What better way to celebrate America’s birthday than with our Virginia Presidential Tour? Virginia can claim the most presidents of any state – 8 of our former commanders-in-chief were native Virginians. We visited the homes of five during our Virginia Presidential Tour, in partnership with Wofford College’s Lifelong Learning Institute. Read on to discover who they were!
Departing just a few days after the Fourth of July, this trip was the perfect way to immerse ourselves in early American history. Our small group departed the Greenville / Spartanburg area and made our way north, passing through downtown Greensboro for a leisurely lunch, before stopping for the night at the lovely Berry Hill Estate near South Boston, Virginia.
Built by James and Eliza Bruce in the early 1820s, the estate was built in the Greek Revival style and modeled after the Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia. The couple shared a love for Greek art and architecture, which they believed echoed the republican values of young America. We enjoyed touring and exploring the house and grounds, which today serve as a hotel and conference center. One unique feature of Berry Hill is its remarkably intact stone slave cabins, which serve as a witness of the enslaved people who lived and worked on the plantation.
We then continued our touring at Red Hill, home of Patrick Henry, near Brookneal, VA. We enjoyed learning more about his life, both personal and public, and his legacy. After a relaxing lunch in Farmville and a drive through the idyllic Hampden-Sydney campus, we arrived in our home for the next two nights: the iconic Williamsburg Lodge in Williamsburg.
For our third day, we explored the James River plantations of William Henry Harrison and John Tyler, our 9th and 10th presidents, respectively. At Berkeley Plantation, we walked through the main hall, where Washington himself danced, and learned about Thomas Jefferson’s role in reshaping the house’s architecture. We then paid a visit to Sherwood Forest, just down the road – the plantation home of William Henry Harrison’s cousin, neighbor, and Vice President, John Tyler. Tyler gave his estate this name in response to Henry Clay’s public jab at him as a political “outlaw” at the end of his presidency. Tyler’s Sherwood Forest is the longest frame house in the United States, stretching the length of a football field. The president’s grandson and his family still reside in the house today (yes, we got the full family history on location).
Later that afternoon, we stepped back in time in the streets of colonial Williamsburg – as restored by John D. Rockefeller in the 1920s.
Thursday brought us into the Charlottesville area, where we visited Highland, James Monroe’s estate. His home neighbored that of his close friend and fellow Francophile, Thomas Jefferson. We enjoyed an enormous Southern spread of a lunch at the Mitchie Tavern, before spending the afternoon exploring Jefferson’s iconic Monticello.
On the last day of our tour, we paid a visit to our fourth president: James Madison. His estate, Montpelier, is located in Orange County, Virginia. We enjoyed learning more about Madison’s presidency and life with Dolley, before visiting the Barboursville Winery. While not home to a former president, the winery is on the site of the ruins of the estate home of Governor James Barbour, which was designed in 1814 by – who else? – Thomas Jefferson.
Thanks to all who traveled with us on this special adventure uncovering the lives and legacies of Virginia’s presidents!