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  [graphic] James River Plantations: A National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary   
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Shirley Plantation
Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Historic Resources
The National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places in partnership with the James River Plantations of Charles City County, Virginia, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers, proudly invite you to explore the James River Plantations. The 430-mile long James River begins west of the Blue Ridge Mountains near the western Virginia border and joins the Chesapeake Bay at Hampton Roads. The river was first known as Powhatan Flu by the English colonists that settled at Jamestown in 1607, but was renamed for England's King James (1603-1625). An unparalleled collection of historic plantations still overlook the tidal portion of the river, below the falls in Richmond. This travel itinerary highlights 33 of those plantations listed in the National Register of Historic Places located along the James River and its tributaries—architectural treasures, ranging from diminutive Piney Grove, which began as a log corncrib c. 1790, to grand brick homes like Bacon's Castle, that paint a picture of Virginia plantation life in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

[photo] View of James River from Westover
Photos courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS, VA,19-WEST,1-84)

A rural settlement pattern emerged along the James River in the 17th century that dominated the development of this region for the next 300 years. Virginia's economy was dependent on agriculture. As tobacco cultivation became lucrative, the plantation emerged as the essential unit of production. The term "plantation" originally referred to a settlement in a new country or region, although in Virginia the term became associated with a place that was planted or under cultivation and worked by resident labor, originally indentured servants, then slaves. During the 17th century many of the small outpost settlements were first known as "hundreds," such as Flowerdew Hundred. Consolidation of the original settlements continued through the 17th century and culminated in the creation of large plantations on which grand brick homes were built during the 18th century. Berkeley, Shirley, Westover and Wilton illustrate the development and diversity of the Georgian style as employed by Virginia's planter elite. The owners of these plantations—the Harrisons, Carters, Byrds and Randolphs—represented the social and economic leaders of Colonial Virginia and some even provided leadership for the new United States, as illustrated by President William Henry Harrison. The Georgian style was also employed for more modest residences such as Appomattox Manor, Eppington, Mayfield and Warren House.

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries Thomas Jefferson introduced classical design to the James River region in public buildings and numerous residences (including his own, Monticello, featured in our Journey Through Hallowed Ground itinerary). Neo-classical design and aspects of Palladian design not previously employed in Virginia began to appear along the James River at places such as Brandon, Magnolia Grange and Violet Bank. The conservative nature of the architecture of the James River region during the 19th century can be seen in newly constructed Four Square, and in the enlargement of President John Tyler's House. In the two decades before the Civil War, the latest stylistic details from the Greek, Gothic and Italianate revivals were combined with vernacular architectural traditions at North Bend, Edgewood, Chippokes and Lee Hall.

Plantation "street" at Tuckahoe: from left to right-storehouse, two slave quarters and kitchen
Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Historic Resources

James River Plantations offers several ways to discover the places that reflect this region's history. Each highlighted place features a brief description of its historic significance, color photographs and public accessibility information. At the bottom of each page the visitor will find links to three essays: Colonization, The Gentry and Architecture. These essays provide historic background, or "contexts," for the places included in the itinerary. In the Learn More section, the itinerary links to regional and local websites that provide visitors with further information regarding cultural events, special activities, and lodging and dining possibilities. Visitors may be interested in Historic Hotels of America, a program of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, located in Virginia. The itinerary can be viewed online, or printed if you plan to visit the James River region in person.

James River Plantations is part of the Department of the Interior's strategy to promote public awareness of history and encourage visits to historic places throughout the Nation. The National Register of Historic Places partners with communities, regions and heritage areas throughout the United States to create online travel itineraries. Using places nominated by State, Federal and Tribal Historic Preservation Offices and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the itineraries help potential visitors plan trips by highlighting the amazing diversity of this country's historic places and providing public accessibility information for each featured site. James River Plantations is the 40th National Register travel itinerary in this ongoing series. The National Register of Historic Places hopes you enjoy this virtual tour. If you have any comments or questions, please just click on the provided e-mail address, "comments or questions" located at the bottom of each page.

 [graphic] Link to Architecture Essay
 [graphic] Link to Colonization Essay James River Plantation Essays
 [graphic] Link to Gentry Essay

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