Charles City County is one of the oldest governmental units in America. Named after the son of King James who later became King Charles I of England, it was one of four “boroughs” or “incorporations” created by the Virginia Company in 1619. The first Charles City County courthouses were located along the James River at Westover and City Point. It was to those courthouses that the Virginia Colonists came to cast their ballots for representatives in the House of Burgesses, applying that extraordinary notion … that people should be represented by their government.
The county’s residents have witnessed every major event in American history and given their lives in the making of a nation. Its world-renowned plantation home sites are vessels of our nation’s history. They are the homes and workplaces of patriots and presidents, agricultural pioneers, merchants, millers, American Indians and African Americans. Descendants of these significant figures in American history still live in the county today.
Our excursion includes tours of three historic homes along the James River corridor, which will expose you to how two prominent Virginia families once lived and you will see the mix of history blended with updated culture at a renovated and restored house dating back to 1741.
Berkeley’s history begins in 1619 when settlers observed the first official Thanksgiving in America. The original 1726 Georgian mansion is the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison V, signer of the Declaration of Independence and three times governor of Virginia. The estate is also the birthplace of William Henry Harrison, ninth president of the United States, and ancestral home of his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, the twenty-third president. During the Civil War, Berkeley was occupied by General George McClellan’s Union troops. President Abraham Lincoln twice visited there in the summer of 1862. While at Berkeley, General Daniel Butterfield composed the familiar tune “Taps,” first played by his bugler, O.W. Norton. The 1726 mansion is furnished with a magnificent collection of 18th century antiques and artifacts. The grounds include five terraces of boxwood and flowering gardens and the Harrison family graveyard. Berkeley Plantation is a Virginia Historic Landmark, a National Historic Landmark, and on the National Register of Historic Places.
Cary Hill 1741
At Cary Hill 1741, you will discover a hidden jewel among the other well-known plantations in the county. Situated on 60 private acres and surrounded by more than 5,200 acres of wildlife management area and farmland, this charming 18-century house reflects its successive owners and their love of history and art. The main house retains most of the original floor work and structure, with a wonderful collection of antique furniture and original works of art. Among the main attractions is the ballroom, an area that has been entertaining guests for almost three centuries. The lush grounds include a deep swimming pool with an expansive bluestone slate surround and lounge.
Sherwood Forest Plantation
Sherwood Forest was the home of John Tyler, the 10th President of the United States (1841-45), from 1842 until his death in 1862. The plantation buildings, ca 1680 to 1850, have been in constant use. Nine surviving dependencies supported the operation of the President’s 1,600 acre working plantation and constitute one of the most complete plantation yards in America. The house, circa 1720, is a classic example of Virginia Tidewater design: big house, little house, colonnade, and kitchen. Additionally, it remains the longest frame house in America— expanded to its present length of over 300 feet in 1845 when Tyler added a 68-foot ballroom catering to the popular dance of his time, the Virginia Reel. The house was occupied by Union soldiers during General McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign of 1862 and again during General Grant’s Overland Campaign in 1864. The grounds comprise twenty-five acres of terraced gardens, serene woodlands, and lawn by the designs of mid-19th century New York landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing. There are over eighty varieties of centuries old trees, twenty-nine of which are not indigenous to the United States, including a gingko tree given to President Tyler by Commodore Matthew C. Perry when he returned from the Orient in the 1850s. Sherwood Forest Plantation is a Virginia Historic Landmark, a National Historic Landmark, and on the National Register of Historic Places.