15 for ’15: Historic Sites for History Buffs

by Casey Higgins | Posted: Jan 13, 2015

Comments: 20 Comments

If you completed last year’s list of historic sites for history buffs, we have a brand new (bigger!) list for you to conquer this year, and we’ve even included a map below! Get excited and get moving.



Chatham Manor

Chatham Manor

Chatham Manor is a grand 1771 Georgian mansion, a magnet for guests like George Washington, Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jefferson, and William Henry Harrison. Upon the Civil War movement into the area in the spring of 1862, however, the home became the headquarters of Union General Irvin McDowell,to whom President Abraham Lincoln paid a visit that same spring. Chatham is one of only three homes visited by both Washington and Lincoln, with Mount Vernon and Berkeley Plantation being the other two.

Chatham became a make-shift hospital in November 1862 and included volunteers such as poet Walt Whitman and the eventual founder of the American chapter of the Red Cross, Clara Barton. As one can imagine, Chatham fell into huge disrepair after the war. The home passed through a series of owners until it was finally restored in the 1920s by Daniel and Helen Devore. The final owner of Chatham, John Lee Pratt, willed the home and its remaining 85 acres to the National Park Service in 1975. Learn More



Hatton Ferry, 1910

Hatton Ferry, 1910. The oldest known image of the ferry; taken from the Buckingham County shore of the James River.

The last hand-poled ferry in the United States can be found in Scottsville, Virginia, 25 miles south of Charlottesville. Hatton Ferry began crossing the James River between Albemarle and Buckingham Counties in 1870 but only did so at its original location for four years. The ferry moved upstream to its current location where in 1878, the Richmond and Allegheny Railroad established a stop that was active until 1950. In 1883, a post office began operating there as well, and remained until 1975.

Hatton Ferry was privately owned and operated until 1940, at which time the J. B. Tindall family deeded it to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Virginia Department of Transportation took over ferrying responsibilities until 2009. In 2010, the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society established a non-profit to continue operations.

Hatton Ferry continues to run Saturdays and Sundays, April through October. Learn More


Lynnhaven House

Lynnhaven House

Dating to 1725, the Lynnhaven House is considered a fine example of early Virginia vernacular architecture. Built by plantation owner  and master craftsman Francis Thelaball, the home is brick and features unique details such as a closed-spindle staircase with teardrop pendant.

The house was well preserved (maybe unknowingly), by owners in the late 1800s who paneled over the original walls. Owners in the 1920s installed sheet metal roofing over the cypress shingles, protecting them as well. All have been uncovered and are now visible to visitors. A tour inside will give you a glimpse of how the Thelaball family lived during their short time there (1725-1727; Francis died in 1727). Learn More


Smith's Fort Plantation

Smith’s Fort Plantation

Managed by Preservation Virginia, Smith’s Fort Plantation is a story-and-a-half Flemish bond brick home that was built between 1751 and 1765. The house sits on very historic land. Captain John Smith planned his new fort be built on the site, and indeed, construction of the fort began in 1608, but was never completed. Several years later, Chief Powhatan gave John Rolfe the land  as a dowry for Rolfe’s marriage to Pocahontas. While the couple never lived on the property, their only son, Thomas Rolfe, did operate a tobacco plantation on 400 acres of it.

Visitors today will hear four centuries’ worth of history about the site, and be treated to a tour of the aforementioned restored home of Jacob Faulcon and his family. Learn More


Holly Knoll

Holly Knoll

When Dr. Robert Russa Moton retired from his position as President of the Tuskegee Institute, he settled at Holly Knoll in Gloucester, welcoming dignitaries and other thought leaders. Upon his passing in 1940, Dr. Moton’s son-in-law, Dr. Frederick Douglass Patterson expanded the property to include dormitories and meeting space. The property served host for the creation of the United Negro College Fund, and today is home to the Gloucester Institute, an organization continuing Dr. Moton’s legacy of free thinking and problem solving. Learn More


Hanover Tavern

Hanover Tavern

If one wishes to see a 1700s government building that served as an inn, stagecoach stop, post office, and even a dinner theater, one should look no farther than Hanover Tavern, one of the few colonial-era taverns remaining in the U. S. Your stop would afford you a delicious tavern meal, and perhaps a performance by the aforementioned dinner theater troupe.

