Spring Hill

Spring Hill Summary

Spring Hill is a well-preserved example of a typical, center-hall plan, Tidewater farmhouse. While initially thought to have been built about 1782, more recent architectural analysis estimates the construction date to be circa 1818. The house, built by Richard C. Graves, retains its original Flemish-bond, double-shouldered end chimneys, weatherboards and trim. The interior is equally well-preserved with original flooring, woodwork, paneling and plaster walls. An early frame smokehouse sits in the yard. This New Kent County property was historically known as Indian Fields, with the name changed to Spring Hill sometime after 1835.

Col. Richard C. Graves (1772-1835), a member of the Virginia General Assembly, and his wife, the former Elizabeth Valentine, were the proprietors of a racetrack, stables and a hotel/tavern on the property. The property passed out of Graves’ family ownership in 1863.

Spring Hill was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

Property Information:

New Kent County, Virginia
Built around 1825
Formerly known as Graves Tavern
Acquired in September 2020
Situated on 58 acres

Restoration Status:

Structure fully restored


Those who used the tavern at Spring Hill to rest on their journey between Williamsburg and Richmond encountered a modest but well-built tavern. The building featured two heated ground-floor entertaining rooms and a passage with an enclosed winder staircase that provided access to two heated bedchambers and an unheated room above the stairs. While modest in size, the entertaining rooms on the ground floor featured unusually tall 13-foot-high ceilings. There was a porch on the southeast façade that offered a sheltered entrance to the tavern, as well as a place for convivial merriment. Below the main-floor entertaining rooms, Spring Hill has a brick cellar that extends the full length of the house and originally provided ample storage space and one or two service rooms. One service room may have been used as a laundry given that there was likely a fireplace in each of the gable ends. Access to the cellar, which has remained unfinished except for whitewashed walls and exposed framing, was through an enclosed cellar cap on the west end of the structure.

With its steep gable roof lit by four dormers on each slope, plain box cornice, walls covered by beaded weatherboards and raised on brick cellar foundations with two sizeable, double-shouldered gable-end brick chimneys, Spring Hill is typical of the solid residences erected by Virginia planters in the colonial and early national eras. The one-and-a-half story frame of the house was constructed with hewn and pit-sawn timbers. The larger framing members are secured by mortise and tenon joints and pegged. Roman numerals cut into the timbers indicate their layout arrangement. Cripple studs are secured with square-headed cut nails as are the early beaded weatherboards, indicative of their 19th-century construction. The scale of the single-pile house, with windows lighting the main floor that are twice as tall as they are wide and a central doorway on each of the long walls, fits the design vocabulary popular throughout the Chesapeake region from the early 18th century through the middle of the 19th.

Spring Hill was listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.


In an advertisement placed in the Richmond Enquirer on December 8, 1818, Richard C. Graves informed the public that he was going to “open a HOUSE OF ENTERTAINMENT at Spring Hill” on the last day of January 1819 and pledged to “use every exertion to render an agreeable accommodation to those who favor him with their custom.” He noted that it was conveniently located for those traveling on the Chickahominy Road from Richmond to Williamsburg. How long Spring Hill operated as a tavern after it opened is unknown. The Graves family continued to own the property after Richard Graves’ death in 1835, before it was sold to Thomas Sherman in 1863. After this, possession of the property passed through many owners. Local lore holds that Spring Hill was commandeered as a Union field hospital during the Civil War and that the northwest bedchamber was used as an operating theater. A former owner of the property invited experts from the Smithsonian Institution to the home to analyze stains on the wood floor, which were identified as having been caused by blood spilled, perhaps, during battlefield surgeries. The Tidewater and Big Bend Foundation engaged a forensic pathologist from VCU who successfully corroborated the presence of human blood from about this period.

East of Providence Forge and north of Highway 60, Spring Hill stands on a low knoll, which overlooks a large field east of the front of the house. A graveled drive along a tree-lined property border a few yards behind it provides access to the house from Carriage Road. Arrayed around the house lot would have been domestic service buildings such as a kitchen quarter, dairy, woodshed and corn house, as well as a stable and a nearby pasture for horses to graze. Although the National Register nomination mentions the presence of a smokehouse, and notes that an icehouse was removed from the property at some point prior to nomination, no visible trace of the icehouse or other structures remains. Ground penetrating radar has indicated the likely course of the straightaway race track.


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