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    Virginia Route 5: Charles City Colonial Plantation Tour and Visit

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    Martí Micolau

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    You have always wanted to go on a discovery of historic plantations of Virginia? Today we talk about the Route 5, a splendid itinerary in the Mid Atlantic to discover the home plantations, where costumed figures will welcome and accompany you on a journey through time and where, in some cases, you can also spend an unforgettable night, sleeping among furnishings and historical relics, a journey backwards of over 200 years ...


    • Route 5 Virginia: What is it and where is it…
    • How to visit the plantations?
    • Virginia Plantations: Historic Homes Tour
    • Sleeping in plantation homes? It's possible!

    Route 5 Virginia: What is it and where is it…

    La Route 5 (Rt5) runs for 88 kilometers between the colonial town of Williamsburg and the capital city of Richmond. Driving along state highway 5 surrounded by green woods, where traffic is flowing, is a pleasant and relaxing experience. Most of the road runs parallel to the north bank of the James River. In the quiet area of ​​this river, a symbiosis of history and nature welcomes visitors through a unique experience of stories and images back in time, at the dawn of the history of a great nation.

    Route 5 passes through several counties, most notably Charles City county, which owes its name to Prince Charles, later crowned King Charles I of England. This county of 528 square kilometers is not very populated and consists of small villages, but the "jewels" it can boast of are the colonial plantations with related houses, vintage Italian residences with different styles and architectural structures, immersed in acres of land surrounded by trees, gardens, lawns, flowered areas and the James River around. These houses date back to 17th and 18th century, at the time of the first tobacco crops, a very profitable product in Virginia. Here many slaves imported from Africa worked with their stories of suffering and exploitation.

    How to visit the plantations?

    Glimpse of Route 5

    Entering the plantations is easy even if the buildings are not on the side of the road. The estates are indicated by road signs, you go along a small road or an avenue (depending on the property) and then you arrive in the area to visit. It is generally possible to do daily self-guided tours in the outdoor areas (from 9 am to 16 pm) e visits by appointment in the internal areas, but as these are private properties, each one follows its own rules which may also vary depending on the season. That is why, to organize a tour, it is important to check days, opening hours and entrance ticket costs.

    In our opinion it is worth choosing the guided tour option; as soon as you cross the threshold of the residences, expert and competent guides, but above all passionate (and generally in period costume), transport visitors to another temporal dimension from which they are pleasantly enveloped by the stories, struck by the charm of the entrances, the stairs, the precious wood and the furnishings.

    Info on guided tours

    We also recommend that you consider special events that periodically take place in some plantations, such as the candlelight tour (candlelit tour) during the Christmas period, an evocative itinerary by reservation that starts from the Shirley plantation, continues at Berkeley and ends at Edgewood. It is a unique opportunity to relive typical holiday celebrations across four centuries of history. Currently the cost is $ 42 per person.

    Virginia Plantations: Historic Homes Tour

    For those unfamiliar with the area, let's briefly tell some history and give some information on curiosities and themed days following a path from south to north specifying that, if you don't have much time available, the four properties we recommend not to be missed are Sherwood, Westover, Berkeley and Shirley.

    Map of plantations on Route 5

    Sherwood Forest plantation

    La Sherwood Forest plantation (14501 John Tyler Memorial highway-Rt5), dates back to around 1680. It has always been owned by the Tyler family who keep it in its glory thanks to the Sherwood Forest Plantation foundation. 1862th US President John Tyler also lived here for years until his death in XNUMX.

    Route 5: Virginia Plantation Tour

    Note the length of the building, more than ninety meters. Twelve outbuildings surround the house surrounded by ten hectares of gardens, meadows and forests. There is even a pet cemetery. The villa reflects the typical lifestyle of a presidential family of the time: inside there is also a ballroom. The mansion survived the civil war of 1864 when union soldiers damaged it. There is a legend about this villa about a certain Lady Gray, a lady so called because she is often dressed in gray. For more than a hundred years it has been said that the swaying of a rocking chair felt in the room called the gray room shows the presence of the spirit of the lady in question. Someone recently claimed that Lady Gray's image appeared on some steps inside the mansion. For those interested in these phenomena, the gray room is an unmissable stop.

    Greenway plantation

    La Greenway plantation (10900 John Tyler Memorial highway-Rt5) was built around 1776 near Charles City courthouse at the behest of Judge John Tyler Sr, father of future US President John Tyler, born here in 1790. John Tyler lived here until 1829 when he sold this house and moved to the aforementioned Sherwood Forest plantation which belonged to his family.

    The main house and other annexed buildings are located on the four and a half square kilometers of land. The villa is not a particularly imposing building as in the case of other properties but the complex is of attraction for its historical importance linked to the Tylers. The main building, which is spread over one and a half floors, has been well preserved over the centuries and only minor changes have been made. It has a symmetrical structure in its front with two identical lateral chimneys, characteristic of the colonial structures of the South. The plan is T-shaped, the foundations are in brick and the roof is covered with gabled wooden tiles.

    Beautiful Air planting

    La Beautiful Air planting (11800 John Tyler memorial highway-Rt5) dates from around 1670. In its two hectares of land there are also gardens, flowers and aromatic herbs and it is pleasant to wander with the gaze on the surrounding agricultural expanses. The house is structured in wood, in particular pine, has six front skylights and two brick fireplaces. Some renovations have been made by the current owners, Mrs & Mr Major, without changing the original appearance. Its interior is embellished with valuable antique furniture. Extremely fine collections of English and American antiques dating back to the 18th century can also be admired, as well as antique oriental rugs that complement the furnishings on the first and second floors. Of note are the internal stairs in the English Renaissance style.

