Letters to New Kent County – Installment 12


It is our mission in New Kent County not only to exhibit large and lavish antebellum properties, but to open to the public the cottages, farmhouses and ordinaries that were integral to the productive society of the time.  These smaller properties are equally important and no history of early America in New Kent would be complete without them.  To this end, we have acquired and are restoring South Garden, Shuttlewood and Spring Hill.

First known as Indian Fields, Spring Hill is a handsome center-hall farmhouse with Flemish-bond, double-shouldered chimneys just off US Route 60 on Carriage Road.  Carriage Road is what is left of an important historical route between Williamsburg and Richmond.  A newspaper clipping from 1818 advertises the property as a tavern serving travelers along this route.  To attract additional visitors, the owners hosted horseraces on a straight, quarter-mile track constructed on the property. Later, Spring Hill is reputed to have served as a commandeered field hospital during the Civil War.  Visual blood stains in a bedroom and DNA testing by the VCU forensics lab substantiate this narrative.

South Garden is a few miles from Spring Hill traveling east on Route 60.  The Tidewater and Big Bend Foundation purchased the property in foreclosure on the New Kent County Courthouse steps.  Unfortunately, the building had sat empty for quite some time but was happily well-preserved on the inside.  The oldest part of the South Garden is a modest side passage structure over a brick basement constructed around 1820.  Shortly after original construction, the owners expanded the structure via a telescoping addition to the North–presumably to accommodate in-laws or extended family.  In the 1930’s another expansion was added to the South of the building.

Shuttlewood is a farmhouse built around 1850 that is situated on a little over 800 acres.  Records indicate that it was leased for most of its life to tenant farmers.  Archeology has revealed a rare historical brick kiln on the site in addition to civil war trenches and a deep historical roadbed that bisects the property.  Inside Shuttlewood there are several examples of union solder graffiti including an autograph from “Henry S. Drake – pa 11 cavalry.”  Records indicate that the 11th was encamped nearby at Whitehouse Plantation.

Like Hampstead and Mount Stirling, these buildings are in various stages of restoration.  Spring Hill and Shuttlewood are nearly complete.  However, careful historical decoration, reconstruction of lost outbuildings, and planting of gardens will take some additional time.  Through these smaller, but not less significant, structures we will exhibit a richer history of antebellum New Kent.

John Poindexter

New Kent County

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