Staunton Hill [Virginia]

by William Cabell Bruce.

Staunton Hill

Before its reduction in area by family partition and sale, the Staunton Hill Plantation in Charlotte County, about three miles from Aspen, consisted of a number of tracts acquired partly by James Bruce [of] Woodburn, Halifax County, one of the wealthiest men of his day, and partly by Charles Bruce, his son by his second wife, Elvira, the daughter of Colonel William Cabell, Jr., of Union Hill, Nelson County. James Bruce died in 1837 and Charles Bruce in 1896. Sally Alexander, the wife of Charles Bruce, was a sister of the Honorable James A. Seddon, the Confederate Secretary of War. Among the children of Charles and Sally Bruce were Dr. Philip A. Bruce, eminent Virginia historian; Dr. James Douglas Bruce, the distinguished Arthurian shcolar; and Anne Seddon, first wife of Thomas Nelson Page.

Taking possession of the plantation as the devisee of his father's landed estate in Charlotte County, Charles Bruce erected on it, in 1848, under the architectural oversight of John E. Johnson, a graduate of West Point, the mansion house known as Staunton Hill; and, from time to time, made such large additions by purchase to his holdings that at his death the Staunton Hill Plantation embraced no less than 5,025 acres of land, of which a great portion was very fertile Staunton River low grounds.

During the slave period, and also during the period immediately following the War Between the States, the Staunton Hill Plantation was, with negro labor, maintained by Charles Bruce in a highly productive state; furnishing domestic supplies of almost every kind in profuse abundance to its mansion house; and yielding, in some years, in addition to much wheat, oats, hay and livestock of every description, between four thousand and five thousand barrels of corn, and the growth of not less than one million hills of tobacco. At the beginning of the War Between the States, Charles Bruce organized the Staunton Hill Artillery Company at his own personal expense, but after a brief term of service in the Confederate Army he was compelled by ill health to give up the captaincy of this company for a seat in the Virginia State Senate.

The architecture of Staunton Hill is Gothic, with perfectly proportioned towers and battlements which well befitted the quasi-aristocratic conditions from which it sprang. Its walls are very thick and made of brick, stuccoed; its whole front, to the second story, is adorned with a beautiful marble porch with fluted pillars and granite steps. The marble of which this porch was made was quarried in Italy, fashioned in Philadelphia, and conveyed by sea to Albemarle Sound in North Carolina; and from thence by bateau, up the waters of the Roanoke and Staunton, to the landing on the Staunton, near the base of high hill, from which the mansion house commands striking views of the Staunton River and its alluvial plains.

The mansion house, erected at a cost of $75,000, exclusive of slave labor, contains fourteen rooms, including two handsome drawing-rooms and a lovely Gothic library with leaded stained-glass windows. Connected with its rear is a large conservatory, a six-room colonnade and a Gothic woodhouse; and hard by is a five-room (including a billiard room) stuccoed Gothic brick office. Around it are extensive grounds set off with white-surfaced roads and walks laid out by a skillful Scotch gardener, and fine, native and exotic trees. Environing these grounds are forest groves which are, in turn, encircled by quite a high stone wall between a mile and a half and two miles long. One of the most beautiful features of the grounds is an old-fashioned, semi-circular flower garden planted against a background of tall oaks, judiciously broken up into flower beds of different shapes, and, in its prime, glorified in the proper seasons by splendid specimens of pink, white and purple crape myrtles, a superb display of the microphylla rose, and every sort of flower that is usually found in that clime in such a garden at its best.

A few years ago the mansion house and a large part of the 5,025-acre tract, owned by Charles Bruce, became the property of James Bruce of New York, one of Charles Bruce's grandsons; and later they were transferred by him to the Staunton Hill Club, a shooting and week-end social club, composed of himself, his brother, David K. E. Bruce of New York, and a number of their friends. But the library classics, the handsome silver, the old china, the Sully and other portraits, the rare rosewood and other furniture, and the household furnishings and ornaments formerly contained in the mansion house passed, after the deaths of Charles Bruce and his wife, to their descendants.

Just what Staunton Hill was under the old régime will be found depicted in a little book entitled Below the James , partly descriptive and partly fictional, which was written a few years ago by one of Charles Bruce's sons.

This article was published in Frances Archer Christian and Susanne Massie, editors, Homes and Gardens in Old Virginia, Garrett and Massie, Incorporated, Richmond, VA, 1931.
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