Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A trip to the Coast, Southeastern VA and VA Beach

My Husband and I just returned from another of his business trips, this time we visited Virginia beach for the first time.  The day before we left the weather was terrible in DC, it was gray and pouring rain, morning till night.  The day I awoke to make the 3 1/2 hour drive down there, the clouds literally parted and the sun shone beautifully for two days in a row!  Of course it began snowing as soon as we left the coast to make the drive home, but we made it home safely after a lovely little mini trip!
So if you're ever headed to Southeastern Virginia, here are a few lovely places to visit!!!  Since our home base for the next two days was Virginia Beach, I stopped at two historic plantations on the ride down to count as day 1.  Shirley and Berkeley Plantations are just a few miles apart from each other on Route 5 in Charles City, VA.  They are wonderful places to visit, absolutely beautiful surroundings matched by wonderful, enchanting stories.
Shirley Plantation is home and business to 11 generations of the Hill Carter family.  This plantation, one of the oldest in Virginia has witnessed the birth of a new colony, in a new world, has seen the struggle for independence, war among each other and the establishment of our great country!  In 1613 King James granted 4,000 acres along the river that bore his name, to Sir Thomas West, Baron de la Warr who had been living in the new world three years as Virginia's first Royal Governor.  He named the tobacco plantation he built West and Sherley Hundred after his family and wife, Lady Cessalye Sherley.  After some years Sir Thomas grew ill and died leaving the plantation to his wife and son, who sold the property.  According to the Charles City records and census papers, the name gradually changed to "Shirley", as it remains today.
The first of the Hill's came, when Captain Edward Hill I, first generation of the present family married his widowed neighbor Hannah Aston and bought the plantation in 1638, adjoining his new property and hers.  After their marriage they had 2,476 acres in the vicinity of the Shirley Hundred.
The Carters were introduced some years later when youngest daughter of Edward Hill III inherited all of Shirley Plantation when her elder sisters married and moved back to England and her only brother passed away when he was just 16 years old.  Her marriage to John Carter, a well educated, very desirable man in the territory began the next phase of the Shirley Plantation history.

One sweet thing I fell in love with in the house was naturally in the dining room:)  For those of you that know me quite well, I love dining!  I collect and admire antique hand painted china, glassware and silverware myself!  If you look closely at the window panes in this room, they are full of etchings of the Carter family brides names and dates, all "proving their stones", cutting the glass with their diamonds to prove they were real diamonds, a family tradition.

Also, if you love birds as much as I do, which is ALOT, then you will love walking along the grounds of this plantation.  The most beautiful blue birds and the reddest of cardinals swept through the trees and tall grasses along the James River.  I sat for a while to watch them flirt, chase and sing to each other, they were so cute!
 Berkely Plantation, also along the James River and marked the spot for the first Thanksgiving on December 4, 1619.  But it wasn't until the original mansion, built in 1726, that gave the land a family history.  Benjamin Harrison IV and his wife Anne carved their initials and date along with a heart into a date stone to place on the side of the house, you can see it from the ground!  You may know Benjamin Harrison from the Declaration of Independence, a signer of it as well as a three time elected Governor of Virginia.  He was the son of the builder of Berkeley and its second owner. Benjamin's third son, William Henry was a famous Indian fighter, and later the 9th President of the United States.  His grandson, Benjamin was the 23rd President, continuing a long line of political service.  George Washington and later succeeding nine Presidents of the United States all enjoyed the Virginia hospitality of Berkeley Plantation.  

A few of my favorite things about this spot were the archways on the first floor, a magnificent painting of Anne, hung in the dining room, and the boxwood gardens behind the house.
Benjamin VI's friend Thomas Jefferson, frequently visited the couple and suggested they add double archways adjoining the parlor and great room creating one large room to avoid being taxed on the amount of rooms they had in 1790.  In those days if a room had a door, even a closet, it was taxed! Just another way our Founding Fathers stuck it to England;)

Day two was thought to be filled with visits to Jamestown and Yorktown and possibly Williamsburg...but after much research, it seemed as though those areas were very touristy.  The websites and brochures seemed to cheesy for what I wanted, so I decided to keep it simple and sweet.  Instead I drove to the towns of Portsmouth and Smithfield, Isle of Wight.

In Portsmouth, I stopped into a little coffee shop and started the day with a cup of Earl Grey and a blueberry scone.  Afterwards I walked the streets popping in and out of antique shops with treasures to take home!  I walked down North Street to Hill House, a historic home filled with antiques were you can have afternoon tea.  I also walked out to the water and watched some of the larger ships come in to dock, pushed by small tugboats.

Hungry for more history, I continued my drive west to the town of Smithfield, Isle of Wight where a charming historic district welcomed me:)  Walking along the brick sidewalks, I stopped to take pictures of beautiful Victorian houses complete with overgrown rose gardens, I shopped at the many antique stores and found more treasures to take home, (including a beautiful green lace dress that reminded me of something Mary might have worn on Downton Abbey) and had lunch at the Smithfield Inn.  My favorite antique shop's here were Mansion House Art and Antiques and Return Engagements!!!  I almost melted when I set eyes on two early 1920's automobiles:)  Oh how I thought about swiping my AMEX, if only I had the dollars to make the payment in full the next month!  Be sure to stop for tea and scones at the cozy, yellow tearoom and take a picture in front of the historic courthouse:)

If you stay near or in Virginia Beach and are looking for some great spots to eat, check out these places!!!  For steamed crab claws, crab cakes, steaks and house made desserts, dine at Rockafellers, it's pretty awesome and it sits right in the marina:)  For beach side dining try Watermans, and for a perfect low key breakfast or lunch, head to Doc Taylors:)  And lastly, anytime you're staying on the Atlantic, don't forget to watch the sunrise over the ocean, it's pretty amazing and makes for lasting memories:)


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