Historic Structures

Westover Mansion, Westover Virginia

Date added: June 9, 2021 Categories: Virginia House Mansion Plantations & Farms Georgian

Westover i s a superb example of early Georgian architecture. It was also the home of William Byrd II (1674-1744), American colonial planter, writer, politician, and a founder of Virginia gentry society.

Westover is located on one of the earliest Virginia plantations, first occupied in 1619. The present mansion is quite possibly the most famous Georgian house in America. It was built between the years 1730 and 1734 by William Byrd II, colonial planter, speculator, author, and public official.

William Byrd II (1674-1744) was the son of William Byrd I, one of the founders of Virginia gentry society. The elder Byrd sent his son to London for study, and left him 26,000 acres of land upon his death in 1704.

The younger Byrd had been very popular in London due to his wit, looks, and personal charm. But he left immediately to look after his father's estate. When he himself died forty years later, it had grown to include some 180,000 acres. Despite his many holdings, or because of them, Byrd was often short of funds and was frequently obliged to sell land or slaves to make ends meet.

Byrd owned the largest library in the colonies up to that time, more than 4000 volumes. He was also a member of the scientific Royal Society and a prolific author. Less than a renaissance man but much more than a dilettante, his manuscripts and diaries are written in a witty, cutting style which establish him as one of America's first important authors. His History of the Dividing Line Betwixt Virginia and North Carolina describes his work settling the boundary dispute between those two colonies. The accounts of the scheming and intrigue involved in the establishment of that border are as fascinating as his opinions of North Carolina, its swamps and its inhabitants are droll. History of the Dividing Line has become a classic of early American literature.

The mansion proper consists of a two-story central section on a high basement with two attached wings; the eastern wing is a replacement of the original, destroyed during the Civil War.

Several dependencies stand nearby, including the original kitchen, which may predate the main house. A brick privy, brick fence, and an iron gate leading to what once were the slave quarters also date to the seventeenth century. A brick house, barn, and silo lie northeast of the main building. They are contemporary structures, but are shielded from view by a tall hedge standing between them and the mansion.

The mansion itself features formal doorways in Portland stone on both main facades; a steeply pitched hip roof, rising to a sharp ridge rather than a deck; an off-center main hall, utilizing one of the regularly spaced facade windows as a light source; and a finely detailed interior with full-length paneling and enriched plaster ceilings. Exterior features include three original wrought iron gates of great intricacy; an under-ground tunnel from the house to the river bank; the site of the first Westover church, where William Byrd I and his wife are buried; the remains of an old ice house; and formal gardens, at the center of which is William Byrd II's grave.