Founded in 1613 as a tobacco plantation, six years after settlement of Jamestown, by Sir Thomas West, Baron De La Warr, it was known as West and Shirley (or Sherley) Hundred (West's wife was Cicely Shirley).

The plantation became the property of Edward Hill I in 1638. Construction of the Great House began in 1723 as a home for Hill's great-granddaughter, Elizabeth Hill, and her husband John Carter, eldest son of Robert "King" Carter, and was completed in 1738.

Shirley is still owned and operated by the eleventh generation of Hill-Carter descendants, who reside in the Great House. Stable ownership and occupancy by the original family has left the house close to its original state, with many of its original contents. Unlike other historic homes that have passed through multiple owners to be purchased and restored as a tourist attraction furnished by period pieces, Shirley retains a strong connection to its historic family as the family residence, a working farm, and the family business. And not just any family business. Shirley is the oldest family business still in operation in the US.

Queen Anne Forecourt

Since the rivers were the major highways in colonial tidewater Virginia, riverside homes always faced the river. The Great House is a 48-foot cube of classical symmetry with the front and rear facades nearly identical. The easiest way to tell them apart in photographs if the river or the land-side courtyard are not visible is to locate the side entrance. It is to the left of the front and right of the rear.

Rear (Land Side)

Front (River Side)

The "back" yard
The symmetry is echoed in the two pairs of twin dependencies lining the only known remaining example in the US of a Queen Anne forecourt.

The kitchen and ice house (beyond the hedge) are on the left.

The laundry house and a storage building are on the right.

At one time, a school for children in the Carter clan was held in the laundry house, and was where Ann Carter Lee's son Robert Edward Lee received part of his education. The first floor now houses the ticket office and gift shop.

Laundry House

Laundry House

A tent behind the laundry house shelters educational programs



It's not my fault the cute kitty got in the way of my shot of the kitchen threshold.

Had I known Norma had a Tidewater twin, I would have brought her with
me instead of leaving her to visit her kitty cousins in South Carolina
The kitchen bake room.

Oven for baking bread.

Kitchen central hall from front door

"Tunnah" the cat, still enjoying the afternoon sun on the threshold.

Kitchen central hall looking across forecourt
to the laundry house.

Tunnah watching tourists enter the laundry house.

The cook room across the hall from the bake room.

Pump house, Kitchen, Ice house

The L-shaped ice house (left) and storage building (right) are mirror images of each other.

Ice house

Ice house

Basement level ice storage

Ice pit

The barrel-vaulted ceiling of the ice pit in the ground-level storage room.

Safety wall in front of ice pit ceiling

Farm equipment on display in the ice house

Seed planter

Hand cultivator

Grain fan

Grain fan


Ice house
Kitchen, ice house

Storage building. The smoke house is beyond, visitor parking to the left.
The storage building is used for educational programs.

Grinding mill, corn to meal or wheat to flour.

Storage building

Entrance into the forecourt from visitor parking between storage building (left) and ice house (right).

Besides the Great House, kitchen, laundry house, ice house, and storage building, the forecourt originally included two freestanding wings on either side of the house. The north flanker was torn down after a fire in the 1820's. It's basement was used as a root cellar until the 1940's. The south flanker was torn down in 1868. It's bricks were used to construct Upper Shirley nearby.

Root cellar

Inside the root cellar

No interior photography is allowed inside the Great House, so I have no personal interior photos. I have found a few on the internet which I shared to the Old Roads Once Traveled Facebook page at as well as a great aerial photo of the Shirley forecourt.

More on the Carter family, the Great House, beautiful lawn and gardens, other outbuildings, and the reason there are scratches on the dining room window are in the following posts (see links below). The scratches have nothing to do with the cat.

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