"In the Beginning, all America was Virginia."
William Byrd II
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Wilton

Address: 215 South Wilton Road, Box 8225, Richmond, Va. 23226
Phone: 804.282.5936
Web site: http://www.wiltonhousemuseum.org

William Randolph III, one of the great colonial landholders in Virginia, purchased 2,000 acres along the James River in eastern Henrico County in 1747. There, he and his wife, Ann Carter Harrison of Berkeley, built a mansion they named Wilton, completed about 1753. The center of a bustling tobacco plantation, the house remained in Randolph family hands until the start of the Civil War, and then through a succession of owners was left virtually intact, although losing much of its original grandeur as a prime example of Georgian architecture. The increasing industrialization of Richmond pushed its boundaries further east early in the twentieth century, threatening Wilton's survival and leading both to its acquisition by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1933 and to its move to a new site on a bluff overlooking the James in the Westhampton section of western Richmond.

The new setting, while auspicious, was limited in area, a far cry from the spaciousness of the original Wilton site. Hence, when the owners approached The Garden Club of Virginia about a landscape plan for the new site, the Clubs architect, Arthur A. Shurcliff, undertook the creation, rather than the restoration, of colonial gardens. With an ambitious master plan, he set about creating a sense of space while at the same time providing a significant buffer from the surrounding residential properties. The design of a series of terraces, leading from the entrance gate to the house to the gardens and river beyond, helped to transform the steep and rocky hillside on which Wilton was now situated.

In aid to his plans, Shurcliff depended on excavations of the old Wilton site undertaken by Herbert A. Claiborne of the firm of Claiborne & Taylor, Inc., which had moved the mansion house and reconstructed it in its new location. From those limited studies, Shurcliff's plan developed, the ultimate implementation of which gave the impression that Wilton had always stood in this congenial location. As had been the case at Smiths Fort Plantation, Shurcliff used boxwood, both large tree and smaller dwarf varieties, around the house and gardens, while employing American holly to define site boundaries. While numerous trees were removed at the front of the mansion, native forest growth remained in place as a shield from abutting properties.

Over the years, vegetation had regularly to be pruned and renovated in order to maintain vistas and the semblance of spaciousness. In 1959, Alden Hopkins supervised additional planting, and successively in each following decade through the 1990s The Garden Club continued its activities at the site.

Note:
The images presented here record various stages of the property's landscape restoration. Since additional work has been supported by The Garden Club of Virginia at many properties, these images do not necessarily represent the current-day experience. Also, accession numbers reflect the year in which an image was received by the Virginia Historical Society, not the year in which it was taken.

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Description

Recreated entrance gate at the new site in Westhampton.

Photographic print, Wilton, Richmond, Va.
Museum Collection
Accession number: 1997.31.6.H

Entrance terrace viewed from the house (north entrance).

Photographic print, Gardens, Wilton, Richmond, Va.
Museum Collection
Accession number: 1997.31.6.L

River view terraces.

Photographic print, Gardens, Wilton, Richmond, Va.
Museum Collection
Accession number: 1997.31.6.J

River terraces and memorial bench.

Photographic print, Gardens, Wilton, Richmond, Va.
Museum Collection
Accession number: 1997.31.6.K

Vista toward the James River and Williams Island from rear (south) entrance.

Photographic print, Gardens, Wilton, Richmond, Va.
Museum Collection
Accession number: 1997.31.6.I

Arthur A. Shurcliff's ambitious plan for creating a congenial landscape around Wilton in its new location.

Drawing, Wilton, Richmond, Va.
Manuscripts Collection
Call number: Mss3 G1673 a

Letter of Shurcliff to Kate Doggett Boggs, president of the Garden Club of Virginia, January 2, 1935, providing directions for excavations at the old Wilton site.

Letter, Wilton, Richmond, Va.
Manuscript Collection
Call number: Mss3 G1673 a Section 2

Herbert A. Claiborne's report to Shurcliff, January 16, 1935, on excavations at the old Wilton site, including a hand drawing of the site layout.

Letter, Wilton, Richmond, Va.
Manuscript Collection
Call number: Mss3 G1673 a Section 2
Multiple Page Document:  Page 1  |  Page 2

Price quote from Williams & Harvey Nursery of Richmond, July 21, 1938, concerning proposed and recommended plantings at Wilton.

Document, Wilton, Richmond, Va.
Manuscript Collection
Call number: Mss3 G1673 a Section 2

 

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Last updated March 15, 2011