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[photo] Westover
Photos courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS, VA,19-WEST,1-78 and 79)

Westover, one of Virginia's oldest and grandest plantation mansions, is considered perhaps America's premier example of colonial Georgian architecture and the quintessential James River plantation house. Georgian design elements are exemplified in Westover's symmetry, elegant proportions, distinctive brickwork and pedimented entrances. Notable features include formal doorways in Portland stone on both main façades; a steeply pitched hip roof, one of only two known clasp-purlin types in the state; an off-center main hall and a finely detailed interior with full-length paneling and enriched plaster ceilings. The land on which Westover sits was purchased by William Byrd I, "The Black Swan of Westover," in 1688. The house was built c. 1750 by the Byrd family. William Byrd II, known as the founder of Richmond, was instrumental in surveying the dividing line between Virginia and North Carolina, as well as authoring a book recounting this experience. Byrd is also known for the diaries he kept in which he documents his life in Virginia and England. His library at Westover was the largest in the colonies, with 4,000 volumes. The property remained in the Byrd family until 1817, and both William Byrd I and II are buried here.

[photo] Westover's grounds
Photos courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS, VA,19-WEST,1-84) and Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Westover is situated beneath 150-year-old tulip poplar trees and alongside ancient boxwood. The grounds also include formal gardens, the hedge featuring a rare clairvoyee, plantation outbuildings such as a privy and icehouse, a collection of barns of varying ages and three sets of elaborate 18th-century English wrought-iron gates, among the most elaborate in America. An expansive lawn meets the banks of the James River. The site of the first Westover Church stood 400 yards west of the house, and includes the burials site of a number of prominent Virginians, including the first Benjamin Harrison of Berkeley.


[photo] Historic views of Westover, c. 1920
Photos courtesy Virginia Department of Historic Resources

Westover's renaissance began in 1899 when Mrs. Clarise Sears Ramsey, a Byrd descendent, purchased the property and hired the New York restoration architect William H. Mesereau to modernize the house. Mesereau designed the hyphens connecting the main house to the previously separate dependencies, creating one long building. Mesereau also built the new library dependency to the east on the site of William Byrd's library, which had been destroyed during the Civil War when Major General George B. McClellan encamped at Westover. Westover was acquired in 1921 by Mr. and Mrs. Richard Crane. The Cranes left the property to their daughter Mrs. Bruce Crane Fisher, the current owner. In 1974 a preservation easement was placed on 636 acres.

Westover, a National Historic Landmark, is located at 7000 Westover Rd. on the south side of Virginia Rte. 5, six miles west of Charles City. It is open daily for self-guided grounds tours; tours of the house are offered during Historic Garden Week, group tours by appointment. There is an admission fee (combination ticket with Edgewood, North Bend and Piney Grove available). Please call 804-829-2882 or visit the webpage for further information. Westover has also been documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey.

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