Green Spring Plantation Architecture

This material is based on the thesis, “The Making and Remaking of Green Spring Plantation 1643-1803,” written by Virginia Price and has been edited to reflect Cary Carson’s research findings as published in “Chesapeake House” 2013 and “The William and Mary Quarterly” October 2013.

The first building: The Manor House

3D model view of the original portion of the manor house.

Section of foundation survey from 1955 Caywood excavation.

When newly appointed Governor Sir William Berkeley arrived in Virginia, he patented the land that became known as Green Spring, named for a bubbling spring on the property. What was built between June 1643 and February 1645 probably followed the traditional, three-part English house plan that included a common room or hall, a semi-private space called a “chamber” or a “parlor,” and a service area. Archaeological excavations of the house site reveal a block of three ground-floor rooms (labeled J, K, and L) aligned in a roughly north-to-south axis. (The two foundations labeled “tower” most likely were in fact for chimneys.) The two outside rooms (J and L) had about the same dimension of fourteen feet by sixteen feet and there was evidence of an exterior chimney on the west wall of each room. The middle room M, more rectangular with dimensions of sixteen feet by twenty-two feet, does not appear to have been heated. It, however, was paved by bricks laid in a diagonal pattern.

The footprint of this portion of the Green Spring house underpinned Berkeley’s dwelling. It provided Berkeley with a large central space, probably a two story hall with balcony along three sides and windows on the west side above the porch for light (M), to host his Council and the General Assembly on matter of state as well as to entertain many people socially. Whereas the outer rooms and the corresponding rooms above them, offered Berkeley smaller, heated chambers in which he could find a measure of privacy when conducting business, writing or sleeping. The service area of the dwelling also was included in this initial section. Room H likely housed the kitchen and kitchen fireplace.

The Manor House grows

Aerial view of expanded house with banqueting lodge, with conjectural grounds and outbuildings.

Section of foundation survey from 1955 Caywood excavation.

Work continued on Berkeley’s house throughout the decade. That the structure grew by accretion, rather than in one building campaign, is clear in the results of the archaeological investigation. In addition to the three-room base (J, K, L), rooms I, H, and O as well as two “basements,” labeled rooms M and N were built. The dimensions of room I measured about sixteen feet by nineteen feet; the foundations were fashioned from a brown Choptank sandstone. The floor was paved with brick tiles, but the floor level was only about two and one half feet above the adjacent basement, room M, and the smaller basement which was the eleven foot square room N. The large basement was paved with bricks, except in the southeast corner where stairs descended into the room, and the flooring was cobbled. The floor of the smaller basement was not paved. No evidence of foundations of flooring remains of the room to the south of the basement; its presence however, is suggested by stairs leading from that area. Moreover, a room located to the south of basement M would balance room I, just as rooms J and L did for room K. Such a space would also connect room O to the main body of the house.

The room located at the southwest corner of the structure O, had a cellar and a firebox. The floor probably consisted of brick tiles and the foundations were made out of brown iron-infused sandstone. Corresponding to room O was room H; similar to room O, the foundations of room H were fashioned from the same brown Choptank sandstone. No evidence of an exterior chimney, like that seem in the west wall of room O, remains in room H. Together, rooms O and H projected westward from the main block of the dwelling and so gave the house a slight U-shaped overall plan.

This conglomerate of ground-floor rooms, basements, and a cellar are all that is left of the house Berkeley built at Green Spring between 1643 and 1652. Although references referred to the Green Spring house as a brick house, evidence in nearby trash pits suggest part of the structure was constructed of wood on either stone or brick masonry foundation. It is likely then that the rooms added onto the initial block (J to L) after 1645 were those made of wood on masonry.

Green Spring used as a model experimental farm

There is little to suggest that Berkeley altered his dwelling at Green Spring during the 1650s. In the 1660s Berkeley, in an effort to model his ideas of economic diversification to King Charles II, experimented with rice cultivation, as well as maize, barley, wheat, rye, cotton, and a sizable orchard at Green Spring. Berkeley also tried cultivating flax, hemp, and silkworms.

