Excerpt...Country Roads of Virginia Ordering Information
Chapter 1--Plantation Road (VA 5)
From Richmond (west to east), take Main Street east out of the downtown and follow the signs for Williamsburg and VA 5. Alternately, take I-95 south to I-295 east and onto VA 5 east just outside of the city.
From Williamsburg (west to east), take VA 5 out of Colonial Williamsburg and follow the signs for Richmond via VA 5 west.
Highlights: Pick just one or two plantations of interest and explore them thoroughly. You'll suffer from plantation strain if you try to visit too many. Though it's a short drive, take the time to stay in one of the bed-and-breakfasts mentioned along the route. Alternately, include a tour of Richmond or the Historic Triangle of Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown, and Jamestown. This drive is easily completed in one or two days.
"If you haven't been to Berkeley, you haven't lived." --Senator Charles Robb
In a drive of less than sixty miles, the road between Richmond and Williamsburg winds through more than three hundred years of Virginia (and U.S.) history on the homefront. The drive is like a trip to visit some wealthy friends at their large country estate.
Richmond and Williamsburg are connected by much more than a beautiful country road. Williamsburg was the original state capital, before the Old Dominion's headquarters was moved to Richmond. Now, nearby Interstate-64 makes the trip a blur at 65 miles-per-hour. But Route 5 allows you to linger in the present and take glimpses into the past.
As you leave Richmond along the James River, the modern skyline looms in your rear view mirror and the past is just a few miles down the road. One mile out of town, the Annabel Lee, a restored paddle wheeler, sits on the James waiting to take groups along the scenic river. You can also sign up nearby for a whitewater rafting trip through downtown Richmond.
Civil War buffs flock to Fort Harrison, one of many large battlefields that are part of the Richmond National Battlefield Park. There is a small museum and visitors center, where you can get background on Fort Harrison's role in the War Between the States and a useful map.
Fort Harrison was bloodily captured by the Union forces of General Ulysses S. Grant in 1864 with more than 15,000 Yankee troops. The battle served as the beginning of the downfall of Richmond, the Capital of the Confederacy, six months later. It's a pretty and (now) peaceful walking tour and drive through the park before heading back to Route 5.
Most drivers are drawn to the large number of Virginia historic markers. Cars are constantly pulling over for roadside history lessons, culled from the distinctive signs all along Virginia's historic roads.
For instance, upon entering Charles City County we learned that the area was one of eight shires formed in 1634 and two U.S. presidents (John Tyler and William Henry Harrison) were born there. A bit further down the road, an historic marker notes that Thomas Jefferson married Martha Wayles Skelton in her home nearby (called "The Forest") and then they rode in the snow to Monticello.
Signseers (as opposed to sightseers) will also notice the attractive Virginia Byway signs (with a cardinal, the state bird) denoting the historic and scenic importance of this road. It's a sign that you'll often see on our chosen country roads.
Only eighteen miles and hundreds of years out of Richmond is the first of many plantations. Like many stately mansions, the ride up to Shirley Plantation is along a tree-lined road. Shirley was founded in 1613, just six years after the settlers arrived in Jamestown to establish the first permanent English Colony in the New World. The brick structure is one of the nation's prime examples of Queen Anne architecture.
It has been the home of the Carter family since 1723 and the 800-acre working plantation is still owned and operated by the ninth and tenth generations of the original family. It was the home of Anne Hill Carter, mother of Robert E. Lee.
As they do today, many prominent Virginians enjoyed the hospitality of Shirley Plantation, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Look for the plethora of pineapples, a Colonial symbol of hospitality, in the hand-carved woodwork of the house and the 3 1/2-foot pineapple pinial on the peak of the rooftop. The history- and anecdote-packed tour is excellent and a tour of the grounds along the James is invigorating.
Just down the road on the left is one of the best "non-plantation" stops along Route 5, for a few minutes or for the night. Edgewood Bed-and-Breakfast is a perfect place to stop for some southern hospitality, antique shopping, and, of course, a bed for the night and a full breakfast in the morning.
Julian and Dot Boulware play host in this historic house, which has served as a church, post office, telephone exchange, restaurant, nursing home, and a lookout for Confederate generals. I think its now enjoying its best use.
There are eight unique room options, all packed with antiques and history. Behind the main house, Prissy's Quarters is a separate retreat great for romantic couples. Edgewood offers a pool, hot tub, and gazebo. Dot offers a wealth of local lore and can arrange many unique outings for guests. Country road lovers should make time to stop for a few minutes. . .or the night.
Just down the road on the right you get two plantations for the price of one turn down a country road. Berkeley Plantation is one of the most popular stops on Route 5, but less-visited Westover's nearby grounds feature a great stroll through history along the James.
The half-mile dirt road to Berkeley was designed for carriages and built in 1725. A sign asks drivers to drive "leisurely."
Good Housekeeping suggested, "If you only have time for one plantation, Berkeley should be at the top of your list." It gets my 'Seal of Approval' too. This historic mansion was built in 1726 (the initials of Benjamin Harrison IV and his wife Anne are on a datestone over a side door) and has since played host to George Washington, the succeeding nine U.S. presidents, and thousands of plantation-loving tourists.