    Westover plantation

    La Westover planting (7000 Westover road - Rt5) with its red brick Georgian architecture is fully worth a visit. It is one of the most elegant colonial plantations with superb proportions. It was built around 1730 by the Byrd family, who still own it. The view of the James River is spectacular. In the center of the garden is the tombstone of William Byrd II, the founder of the Virginia capital, Richmond. From the property it is possible to enjoy the passage of eagles. The main building features an elaborate front door. The roof is steep and surmounted by pairs of tall identical chimneys on the sides. The house is known for its secret passages and manicured gardens. An icebox, a wrought iron gate, a tunnel and various granaries enrich the property. During the American Civil War it was the headquarters of the "Union fifth corps", a unit of the army.


    We also report the Evelynton planting (6701 John Tyler memorial highway-Rt5) although the owners do not allow visits. The estate is very famous locally because it was originally part of the aforementioned Westover complex. The brick villa, with its double symmetrical front colonnade, was named in honor of Evelyn, the owners' daughter.

    Berkeley plantation

    La Berkeley planting (12602 Harrison Landing Road-Rt 5) was built in 1726 but many years earlier an important event took place on the ground where the Berkeley complex would later be built: the first "Thanksgiving Day" was celebrated on 4 December 1619. official. Even today, in November, the event is commemorated with a very popular costume event called Thanksgiving festival, a day of historical reenactments, tribal dances, music, magic, food and many other activities (if you are interested, we have the Thanksgiving turkey recipe ready for you).

    It also appears that the first bourbon whiskey in America was distilled on that strip of land in 1620.

    Like Sherwood, Berkeley is also a treasure trove of history. It was the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison V, one of the editors of the American declaration of independence and governor of Virginia for three terms. Later 9th US President William Henry Harrison was born here and his grandson Benjamin, who later became 23rd President, lived on this estate. The red brick Georgian mansion with symmetries and references to classical architecture is surrounded by boxwood trees and floral gardens leading down to the James River. It is the oldest three story brick house in Virginia.

    Inside there are magnificent objects and original furnishings dating back to the 18th century, but there is something else unusual: some visitors have reported the presence of the ghost of a young drummer who also seems to have the habit of walking in riverside with another man.

    Shirley plantation

    La Shirley planting (501 Shirley plantation rd – Rt) is the first plantation in the area, built in 1613 by Edward Hill I, politician, soldier and farmer. For four centuries the Carter-Hill family has owned it and is still managed by the descendants today. The property is called the best-preserved 18th-century home. This mansion, considered an architectural treasure, stretches for 283 acres to the James River.


    The main house, called the great house, was built in Georgian style with two fireplaces and red brick walls. The facade and rear of the building have a beautiful two-story porch and the large outdoor courtyard is worth a visit. In the entrance, the stairs called flying stairs do not go unnoticed, worthy of note for the feeling of suspension. In the house there is also an icebox, a stable, a smokehouse, a warehouse, a dovecote and the laundry plus the kitchen for the slaves.

    There are many events organized here. We mention the charity event which is generally held in October and is dedicated to the sport of polo; in our opinion it is not so much the game that is the focal point of the day, but the glance given by the spectators in period clothing: the ladies in long off-the-shoulder dress with the gentlemen in khaki-colored dresses and light-colored leather shoes, sipping tea in the shade of large tents with background music. A real set from the 40s!   

    Sleeping in plantation homes? It's possible!

    Some of the plantation homes are now wanted Bed & Breakfast with colonial-style furnishings, antiques, lace, canopied beds, porcelain services and delightful porches under which to relax.

    We point out three in which to live the experience of being catapulted into a journey back over 200 years in time. Who wouldn't like it?


    Edgewood (4800 John Tyler memorial highway-Rt5) in carpenter's gothic style for its sharp-angled roofs. Elizabeth Rowland's legend, called Lizzie, touches the hearts of visitors. Until her death the girl waited in vain for the return of her love from the civil war waiting for him at the window every day. The girl's name is engraved in a corner of the window in the room called Lizzie room. It is said that her spirit still wanders awaiting the return of the beloved. All the rooms are embellished with period objects and furniture and each has its own characteristic. During the Civil War, the current third floor was used as a lookout for Confederate generals housed in nearby Berkeley (of which Edgewood was once a part). This B&B is very famous for organizing named events Victorian Tea, for groups of at least ten people, with themed dresses and sweets accompanying the infusion. Tea party-style birthdays can also be organized.


    Check prices and availability

    North bend

    North bend (12200 Weyanoke road – Rt5). The main building is structured in perfect symmetry with a columned portico and double fireplaces on both sides. It was built by John Minge for his wife Sarah Harrison, sister of the 9th American President William Henry Harrison. The owners are descended from Sarah and William. In 1864 it was used as the headquarters by the major general of the US army, Philip Sheridan so the owner at the time was forced to move to the Belle Air plantation without returning to North Bend. For the more romantic, the canopy beds in pastel colors will be perfect.


    Check prices and availability

    Piney Grove at Southall

    Piney Grove at Southall (16920 Southall plantation lane – Rt5). The property, set in 300 acres of land, dates back to around 1790 and belonged to the family of Furneau Southall (Deputy-Sheriff in Charles City County) until 1857. Here you can enjoy a corner of history in a rural setting, in a building with a simple wooden structure, and relax in the rooms furnished with antique furniture and family heirlooms.


    Check prices and availability

    Plantations and Bed & Breakfasts can be booked for weddings, ceremonies, parties, photo shoots and film scenes. It is sufficient to ask the owners about the various possibilities and availability.

    This tour is recommended not only for history buffs but for all those who love peaceful settings surrounded by nature because they will live a beautiful experience along Route 5.

    We suggest combining the visit of the plantation homes withHistoric Triangle to discover also the colonial towns of Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown.

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