Landscape changes as the house’s orientation changes


Outside Berkeley’s Green Spring house, archaeological evidence has turned up a pottery kiln, glass house, spring house, storage building (also known as the “jail”), and major landscaping features. South and west of the house, terraces had been formed and gardens were planted. Because archaeological evidence suggests that Berkeley’s original dwelling, built between 1643 and 1652, faced west, the initial terraces and gardens would have been oriented with regard for the front of that house. This westward orientation explains the location of the structure identified as the greenhouse, which was sited west of the house built consciously to correspond with the front of the U-shaped house. After the arcaded, west addition was complete, however, this structure was located outside the garden wall, which was aligned with the southwest corner of the new section of the house. From its position relative to the Green Spring house, it can be inferred that the wall and associated landscaping efforts followed the house construction – or at least were planned in conjunction with the arcaded wing. With construction of the garden wall, the green house was outside the new entrance courtyard and so perhaps became associated with nursery beds – garden areas needing protection and close oversight. Regardless, the new garden wall extended south in a straight line toward the Great Road leading into Green Spring from Jamestown.

The Mansion House: the new west wing

3D model view of the expanded Green Spring house with the elegant banqueting lodge projecting to the west.
3D model view of the expanded Green Spring house with the elegant banqueting lodge projecting to the west.
Section of Green Spring foundation survey from 1955 Caywood excavation.Section of foundation survey from 1955 Caywood excavation.
Section of Green Spring foundation survey from 1955 Caywood excavation.

It is impossible to know precisely when between 1659 and 1668 he added on to Green Spring but archaeological evidence revealed that Berkeley extended the dwelling by adding a west wing to the U-shaped “Old Manor House”. Shortly thereafter, in 1670, Berkeley married Frances Culpepper. It is likely that the building of the Green Spring house was complete by 1674. While a specific date remains elusive, evidence provides a sequence of events that explains the evolution of Berkeley’s Green Spring house. The fireplace on the west wall of room H was reversed to face west into the kitchen space of the new wing. This chimney was then extended to include a fireplace in the east room of main level. The west wing consisted of three ground-floor rooms, plus two cellars located in the central- and easternmost of those rooms. An arcade ran the length of the south (front) elevation and a stair, T-shaped in the plan, rose from the ground level to the second floor. Packed yellow marl was used to infill room J, probably to serve as its floor or floor support. This yellow marl also characterized the mortar used in the west wing and stair. Moreover the drainage system for the dwelling linked the east or original part of the house to the new. The house drain thus ran beneath the central room in the west wing and then terminated in a catch basin located outside the west wall of the forecourt.

Soane’s sketch supports archaeologist’s findings

Soane's sketch of the Green Spring House 1683
Soane’s sketch of the Green Spring House 1683

staffordwebpageA survey completed in 1683 by county surveyor John Soane.

A survey completed in 1683 by county surveyor John Soane showed a sketch of the dwelling well enough to show its position relative to the parcels of land assembled by Sir Berkeley.

The house Soane drew was two stories tall and appeared to be composed of two parts. The east wing of the house was covered by a series of three gable roofs; the ridge of the roof structures ran parallel to one another. In the drawing, five chimneys punctuate the skyline above the eastern half of the house; however, evidence of only four turned up archaeologically. Extending westward is an arcaded wing. The ground-floor arcade is the building’s most prominent feature.  Above the arcade vertical lines suggest a balustrade along an unroofed terrace. Two chimney stacks heated the interior of the west wing. Demarcating the division of floors on the gable ends of both sections of the house was a horizontal line, probably indicating a decorative beltcourse. Although no fenestration was marked in the sketch, evidence reveals the the dwelling has casement windows glazed with diamond-shaped quarrels. The roofing tiles were indicated through vertical lines in the roof portion of the drawing.

Estate used as a display of power

3D model view of Green Spring house as expanded with banqueting lodge by 1674
3D model view of Green Spring house as expanded with banqueting lodge by 1674
Piano Nobile, Lodge Second Floor, House
Piano Nobile, Lodge Second Floor, House

Berkeley’s most enduring expression of his desire to be a Virginian, and to lead the colony was his private residence. For the governor, his dwelling needed to be and was grand enough to enable him to conduct matters of state as well as to exhibit the privileges of his class: refinement, standards of comfort, and genteel education, to his Virginia counterparts. How the governor presented himself, through his clothes, manners, education, and taste, and how the house appeared, through its aesthetics, materials, and siting on the land, as well as how it was used, directly affected other Virginians’ perceptions of Berkeley and his position in the social hierarchy.

