This exhibition is currently on display in the Susan and David Goode Gallery.
Since 1997, tens-of-thousands of visitors to the Virginia Historical Society have marveled at the painstakingly detailed model of Wilton House created by Tyler, Texas, model-maker Mildred Grinstead. In Miniature Homes, the VHS showcases five additional models in the collections created by Grinstead that represent some of Virginia's most iconic colonial homes, including a mammoth 4-foot tall and 8-foot wide representation of the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg.
When her son came to attend graduate school at the University of Virginia, Mildred H. Grinstead took time to visit some of the commonwealth’s most renowned historic homes. Having fallen in love with dollhouses since her father gave her one when she was 6 years old, Grinstead set out to recreate her favorite historic Tidewater homes—in miniature.
This exhibition features 4 notable examples of homes that were at the center of several dozen working plantations administered by landed Tidewater families before and after the American Revolution. These plantations were at the heart of Virginia’s agricultural economy, with tobacco as the primary cash crop. The ﬁfth example, the Governor’s Palace, was the ofﬁcial residence of the royal governor of Virginia.
The architecture of these homes and the lifestyle enjoyed by the wealthy, inﬂuential families who owned them were patterned after those of the English aristocracy. Although the architecture was inﬂuenced by English styles, the designs and building materials were adapted to local conditions—most notably the difference in climate. The lack of architectural professionals in the colonies compelled owners to enlist skilled craftsmen and master builders to serve as architects. They studied the available documentation on building styles, patterns, and practices from England to guide their efforts in realizing the ambitions of the owners. The colonial period builders of the great plantation homes created a design style of such distinction that it was replicated elsewhere in Virginia and beyond.
Grinstead’s miniatures are scaled replicas of these homes. They provide a bird’s-eye view of the key architectural features of each—from proportion and layout to window detail and brick pattern. Drawing upon photographs and historic architectural reference sources to ensure the miniatures adhered as closely as possible to the homes as they originally appeared, Grinstead offers a unique view of some of America’s most iconic historic homes.
Few families in colonial Virginia were more prominent or powerful than the Randolphs. Wilton was built for William Randolph III (1720–1761) on the banks of the James River in 1753 and was apparently modeled after nearby Westover. Both are excellent examples of the "Georgian" style of architecture common before the American Revolution. Houses in this style were typically symmetrical, wide and deep so as to look impressive, and they featured central passages with rooms on either side. (VHS accession number: 2000.257)
Built for the prestigious Byrd family, Westover is the finest example of domestic Georgian architecture in colonial America. The central paggage offered a well-ventilated summer living space, and the asymmetrical alignment allowed variety in the size of adjacent rooms. The attractive brickwork pattern, known as "Flemish bond,: features alternating long sides (stretchers) and short sides (headers) of the bricks and was common in colonial buildings.
Model of Stratford Hall, built by Mildred H. Grinstead
Overlooking the Potomac River in Westmoreland County, the massive Stratford Hall was built around 1738 for politician and planter Thomas Lee (1690–1750). It's H-shape, large windows, and raised first floor allowed light and cool drafts to enter from all directions. Stratford was the boyhood home of two signers of the Declaration of Independence—Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee—and the birthplace of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.