Thursday, August 17, 2017  

Blandfield Plantation
Mid-Georgian Mansion  

North of Tappahannock, near Caret, is one of the most important and historically significant houses in Virginia and the nation. It is Blandfield, one of the most splendid mid-Georgian Tidewater Mansions dating from the Colonial Period, in Virginia. The mansion has been lovingly and meticulously restored by the Wheat family, in the spirit of its builder Robert Beverley. In 1983, Mr. and Mrs. James C. Wheat, Jr. purchased Blandfield, which had fallen into a state of disrepair, from Beverley family descendents. The purchase of Blandfield and the surrounding 3500 acres of pristine land, rescued Blandfield Plantation from commercial development at the hands of land speculators who wished to turn Blandfield and her lands into a Dutch owned resort.

Blandfield is located on a breathtaking and vast acreage which borders the Rappahannock River, in Upper Essex County, north of Tappahannock. The original patent granted to Major Beverley, in 1683, included over 100,000 acres, which seems unfathomable to us today. The mansion is situated atop the ancient escarpment approximately one mile from the Rappahannock River, which can be seen in the distance. The mansion we see today is the second house built on the original land grant. The first home was built close to the river shore. Archaeological test digs still reveal bricks and foundation locations.

Blandfield mansion was built by Major Beverley’s great-grandson Robert, between 1769 and 1773 and was named in honor of Elizabeth Bland, the wife of William Beverley, the builder of the first house at Blandfield. The first house was located much closer to the river and vanished, long ago, from the landscape.

Robert Beverley was educated in England, which obviously must have influenced him in the style of home that he would eventually build, back in Virginia, which was still a British colony at the time of Blandfield’s construction. It is thought that the plans for Blandfield were adapted, by Robert Beverley, from specific plates in an influential 1728 book by English Architect James Gibbs. Drum House in Scotland has also been mentioned as a possible model for Blandfield. The plans of James Gibbs were inspired by the 16th century Italian Villa designs of Andrea Palladio. Palladian designs were focused upon entertaining guests by the wealthy of the period. Similarly, these plans were characterized by a five part plan which included flanking dependencies to house the kitchen and other essential service areas. These dependencies are connected to the main house by completely enclosed one-story corridors, know as hyphens. Robert Beverley, the builder of Blandfield was married to Maria Byrd Carter of Sabine Hall, which is located on the other side of the Rappahannock River, in Richmond County.

The exterior of Blandfield is in keeping with its 18th century appearance, and has remained, for the most part, unchanged, with the exception of a screened porch added on the river side, during the 19th century. The interior of the mansion, underwent drastic alterations by William Beverley, grandson of the original builder, in the 1840s. William Beverley had the original 18th century woodwork from Blandfield removed from the house and redone in a very bland Greek Revival style. What his reasons for this are not known, however there has been much speculation over the years regarding his motivation. Perhaps he thought the woodwork was outdated or needed repair, or perhaps he thought that the elaborate woodwork presented a fire hazard as a portion of Mt. Airy’s interior woodwork had previously burned. Could this have caused him to take such drastic action? We will never know his reasons, however, the interior wood work, as seen today, is more in keeping with Blandfield’s original, more elaborate 18th century appearance.

The restoration of Blandfield was accomplished over many years, under the direction of Architects and research specialists from the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. For over one year, they patiently searched the house for any clues and fragments to guide them in their restoration of Blandfield’s interior, back to its 18th century appearance. Their extensive on site research paid off as evidence was found of the original 18th century woodwork, including dimensions for all of the cornices. In the attic a complete inside shutter was also found and provided valuable information about Blandfield’s operational interior shutters. As much glass as possible from the original 18th and 19th century window panes was also saved and reused during restoration.

Robert Beverley must have been an extremely interesting, well spoken and confident man of great vision. He was a prolific writer and documenter, who went into great detail regarding the building, decorating and furnishing of Blandfield, which he included in his diary. In it he listed in great detail the materials and furnishings ordered for the house, which has been an invaluable tool in restoring Blandfield to her previous 18th century grandeur and majesty. Did he keep these notes solely for himself, or was he looking ahead to the future, preparing an inventory for the future generation or individuals who would one day restore his beloved Blandfield? The fabrics, wall coverings, interior woodwork, furnishings and window treatments that one can see at Blandfield today are all based on Robert Beverley’s original notes. The Virginia Historical Society, Library of Virginia and the Essex County Library all contain volumes of information regarding the Beverley family and Blandfield’s Builder — Robert Beverley.

