My internet connection has returned to life, but Loretta's remains buried beneath snow and fallen trees. I'll be carrying on in her stead until she digs out - we hope sooner rather than later!
"Location, location, location" is the mantra of every real estate agent when it comes to judging the value of a property. Historic houses are no different, with fate and fortune playing their part, too.
This house, above left, sits forlornly in Port Royal, VA, and is known as the Brockenbrough-Peyton House. Today Port Royal is little more than a tiny, sleepy village (I've written about it before here), but when it was founded in the 17th c, its location on the banks of the Rappahannock River made it an important center for the export of tobacco to England. Port Royal's taverns, warehouses, and churches, an academy and a Masonic Lodge were thriving when this house was built around 1760. The earliest known owner was Champe Brokenbrough, who passed the house to his daughter, a Mrs. Peyton. At the time of the Civil War, the house was shared by her children: her son, Randolph Peyton, and his two unmarried sisters, Sarah Jane and Lucy.
None of this would be remembered now – except that Sarah Jane and Lucy were alone in the house on April 25, 1865. John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, was struggling to escape with several accomplices to the South through Maryland, and the party begged Sarah Jane for shelter. Not realizing who they were, she briefly let them inside the house to rest. Soon, however, the impropriety of having strange men under her roof while her brother was away made Sarah Jane have second thoughts, and she sent the men on to the Garrett Farm (where they were eventually captured, and Booth killed.)
But despite so much history, the Brockenbrough-Peyton House has suffered greatly. Not only have the lands and gardens that must have once surrounded it vanished, but in the mid-20th c, the house's elegant interior was gutted and the woodwork sold (it's now in the Nelson-Atkins Art Gallery in Kansas City, MO.) Today it sits with boarded windows and blue building tarp tied to its back, bravely waiting for the huge amount of money necessary to restore it.
I can't help but think of another house that has fared much more happily. Belonging to distant cousin (and similarly named) Peyton Randolph, the house, right, was built at nearly the same time in the 18th c and in a similar style, and was also funded by tobacco-money. But the Peyton Randolph House was built in Williamsburg, where it became part of Colonial Williamsburg with its future secured by Rockefeller money, while less than a hudred miles away, the Brockenbrough-Peyton House languishes in Port Royal.
Location, location, location....
Left: Brockenbrough-Peyton House, Port Royal, VA Right: Peyton Randolph House, Williamsburg, Va. Photo courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.