In 1676, Nathaniel Bacon and his followers ransacked the dwelling and surrounding estate. After the rebellion and Berkeley’s death in 1677, Governors Thomas Lord Culpeper and Francis Howard, Lord Howard of Effingham, rented the restored Green Spring from Lady Berkeley as their residence. Sanctioned by the Crown, Berkeley, Culpeper, and Howard serially chose to represent their right to command through the visual language of architecture. Their jurisdiction over Virginia was manifestly expressed though Green Spring: the highest men in the land lived in the biggest permanent house in the cultural landscape.

In 1684, with the death of Effingham’s wife and his subsequent departure, Green Spring never again functioned as the official governor’s residence. Instead the Green Spring house became a symbol of resistance to the attempt by the Crown to rule the colony.

Green Spring changes hands

By 1684, the sometime Deputy Secretary of Virginia, councilor, burgess, and governor of Carolina, Philip Ludwell, had married Lady Berkeley. His marriage won him ownership of Green Spring. His son, Philip Ludwell II, moved to Green Spring in the 1690s.

The footprint of the house changes

Because it was made only three years after Lady Berkeley married Philip Ludwell, the Soane sketch not only captured the house Governor Berkeley knew but also that into which the younger Ludwell moved in the 1690s. It shows the original 1640s portion of the house as well as the arcaded west addition completed after the 1668 and most likely by 1674. The footprint of Green Spring recorded during the America Revolution, however, was different. It was L-shaped in plan. In the interim between the making of the Soane sketch and the late eighteenth-century depictions, two generations of Ludwells had altered the house to suit their needs.

Although specific dates remain elusive, archaeological evidence reveals room H as the link between the east and west sections of Green Spring. Sometime after a fire in the eastern part of the structure, the east end wall of room D was rebuilt over top of room H. Coinciding with the elimination of room H as a link between east and west was the addition of a back room – designated as room A – toward the west end of the north (rear) elevation. Room A gave Green Spring its late eighteenth-century L-shaped plan. The ell, moreover, was constructed using the same white oyster shell mortar as that employed in the east end wall of room D, suggesting the alterations occurred at the same time. Room A was identified as a nursery in a late eighteenth-century sketch of the ground-floor plan of the house, drawn by Latrobe.

Ludwell updates the look of the house

Latrobe watercolor depiction of the dilapidated 1796 condition of the Green Spring mansion remodeled after 1725.
Latrobe watercolor depiction of the dilapidated 1796 condition of the Green Spring mansion remodeled after 1725.

Research by Cary Carson of Latrobe’s architectural drawings for a proposed remodeling in 1796 of the mansion yielded clues that the original house featured a multiple gabled roof. The remodeling during the 2nd quarter of the 18th Century likely removed the front gables replacing them with dormers and remodeled the roof to the hip form with an addition of a porch roof over the balustraded terrace. The northwest wing may have been added at the same time providing living space lost with the demolition of the original house.

Rough perspective sketch showing original positional relationship of greenhouse/orangery on lower terrace to the upper lawn and second Green Spring manor house. Free-hand sketch by historical landscape architect, M. Kent Brinkley, FASLA, of Williamsburg, VA.
Rough perspective sketch showing original positional relationship of greenhouse/orangery on lower terrace to the upper lawn and second Green Spring manor house. Free-hand sketch by historical landscape architect, M. Kent Brinkley, FASLA, of Williamsburg, VA.

In the early 1700s, Philip Ludwell lobbied to be awarded the position of Secretary of VA. Part of his strategy included renovating Green Spring, giving it a fashionable look by changing the entrance stair and arcade. To advertise his intellect, or at least his awareness in current trends in architecture and landscape that favored Anglo-Palladian aymmetrical piles and Italianate-garden plans, Ludwell revised the forecourt. The curving garden walls were built. The walls embraced a terrace that was raised, by moving large amounts of earth to increase the grades some twenty-two inches and terminated in outbuildings that marched down toward the entrance at the road, thus creating a processional space which drew visitors into the estate and then up to the house. Outside the west garden wall, another raised terrace was shaped; it extended westward to the seventeenth-century greenhouse.

Other changes included the reconstruction of a gallery across the front of the west addition. The gallery, made of white oyster shell mortar, supported the front porch that ran the length of the south facade at the second-level. The need for access to the elevated main entrance of the house, met in the seventeenth century by a T-shaped stairway, was accommodated by a fashionable replacement which flared outward near the base.