Blandfield’s original 18th century kitchen is one of the very few remaining examples of kitchens during this period, in Virginia. It has been wonderfully restored and preserved. The kitchen contains an 8’ fireplace, bread oven and the original cranes that the heavy iron kettles were suspended from. The hearth was also used for cooking in cast iron skillets. This dependency, contains two rooms on the first floor — the kitchen and a second smaller room for food preparation. Although the floors were originally dirt, bricks were laid in 1986. The second floor contains a very generously sized room and fireplace, where it is thought the chef or tutor may have lived. A secondary room upstairs was for the servants. The stairway to the upstairs is original and shows the wear characteristic of 300+ years of use.

The Grand Hall is grand indeed, with dimensions of 25’ x 30’. All ceilings on the first floor are 13 ½ feet high, above the floor. The wallpaper copied for use in the restoration of the Grand Hall is known as Pillars and Galleries. It was found by Colonial Williamsburg research staff, in the Library of Congress and provides a dramatic and stunning backdrop for the decorative arts and furnishings used in the Grand Hall.

Although Blandfield is a home of massive and classically Georgian proportions, it is also a wonderfully welcoming place and a living record of Robert Beverley’s vision. Blandfield is a family home that truly is capable of transporting one to another time.

The dining room is a welcoming and cheerful place, as are all of the public rooms on the main floor of the Mansion. The dining room is to the left of the Grand Hall, from the main entrance.

The Green Room is situated just behind the Grand Hall and is joined by a lovely porch, on the river side of the house, which opens to breath-taking vistas of the rolling landscape and the Rappahannock River in the distance. The vibrancy of the colors utilized throughout Blandfield often seem bold to modern day visitors and guests, who are surprised to find that they are the colors used originally in Robert Beverley’s day. They create a truly stunning and opulent backdrop for the equally colorful and opulent fabrics found throughout the house. The Green Room is the most exquisite shade of emerald green imaginable.

The Yellow Room, to the left of the Green Room, facing the river side of the house, contains a large grouping of rare bird, botanical and wildlife studies by renowned 18th century artist Mark Catesby.

Blandfield, built under the vision and guidance of Robert Beverly and restored by the vision and determination of Mr. and Mrs. James C. Wheat, Jr. lives on today as a legacy that will endure under the stewardship and guidance of James C. Wheat III and successive generations, into the future. There is no place quite like Blandfield. It is an amazing and wonderful place.

In addition to the main house Blandfield is the site of some of the best upland bird and water fowl hunting on the east coast and entire middle-Atlantic region. Blandfield’s Lodge is modeled after an 1870’s Coast Guard station at Parramore Island, which was a popular hunting and fishing spot for the Wheat family for over 30 years. The Lodge is one mile from the mansion and overlooks over 600 acres of pristine creeks and marshland. From the third floor observation room, scenic water views, sunrises, sunsets and panoramic vistas of this pristine portion of the Rappahannock River can be taken in, adding to an already unforgettable experience.

Believing that Blandfield is a treasure to be shared, Blandfield Plantation, will be available for weddings, intimate or gala receptions and special events, beginning in 2009. Both the main house and its beautiful grounds as well as the Lodge provide an unforgettable backdrop for special events. For more information regarding weddings at Blandfield Mansion or Blandfield’s Lodge, please contact Diana Adams, Blandfield Plantation’s Executive Director at 804-690-5736. You may also email her at dianaadam85@aol.com. Visit Blandfield Plantation online at www.blandfieldplantation.com.

Making a difference in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula of Virginia

We are particularly blessed in this area with scenic pastoral landscapes, breathtaking water views, diverse wild life and waterfowl in abundance. The natural beauty of our area on crisp autumn days is able, if you let it, to make time stand still. There is nothing quite like autumn in “our neck of the woods” with the sound of rustling leaves on a crisp day combined with the sound of wind skimming across the water. The long shadows and jewel toned sky create a breathtaking backdrop. Combine all these things together and you have a symphony of sights, smells and sounds that beckon you to Stop! Listen and revel in the glory of Autumn that is soon to be upon us. These timeless moments can renew your soul and cast a life changing spell on those of us who will take them in. The historic, agricultural, architectural and maritime Icons that remain to this day, all stand witness to days gone by. To life that was here, long before us. To a quieter and simpler time that had its own unique set 
of challenges.

We are all stewards in one way or another, of our families, our finances, our homes, property if we are blessed to have it, our family history and so on. We are either good stewards or not such good stewards, but we are all stewards (caretakers), none the less, particularly when it comes to community. The difference between success and failure is often tied to what kind of stewards we are and how we treat our fellow man and our surroundings.

Whether natives to the area, having been born and raised here or “come heres”, we are a diverse lot, with various goals and agendas. Likewise we are also fortunate to have our share of non-profit and volunteer organizations, with various goals and their own unique target groups. Although the agenda’s may be different, some promoting family causes, main street beautification, historic preservation, land conservation, community involvement, literacy, education or responsible economic development, they have one thing in common, which is to promote and maintain a better quality of life for those who choose to dwell here or visit this wonderful and often pristine area of Virginia.

