Prestwould was built in the mid to late-1700's* by Sir Peyton Skipwith (a baronet) and his wife Lady Jean Skipwith. The home was inherited by their second son, Humbertson Skipwith, and stayed in the Skipwith family until 1914. The house is truly massive; the dimensions are approximately 57 feet by 72 feet. The home includes a full English basement, two main floors, and an attic (which is unfinished) without windows. It is seven bays wide; and built of a sandstone-like substance, which was found in the area.
I consider the home an example of the transition between Georgian and Federal styles. The home features the central hall plan (though the central hall is divided into two rooms), the triangular pediment on the porches, and the dentil work frequently found in Federal homes in southern Virginia and northern North Carolina (see Similar Federal Homes in Southside Virginia and Northern North Carolina). The house is missing the water table and brick belt characteristic of Georgian architecture; does not have dormer windows; and does not have a heavy cornice. However, in the column in favor of Georgian, the house does have a steep hipped roof (Federals in our area tend to have steep gabled roofs); it has a more substantial feel to it than do many area Federals; the windows are multi-paned with pretty heavy muntins; the chimneys are large and tall; and dentil work sometimes appears in Georgian architecture (see Characteristics of Virginia's Georgian architecture).
The interior of the home is perhaps best known for the examples of 18th and early 19th-century wallpaper examples (the house now features a mix of reproduction and original papers). The furniture and decor is a mix of Colonial, American Empire, French Empire, Gothic, and regional pieces. Impressive clothes presses; chairs (Windsor, Gothic, Hepplewhite, and Chippendale); trunks; beds; sideboards (an Empire piece which features crystal handles is especially unique); and other pieces grace the home. The home also houses china of the period, and a tea set that features Napoleon and Josephine's visages.
Among all the other delights to see, notice that each room on the main floor has a cornice featuring different dentil work. An octagonal music and play house or, according to Agnes Rothery, a gaming room with wine cellar (Houses Virginians Have Loved, Rinehart & Co, 1944) sits in the yard; at the time of our visit, the building was in some disrepair and could not be toured.
The gardens can be toured, and the foundation for Lady Jean's conservatory is also visible.
As of summer 2004, tours cost $8 for adults, and lesser amounts for children and senior citizens. (Special occasions may have higher ticket prices; and touring the grounds alone costs less.) The home is usually open from April 15th through October 31, Monday-Saturday 12:30 PM - 3:30 PM and Sunday 1:30 PM - 3:30 PM. Contact the Prestwould Foundation at 434-374-8672 for more information.
*Concerning the date of Prestwould's completion: Edith Tunis Sale, Colonial Interiors, Second Series: Southern Colonial and Early Federal, William Helburn, Inc., 1930, gives the date as about 1760; The Library of Congress HABS, VA,59-CLARK.V,1- file says 1765 with a mysterious note "reader says much later;" Thomas T. Waterman stated in The Mansions of Virginia: 1706-1776 (University of North Carolina Press, 1945) that the house was "under construction for a number of years . . . [and] it was apparently finished about 1770..." and characterizes it of the early Georgian period; Agnes Rothery, Houses Virginians Have Loved has "about 1770," repeats the tale (which is somewhat disputed in other sources) that the property was won in a three day card game with William Byrd, and says that there was once another home (evidently earlier; it burned) called Blue Stone Castle on the property; the 2001 Prestwould brochure, published by the Prestwould Foundation, gives the dates of 1791-1793; and Mills Lane gave the dates of 1794-1797 in Architecture of the Old South: Virginia, Abbeville Press, 1989.
Photograph from The Library of Congress HABS, VA,59-CLARK.V,1- ; digital editing by Sarah E. Mitchell.
Copyright © 2004 Sarah E. Mitchell