The Colonial-clad tour guides will point out many unique features. Some great tidbits we learned during the tour: "Taps" was composed at Berkeley in 1862 while Civil War Union forces were encamped at the plantation; William Henry Harrison, Governor Benjamin Harrison's third son, was born at Berkeley and went on to become the famous Indian fighter "Tippecanoe," the ninth president of the U.S., and grandfather of the 23rd president of the U.S.
In the gift shop, I found a great book about Berkeley, The Grand Plantation by Clifford Dowdey. The animated lady at the counter told me about the Virginia First Thanksgiving Festival, an annual celebration on the first Sunday in November. In 1619, Captain John Woodlief came safely ashore here (two years before the colonists arrived in Massachusetts) and they have since celebrated the event yearly, as directed in the group's original instructions:
"Wee ordained that the day of our ships arrivall at the place assigned for plantacon in the land of Virginia shall be yearly and perpetually keept holy as a day of thanksgiving to Almight God."
This popular event includes historical reenactments, crafts, Indian dancers and exhibits, music, and some great Virginia food. It's a perfect time to be on Route 5. If you can't make it for the festival, try a meal in Berkeley's Coach House Tavern, where the first ten U.S. presidents dined.
By taking the other fork down the road to Berkeley, plantation lovers in the know head to Westover Plantation. This home, built about 1730 by William Byrd II, only opens its grounds (you can't go inside) for touring, but it's definitely worth the drive and the walk.
Situated directly on the James River, the best view of the buildings and grounds is found by walking across the lawn instead of following the path. Check out the small structure by the ice house, which contains passageways leading to the river in case of attack by Indians.
On the other side of the house, look for the iron fence with 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.
Back on Route 5 for a minute or so, look for the turn to Westover Church. The original church was built nearby in 1613 and this site and "new" building were adopted in 1730. If you're enjoying Route 5 on a Sunday, try to time a visit for services at 11:00am. This is a true country church.
Even if you've seen enough plantations, take the road up to Evelynton. It's worth the drive to visit the wonderful gift shop and greenhouse. Originally part of William Byrd's Westover Plantation (he named it for his daughter Evelyn), it has been in the Ruffin family since 1847.
If you tour the grounds and house, you'll learn some fascinating things about the history of the plantation and the Ruffin family. The family's patriarch, Edmund Ruffin, is famed for firing the first shot of the Civil War at Fort Sumter. He earned the title, "Father of American Agronomy," by virtually saving 19th-century Virginia from a depressed agricultural economy.
Time your driving so you end up at Indian Fields Tavern when you're hungry. Just three miles east of Evelynton, this restored farmhouse is gaining national recognition for creative southern hospitality and fare.
Try to sample their peanut soup, some Smithfield ham, the homemade Sally Lunn bread, and one of their homemade desserts. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner and is run by Archer Ruffin of the famed Ruffin family.
Just ten minutes further, you can stop for the night at North Bend Plantation B&B. George and Ridgely Copland restored this lovely Greek Revival house in 1984. Highlights of any visit include: an incredible collection of old and rare books; antiques (including a desk of General Sheridan's); and a full country breakfast with mouth-watering homemade waffles.
The final plantation along this stretch of Route 5 is Sherwood Forest Plantation and it's an interesting one. Sherwood Forest was the home of President John Tyler and is considered the longest frame house in America (300 feet). It has been a working plantation for more than 240 years and is still occupied by members of the Tyler family. Check out the Pet Grave Yard and the names of past Tyler family pets.
A few miles after Sherwood Forest, civilization and the 20th century loom ahead. Cars enter James City County by a drawbridge over the wide Chickahominy River and more signs (as in billboards and commercialism) of modern life lure drivers off the country road. Real estate developments and the Williamsburg Pottery, a legendary outlet shopping mecca, are just a few reminders that plantation life has ended.
For a great way to end the drive, stop at the Five Forks Kitchen for some serious home cookin'. The cook grinds his own beef, makes his own gravies, and puts lots of care into his menu. Neither the view or the atmosphere are fit for a plantation owner or visitor, but the food is.
After Five Forks, Route 5 heads into Williamsburg and all sorts of historic options. Stop by William and Mary or head to any point of the Historic Triangle. The drive "officially" ends at Merchant's Square in Colonial Williamsburg, where you'll find some great shopping and incredible meals at The Trellis.
In the area:
All telephone numbers are within area code 804.
Annabel Lee, Richmond, 222-5700 or 800-752-7093
Richmond National Battlefield Park, 226-1981
Shirley Plantation, Charles City, 800-232-1613
Edgewood Bed-and-Breakfast, 829-2962
Berkeley Plantation, Charles City, 829-6018
Westover Plantation, Charles City, 829-2882
Evelynton, Charles City, 800-473-5075
Indian Fields Tavern, Charles City, 829-5004
North End Plantation B&B, Charles City, 829-5176
Sherwood Forest Plantation, Charles City, 829-5377
Williamsburg Pottery, Lightfoot, 564-3326
Five Forks Kitchen, Williamsburg, 229-6003
The Trellis, Williamsburg, 229-8610