April 08, 2015

Song of the South ~ Shirley Plantation

There's nothing like visiting the oldest family-owned business in the United States with your oldest childhood friend.

This past January, I took advantage of a warm winter day and the presence of a good friend visiting from Boston to tour Shirley Plantation, situated just east of Richmond along the James River.  This plantation is one of a handful still remaining along the James, and it bears the distinction of having been kept in the same family for eleven generations.  We figured it would give my friend a good taste of the South before going home to epic snowstorms.

The Hill-Carter family of Shirley Plantation is well-known in Virginia.  Prominent figures of their family history include Robert "King" Carter, purportedly richer than the British monarch of his time, and also Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, the American Revolutionary War patriot and father to Robert E. Lee.  Despite the threat of seizure by Union troops during the Civil War, the house remained in the control of the family and survived the war intact, largely through the cunning of its residents, who pledged to provide nursing and care for wounded Union troops encamped on their property.  In return, the house and family received a Federal Safeguard from General McClellan himself in recognition of their humanitarian services.  Throughout the remaining years of the war, Union troops stayed on the property to discourage looting or attacks on the family and grounds.  Perhaps this safeguard, offered to the extended family of Robert E. Lee himself, is the reason why McClellan lost his job in the months following this event.

Flying Staircase.  Source.
Tours of the house include only the first floor as the upper levels are the residence of the family.  The "flying" staircase in the foyer draws the eye immediately, as there is no visible signs of support for the three flights of stairs.  Period furniture, family heirlooms and portraits adorn the rooms and walls much as they have for the last 360 years.

Various outbuildings on the property are also open to the public:  the kitchen, barn, store house, smoke house, etc.  The smell of boxwood permeates the air as the James River rolls lazily by.  The unseasonably warm weather we enjoyed tempted us to picnic on the lawn, and I could easily understand why people would want to have their wedding hosted here.

Admission is only $11 for adults, and discounts are offered for seniors, past/present military members and their dependents.  For those of you looking to visit a quintessential Virginian site, you can't go wrong with Shirley Plantation.

Have you visited Shirley Plantation?


Linking up with A Brit and A Southerner, A Southern Gypsy, Carmen's Luxury Travel, Justin Plus Lauren, and Outbound Adventurer for the #WeekendWanderlust!


  1. So lovely! I'm jealous of all the fascinating history/nature you all (y'all?) have further south in Virginia!

    1. I definitely under-appreciated it until the last few years! But the I-64 corridor between Richmond and Charlottesville is a pretty kick-ass place to live if I do say so myself. You should move! :)

  2. I'd love to be able to visit a plantation some day! it's interesting how they have had it for so many generations.

    1. It really is! Definitely something to put on your list of things to see in Virginia. :)

  3. We have visited several plantation and antebellum homes in Louisiana, but not further east. Time for us to venture out! Thanks for putting this on our radar!

  4. Very cool! Love all of the history and I can see why people would want to have their weddings here!


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