Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Location, Location, Location - Especially for Two Historic Virginia Houses

Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Susan reporting:

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.


Barbara Wells Sarudy said...

Port Royal is one of my favorite, still fairly undiscovered, towns. Thank you for the post.

Elizabeth said...

Thanks so much for sharing this little-known national gem. I'm usually nodding off by the time I reach Port Royal on my trek from Lynchburg, VA to Solomon's Island, MD when I always take notice of Port Royal. I love the chimney stacks and this sad but still-beautiful house. Not only those two items, but a bit further up US 301 are a couple of fantastic old churches. Driving that route always makes me appreciate our history - and then I fall back asleep on 301.


Sarah Waldock said...

All the best to Loretta and hoping that the weather disaster can get sorted out soon.

I'm afraid this Brit only ever thinks of one thing hearing the name Peyton, and that's Peyton Manning. Reckon he's good to be touched for a cash injection to the place?

Isobel Carr said...

I so envy your LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION and access to Colonial Williamsburg. I have a big SouthWest credit due to my canceled New Orleans trip (I should be there now, *sob). Maybe if I get my 18th century day dress done I’ll make a trip out there.

The Ancient said...

I'm going to make a point of going to Port Royal to see this house. (It's not terribly far from my house in the country and I have an obsessive interest in both 18th century Virginia architecture and the Randolph family.)

BTW, there are a few other pictures of the house at the link below:


Click on Booth Tour Pictures.

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