Esteemed visitors to Hanover Tavern included George Washington, Lord Cornwallis, and the Marquis de Lafayette. Learn More


Arlington House

Arlington House

Arlington House was built between 1802 and 1818 by George Washington Parke Custis (son of Martha Washington from her first marriage) as both a home and a memorial to his step-father, George Washington. Custis’s son-in-law, Robert E. Lee, considered Arlington House his home from his wedding day in 1831 until he took up rank with the Confederate Army to fight the Civil War. It was at Arlington House that Lee wrote his resignation letter to the United States Army in April 20, 1861. He left two days later and never returned.

Arlington National Cemetery began to take shape on the Arlington Estate in June 1864, mostly out of need to have burial plots in the midst of the Civil War, but also out of spite to the Lee family. Arlington House is maintained by the National Park Service and is open for tours. Learn More




Our nation’s third president, Thomas Jefferson, grew up at Tuckahoe Plantation just outside of Richmond. The modest home reflects early Georgian architecture, and the estate contains rare, original outbuildings, including a schoolhouse and office. The gardens and grounds of Tuckahoe are an immense draw, as it’s considered one of the most complete eighteenth century plantation layouts in North America. In fact, brides-to-be find Tuckahoe to be a beautiful wedding venue.

Tours of the home are available by appointment only as Tucakhoe is privately owned today. Learn More


Lee Hall Mansion

Lee Hall Mansion

A wealthy planter, Richard Decauter Lee built Lee Hall Mansion between 1851 and 1859. For two months shortly after the home’s completion, Lee Hall was used as Confederate headquarters for Generals Joseph E. Johnston and John B. Magruder.

Today you can see authentic furnishings and decor along with hundreds of artifacts on display. Learn More


Oak Ridge Estate

Oak Ridge Estate

Oak Ridge is a grand mansion with more humble beginnings. The home was grown into a four-story, 50 room Colonial Revival mansion from its nine room Federal style 1802 footprint by successful Wall Street financier and philanthropist Thomas Fortune Ryan.

The massive 4,800-acre estate was once home to as many as 300 workers and as such, had a community spring up around it with structures like the large stone dairy complex, a private railroad station, a chapel, and two schools. In addition, Ryan had a horse track on the grounds, which the current owners have restored for events.

Oak Ridge fell into decline after Ryan’s death, but has been restored and rejuvenated since being obtained by the Holland family of Suffolk, Virginia in 1989. The ultimate goal is for the property to be as it once was in Ryan’s era.

Today guests visiting Oak Ridge with an advance appointment are welcomed for a tour of the mansion. In addition, membership is available to the Oak Ridge Estate Hunt Club for deer, turkey, bear, and fowl. Oak Ridge is also the venue for the popular Lockn’ Festival held each September, and is a popular wedding venue. Learn More



Gunston Hall. Palladian Room.

Gunston Hall. Palladian Room.

“That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural Rights… among which are the Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursueing and obtaining Happiness and Safety.”

– George Mason. Virginia Declaration of Rights, May, 1776.

The United States Bill of Rights was based on the 1776 Virginia Bill of Rights written by George Mason IV, owner of the Georgian style Gunston Hall. Built between 1755 and 1759, the mansion and remaining 550 acres (original acreage was 5,500) are open to the public for guided tours and hiking. The grounds include outbuildings reconstructed on their original 18th century foundations, as well as the boxwood allée believed to date to Mason’s time in residence.

