South Garden Summary
This historic two-story, single-pile, side-passage dwelling and the one-and-a-half-story west addition were constructed in the early 19th century between circa 1815-1846. The one-and-a-half-story east addition was constructed in 1939-1940 by Melville C. and Alice Reams. It is unknown who originally constructed the dwelling; however, an 1846 will from William C. Smith leaves the property to Charles L. Price.
The wood frame dwelling retains much of its interior woodwork detailing such as horizontal and vertical reeding and fluting, urns, flowers and sunbursts, as well as other historical decorations on wood doors and windows. To the west of the house is a historical brick-lined well, concealed beneath a modern brick collar and concrete slab. There are no extant historical outbuildings on the property. After purchasing the home in 1939, Melville and Alice Reams undertook a series of alterations to the house to provide additional rooms and modern amenities, but they retained the original circulation, design and materials of the 19th-century portions of the dwelling. Consequently, even with the alterations made later by the Reams, South Garden retains a high degree of integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling and association with its historical function as a rural mid-19th-century dwelling.
Listing on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places is in progress.
New Kent County, Virginia
Built in the 1820s
Formerly owned by Charles Smith
Acquired in September 2021
Situated on 31 acres
Full building restoration by early 2023
Historical landscaping starting late 2022
South Garden is comprised of three distinct blocks. The oldest is the two-story center section, which stands on a brick basement. Designed as a single pile, side-passage structure, the original part of the house was built around the end of the first quarter of the 19th century, roughly circa 1815-30. A wide pedimented porch with wooden steps rises on the north (front) side to a double front door that opens into the wide stair passage. A one-story wing with a basement of equal height was added a few years later to the west side of the original house. Both sections share the same neoclassical stylistic features and handcrafted structural details. This addition contains two heated rooms on the main floor and a small, heated chamber and larger unheated room in the garret. There is a smaller porch on the west front, whose door opens into the larger west room. An unheated shed room with a partially open porch (now enclosed) may have been added to the west end of this second period section, if not immediately after initial construction, then certainly no later than the antebellum period.
South Garden is an excellent example of an evolved house — a residence that is expanded and altered to meet the changing needs of its occupants. South Garden was built in three distinct periods of construction. The first (1825-26) saw the construction of the original house. The second, completed by 1826, featured the addition of the second portion of the house and the fabrication of the porches. The third (1939-1940) saw the addition of a shed-roof component to the east. The original porches, removed from the building before it was first
photographed, are examples of the changes that have been undertaken at South Garden. Archeological and physical investigations reveal that, when the first addition was built, a single-story frame porch was added to the front of the original portion of the house. A two-story frame porch was added to the rear of the house as well, probably to capture the view. These porches will be rebuilt during the current rehabilitation project.
Situated south of Highway 60 and a few miles west of Providence Forge, the residence sits on the crest of a pronounced ridge which falls away on the south and east exposures of the building.
The loss of early New Kent County court records makes tracing ownership of South Garden and the individual responsible for the construction of the house nearly impossible. The earliest recorded owner was William C. Smith, who left the property to his nephew Charles L. Price in 1848. If Smith had been in possession of the land in the early to mid-1820s, he may well have been the builder. In 1939, Melvin Reams of Richmond purchased South Garden and undertook to restore, modernize and expand the house to make it habitable according to twentieth-century living standards that included mechanical heating, electricity, an up-to-date kitchen and bathrooms. The attention to detail in this restoration implies that Reams must have had the advice of a knowledgeable architect or contractor who could design and execute this work thoughtfully.