In the end, it was the politics for the first half of the eighteenth century that supplied the motives for the changes to the structure evident in the archaeological record and in the sketches of the house.

Green Spring furniture sale gives clues to use of the rooms

When Philip Ludwell II died in 1727, his son Philip Ludwell III inherited Green Spring. This Ludwell served as a burgess and became a councilor by May of 1751. His era was characterized by the struggle among factions in Virginia rather than by discord between Virginia and the Crown. During the 1760s he lived abroad. When he died, most of the furnishing in the Green Spring house were sold.

Based on the furniture sales record, of the three principal rooms on the main floor that opened off the protruding porch entrance, two were probably used as a parlor, or hall, and a dining room. By 1760, families no longer used the hall as a multipurpose room; by mid-century the hall had assumed the role of reception room. As such, the hall accommodated the rituals of dining, dancing, and visiting that evolved among the elite between 1750 and 1800. In the alleged parlor or hall, the Ludwells kept furnishings for entertainment and leisure, such as music, games, and sewing.

Hannah Philippa Ludwell and William Lee inherit the estate

When Philip Ludwell III died in 1767, he was survived by three daughters; Hannah Philippa, the eldest, inherited the property. Thus, William Lee, as Hannah Philippa Ludwell’s husband, owned Green Spring after their 1769 wedding. Because the Lees lived abroad between 1769 and 1783 in Europe, little is known of the house beyond Lee’s expectations for revenue and maintenance issues. In 1770, Green Spring land included extensive gardens and orchards. The estate also included 164 slaves, 217 cattle, 190 sheep, and seventeen horses. Of the adult slaves, fifty-nine worked in the fields, twelve in the house, four at carpentry, one as a wheelwright, two as shoemakers, and three as gardeners. The presence of twelve house slaves suggest that the plantation manager lived in the house. In 1778 Lee, while living abroad, suggested crops to plant, promoting the cultivation of silk, the planting of mulberry trees, and the draining of swampland for cultivation as timothy meadows.

Closeup of Desandrouin’s 1781 map showing Green Spring.
Closeup of Desandrouin’s 1781 map showing Green Spring.

The Battle of Green Spring yields clues to Green Spring’s 18th century layout

In 1781 the last open field conflict of the Revolutionary War, known as the “Battle of Green Spring,” took place between Lord Cornwallis’ troops and those led by the Marquis de Lafayette and Brigadier General Anthony Wayne. Most of the maneuvers happened on Lee’s property, although the site of the confrontation was on a neighboring plantation. Significantly, a map drawn shortly after the July 1781 battle depicts a blueprint of Lee’s Green Spring house. Facing south, it was L-shaped in plan; walls extending out from the house in ogee curves defined the foreground. Six outbuildings, three to each side, were aligned with the lateral axis (east to west) of the house; six others also arranged in two groups of three marched out from the end of the curving walls – to the south – in rows perpendicular to the facade of the house. Another outbuilding was located east of the house. Positioned to the northeast were two more outbuildings; these appear to be part of a different quarter of the Green Spring estate. The environs of the Green Spring house consisted of marshes, woods, fields under cultivation, and gardens. There were two causeways linking the house to regular routes of transportation, including the Jamestown Road previously called the “Great Road.”

Lee moves to a Green Spring in disrepair

In 1782, after the Revolution, Lee, with his son William Ludwell Lee, moved to Green Spring, hoping to capitalize on the political prominence and authority of the Green Spring estate. His wife, Hannah Philippa, died before being able to set sail for Virginia. In 1784, an ailing Lee alludes to the disrepair of the house – “I can’t venture to stir out, tho’ this house is no better than a barn.” Despite the draftiness of the house, Lee chose to live in the mansion house, one of the largest brick houses in the Tidewater area, instead of other, more comfortable residences. The house represented the authority of the Berkeley-Ludwell faction and so was symbolically powerful; still, it leaked like a sieve.

It was because of his illness and loss of sight that he kept Green Spring essentially the same as he found it. As a result, the house retained the same form and spatial arrangement as it had when Philip Ludwell III and his daughters had left in 1760. Lee stayed in Green Spring house until he died in 1795.

1796 watercolor of Green Spring manor by Benjamin Henry Latrobe.
1796 watercolor of Green Spring manor by Benjamin Henry Latrobe.

