Westover in 1930's


Charles City County, Virginia

from Richmond Croom Beatty, William Byrd of Westover, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1932

Westover was probably finished by 1736. It was a house upon which Byrd lavished his resources, for he meant to be proud of it. There it stood on a high bluff, the central building of three stories crowned by a steeply sloping roof. On either side of this structure extended the smaller gambrel-topped wings. Farther on, and considerably more to the rear, streatched the servants' quarters, glistening with recent whitewash, and the more impressive rooms of the overseer and of Mr. Procter [Byrd's librarian and secretary]. Still more removed, and leading always to the rear, were stables, with the wide fields beyond.

The lines of the main building were simple almost to severity. Its brick was plain. It had no porch. Generally, one might term it a Georgian variant of many a home Byrd had visited in London. More particularly, it bore a close resemblance to Drayton Court, Northamptonshire, residence of the late Earl of Petersborough. [footnoted to Edith Tunis Sale, Manors of Virginia, p. 137.]

Running the full depth of the interior of the house was the great hall, eighteen feet wide. Near the end a stairway ascended, its twisted balustrades of mahogany brought over especially from London. The drawing room, with its rich paneling and gilded ceiling, was dominated by the black-and-white Italian marble mantel. Byrd had imported this, along with practically all his other furniture.

Drawing Room at Westover

But a stranger to the [American] colonies would likely have been quite amazed by the cellars of Westover. The entire mansion was underrun with them. Beneath one there was a secret room. Others, usually some eight feet square, all strangely wound about to converge at least, so tradition informs, at the subterranean passage that led down to the river. This tunnel was planned to afford a means of escape from possible Indian raids. Two other underground rooms, also hiding-places, might be reached through a dry well. One of these connected directly with a bedchamber on the third story. Horace Walpole or Monk Lewis might well have planned a Gothic romance amid such a labyrinth of dark enclosures. Byrd used them exclusively to store his claret and madeira in.

In front of the house, hardly a hundred yards, the broad blue James [River] moved quietly to the sea. Beyond the wing on the right was the low, walled-in two-acre garden, already known as the most famous in the colony for the abundance of rare flowers and herbs growing there....

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