Gunston Hall passed hands more than a few times after Mason’s death in 1792 before being gifted to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1949. Visit to appreciate the significance of both the architecture and a framer of the United States Constitution. Learn More



Pope-Leighey House

Pope-Leighey House

Constructed by renown architect Frank Lloyd-Wright, the Pope-Leighey House is so named for the only two private owners that ever possessed it, Loren Pope and Marjorie Leighey. This home is in Lloyd-Wright’s Usonian style of affordable middle-class homes.

Pope-Leighey was built in Falls Church in 1940 for journalist Loren Pope and was then sold to Robert and Marjorie Leighey in 1946. The home was in the way a Route 66 expansion and was subject to demolition, prompting Mrs. Leighey to gift the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in an effort to save it. Saved, it was, for it was moved to the grounds of Woodlawn, another historic Virginia property you may have heard of. Mrs. Leighey remained in the relocated home until her death in 1983. Learn More



Historic Bassett Trail Depot

Historic Bassett Trail Depot

The Historic Bassett Train Depot on the Norfolk & Western line dates to 1892 and saw its last active passenger train chug off in the early 1960s. Today, the depot hosts the community market and special events, but railway enthusiasts, the curious, and even photographers like Michael Morgan seek it out for its history. Learn More | 1917 Photo


Mount Airy

Mount Airy

Dating to 1764, Mount Airy was built by Col. John Tayloe II as a horse farm, delivering some of America’s finest race horses, including Selima, Sir Archie, and Grey Diomed. In fact, the original stable still survives on the property, as does the smokehouse and one wall of North America’s oldest orangery.

Mount Airy has hosted dignitaries like George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, but has always remained in the Tayloe family, with the current John Tayloe Emery and his wife Catherine residing there today.

Visitors are welcome to tour Mount Airy with an advance appointment. Waterfowl, dove, and turkey  hunting, as well as weddings, are also available. Learn More



Siege Museum

Siege Museum

The Exchange Building, built in 1839 as a commodities market and one of only a few in America, is home to the Siege Museum, a site dedicated to telling the story of how the Siege of Petersburg affected those who lived there.

Imagine a fine life – a lavish life – that was suddenly gone, as were the city’s men. Food was hard to come by and when found, expensive. Corn was ground to drink when coffee beans were no longer available, and the cost of a chicken was 50 Confederate dollars. See exactly how things were before, during, and after the Civil War through rare artifacts and writings housed at the Siege Museum. Learn More


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Carl Hardy says:

thanks for sharing this stuff….

Kia says:

It’s ashame that nothing is being written about historic city or Orlean, Virginia and the Orlean Market. Lots of history and important, influential people in that area.

Casey Higgins says:

I’ll do some research, Kia, thanks! I’m not familiar with Orlean but plan to be. 😉

While you’re in the neighborhood of @Mount Airy, make sure to stop in at @VisitMenokin!

MickeyC says:

I’ve lived here all my life and have never heard of many of these. Thank you!

John Thomas says:

I can’t believe on the 150th anniversary of the surrender at Appomattox Historic Courthouse, that it would be left off the list. All the promotion by the State of Virginia on this anniversary was overlooked.

Casey Higgins says:

Thank you for your feedback, John. We have some plans in the works for the conclusion of the Sesquicentennial. Stay tuned!

H adams says:

There is the Appomattox Courthouse National Historic Park where Lee surrendered to Grant. In April of this year they are having the 150 anniversary of the end of the Civil War. Appomattox also has the Museum of the Confederacy.

Casey Higgins says:

Yes, indeed! Very significant anniversary and site.

Myra says:

Great list of lesser known attractions! Come on down to Southern Virginia to get a few more. LOVE all of Virginia history!

Rick Painter says:

There are lots of places for history geeks in other parts of the state! How about listing them as well. I am working on a “History Ride” (motorcycle trip around the state) and would like to cover the entire state.

Casey Higgins says:

Please tell exactly which history geek-worthy sites those are, Rick.

emajohn says:

Great list, but you’ve left off one near and dear to my heart- Sully Historic Site in Chantilly! Maybe next year!