Latrobe visits Green Spring before the mansion is demolished

In 1795, when William Lee died at Green Spring, his son William Ludwell Lee was twenty years old; he inherited the bulk of Lee’s estate and he, too, remained at Green Spring until he died in 1803. Lee recruited the English architect, Benjamin Henry Latrobe to remodel his ancient and ancestral dwelling.

In a 1796 perspective view drawn by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, the house at Green Spring is shown to be a two-story structure capped by a steeply pitched hipped roof that is punctuated by two tiers of dormers. The dormers imply that there are two floors above the level of the eaves. The structure is heated by three chimneys, each with a clustered stack suggestive of multiple fireboxes inside. Over the entrance to the porch is an ornamental gable with a curving silhouette indicative of artisan-mannerism. This projecting, lobby-like porch entry provided a spatial transition from the outside into the house proper.

The plan of the Green Spring house that Lee inherited underscored the difference between the family and the laborers of the household by banishing the service areas to the ground-floor. Instead of using only outbuildings, the ground-floor – hidden beneath the arcade – housed much of the household’s storage and food processing tasks. The ground-floor was described by Latrobe as having rooms used as a nursery, passage, dairy, spinning room, pantry, pantry closet, and kitchen.

In his 1796 visit, Latrobe noted that the plantation wanted improvement in every respect. Latrobe provided several proposals for the house, but terminated his working relationship with Lee in 1797. Before he left, however, he preserved, on paper at least, the house’s final appearance. By September of the following year, Lee had “entirely pulled down his old mansion.”

Lee builds a “modest Gentleman’s house”

When Latrobe left, Lee presumably turned to someone local for advice on the form of his modest gentleman’s house. This house was burned during the Civil War and stood in ruins for a number of years afterwards and now has disappeared entirely. An insurance policy written in 1800 reveals that Lee replaced the old mansion with a two-story building made of brick and covered with wood. The central block was fifty feet by thirty-eight feet on each side stretched one-story wings. These were also constructed of brick and were twenty-five feet across from east to west and seventeen feet deep. There was a front porch and the house faced southeast, not true south. The southeast facades of the wings extended from the central block some twenty-one feet and then turned southward so that the last six feet of each wing was set beyond the planes of the facades. This gave the wings a truncated L-shape plan.

In a nineteenth century sketch of Lee’s dwelling by John Galt Williamson, the house is placed in the midst of an open landscape, carefully terraced and cleared. A horse is in the foreground and three outbuildings are located at the edge of the lawn and at a discrete distance from the house. The house Williamson drew was two stories high, punctuated by five bays. The front door occupied the center bay. There was a porch covering the entrance, extending almost the full length of the facade. It was supported by posts of plain columns and had a shed roof. To each side of the two story block, but connected to it, were one story wings. These were each three bays across. Two interior end chimneys heated the main part of the house. The house was described by contemporaries as “handsome” and “elegant’ and exhibited the modest and plain style that was expected of the wealthy landowner of that period.

Some of Lee’s improvements include a smokehouse, corn crib, storehouse, barns for the stock, stables, a saw mill and cotton mill, dairy, distillery, overseer’s house, and quarters. Other improvements included a mature orchard that bore apples, peaches, pears, and figs. Finally there was a garden that contained rose and berry bushes.

In his will written in 1802, Ludwell Lee took an unorthodox step and provided freedom for his slaves. Their independence was the undoing of the estate as there was no longer an adequate labor force to sustain its industries. Together with the decision to demolish the old mansion house, whose historical value remained significant, these actions determined the fate of Green Spring, leaving it with a limited labor force and little value more than its diminished capability to produce revenue.

Aerial photo of the site of Green Spring.
Aerial photo of the site of Green Spring.

The estate passes into history

After Lee’s death his brother-in-law and the land’s executor, William Hodgson oversaw it, focusing on its income generating abilities due to the cash poor nature of Lee’s estate. It changed hands in 1824 and again in the 1830s and eventually a lumber company took possession.

In the post-Civil War era, Virginians looked to their communal past and rediscovered Jamestown and Green Spring. Looking to preserve the ideals and significance of the past, the National Park Service purchased the site of the Green Spring estate in 1966. Since 1997, The Friends of the National Park Service for Green Spring, Inc. have joined together to celebrate and share Green Spring’s significant and influential role in colonial American history.