House and Home’s June / July issue took a look at “Balls in the Hall” and the outstanding community efforts of the Kilmarnock YMCA. In the August / September issue, The House and Home Magazine took a look at “Preservation.” This October / November issue, The House and Home Magazine is profiling “Conservation” efforts in our midst by profiling the land conservation efforts going in our extended area and Blandfield Plantation, which is an example of historic preservation and land stewardship at its best.

The Essex County Countryside Alliance

The Essex County Countryside Alliance is one of several conservation oriented groups in the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck of Virginia that present a variety of options for landowners. It all began in 2006, when Peter Bance, a local landowner along with Bob Baylor, a local farmer and others, became concerned about the loss of farmland and poorly planned development that had the potential to adversely affect the rural landscape and quality of life for generations of rural farmers and landowners. Thus the ECCA was incorporated as a non-profit corporation and has accomplished the protection of over 7,000 acres of rural landscape and farmland in Essex County alone in only two short years.

The membership is made up of concerned local officials, landowners, farmers, hunters and citizens of Essex County and beyond, who have formed an alliance that is dedicated to the preservation and conservation of the natural, scenic and Historical Resources of Essex County, Virginia and the entire Rappahannock River Valley. Good land stewardship practices also enhance the natural habitat for wildlife and protect the quality of our tidal rivers.

Although the ECCA certainly advocates land conservation, they are also advocates for quality oriented and well planned economic development that is not detrimental to the quality of life in our community.

Land Conservation is not a new concept at all. In fact it has been practiced for decades, however, the difference today, verses years ago is that there can be substantial tax and other financial benefits, in addition to “peace of mind,” that were not available years ago. The many options available today are valuable tools that can assist landowners, enabling them to maintain control of their land, preserving it for their family into the future. With the current down turn in the real estate market and the other factors that have directly affected it, there are a host of land options available that can in the short and long term, provide a substantial benefit to landowners, who wish to consider preserving their land.

The ECCA exists to meet this need by providing reliable information and resources to those interested in finding out more about the many options available to landowners today. They are not easement holders but work together with landowners to provide information that will assist them in their own individual decisions regarding their land.

ECCA Fall Meeting and Fundraiser at Blandfield Plantation, Essex County

Over 170 guests from Essex County, the Northern Neck, Middle Peninsula, Richmond, Charlottesville, and beyond, met at Blandfield, on September 12, 2008 to support the efforts of the ECCA and to enjoy the elegant evening and wonderful hospitality that was extended by Mr. Jimmy Wheat. Guest Speakers included former Governor Mark Warner and the Honorable Tayloe Murphy of Mt. Airy. Both being residents of the Northern Neck, they spoke about the conservation and preservation efforts in this area and how they improve and preserve the quality of life for all those who live in this area of Virginia as well as protecting the water and marine resources of the Chesapeake Bay for future generations. Other speakers included Rebecca McCoy, CPA, from Mathews and Benjamin Baird of Epping Forest, in Upper Essex, who asked for the support of the ECCA members in standing with his family against the proposed O’Gara paramilitary training facility that wanted to locate across from his home in Upper Essex. The outcry of Essex County citizens was so great, from all parts of the county and beyond, that the O’Gara Group withdrew their application from Essex County.

Other conservation organizations in the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck are the Northern Neck Land Conservancy and the Middle Peninsula Land trust. If you live on the Northern Neck you can find out more about the NNLC online at www.nnconserv.org. Their website is full of wonderful resources and local news pertaining to good land management practices, conservation and also includes a link for their new license plate that can be purchased through your local Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles location. This is a great way to show your support for preserving the rural character, and special way of life in the Northern Neck.

The Middle Peninsula Land Trust is an organization that promotes land conservation and is also an actual land trust or easement holding organization. They serve all counties located on the Middle Peninsula. For more information about the Middle Peninsula Land Trust online, go to their website at www.mplandtrust.org.

If you are interested in finding out more information about the Essex County Countryside Alliance or the many options available to landowners in Essex County, please feel free to contact the ECCA online at www.essexcca.com, or by calling MaryMoss Walker at 804-754-4304.

Karin Andrews is the newsletter editor for the Essex County Countryside Alliance, is a fine artist, muralist, very creative person and also an occasional writer. She can be reached at 804-445-5500 or by email at kjaartist@msn.com.
Special thanks to Diana Adams of Blandfield Plantation and Mr. Jimmy Wheat for providing photographs and much of the historical information.  Article by Karin Andrews, contributing writer.