Westover was built circa 1730 by William Byrd II, the founder of Richmond.
It is noteworthy for its secret passages, magnificent gardens, and architectural details. The grounds and garden are open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, but the house is not open to the public.
Westover was named for Henry West, fourth Lord Delaware and son of Thomas West, Governor of Virginia. The shady tulip poplars framing the building are more than 150 years old. "Ancient" is the best word to describe the boxwood hedges which enclose the lawn.
The house is considered one of the most outstanding example of Georgian architecture in America. Of special notice is the unusually steepness of the roof, the tall chimneys in pairs at both ends. Another special touch is the elaborate doorway, which continues to be recognized as "the Westover doorway" despite its adaptation to many other buildings.
The special charm of the house lies in its elegant yet extremely simple form and proportions, combined with its perfect setting in the landscape, the essence of the artistic ideals of its period adapted to the style of living in Colonial Virginia.
The two wings were originally identical and not connected to the three-story central structure. The east wing, which once contained the famous Byrd library of more than 4,000 volumes, burned during the War Between the States.
The present east wing was built about 1900, and both wings were connected to the main home at that time.
Just east of the house is the ice-house and a small structure containing a dry well with passageways which led under the house and to the river, as an escape from the Indians. Each building has a light switch just inside the door. Across the driveway from the ice-house is the Necessary House.
Turning from the river to the north side of the house, the visitor will find the famous Westover gates, with William Evelyn Byrd's initials incorporated in the delicate ironwork. The lead eagles on the gateposts are a play on the name "Byrd." The wrought-iron fence has supporting columns topped by unusual stone finials cut to resemble an acorn for perseverance (from little acorns great oaks grow); a pineapple for hospitality, a Greek Key to the World for knowledge; a cornucopia, or horn of plenty: a beehive for industry; and an urn of flowers for beauty.
Continuing to circle the house, the visitor will come to the formal gardens, which were re-established about 1900. At the center, where the paths cross, is the handsome tomb with its interesting epitaph honoring the colorful William Byrd I, "Black Swan of Westover," who was buried there in 1744.
His daughter, the beautiful and tragic Evelyn Byrd, is buried near the original site of Westover Church, up the river a quarter-mile west of the house. There also are buried Theodorick Bland, from whom William Byrd I bought the Westover property in 1688; William Byrd I and his wife, the former Mary Horsemanden; and other distinguished early Virginians. Here also, according to some historians, is the third oldest known tombstone in America--that of Captain William Perry, who died August 6, 1637. The arms and epitaph engraved on this stone have been effaced by the elements in recent years.
Located in Charles City County off Route 5 between Richmond and Williamsburg.
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