In this second installment about Virginia’s Historic Garden Week (HGW) Tours of 2016, we’ll be visiting Eyre Hall on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. This centuries-old plantation has been one of the enchanting properties included on the Eastern Shore HGW Tour every year since 1941 and soon you’ll see why.
Designated as a National Historic Landmark, the property has been continuously occupied by generations of the same family since before the Revolutionary War in 1758. The home isn’t normally open to the public, so short of making friends with the owner, the last week of April is generally the only opportunity you’ll have to tour this historical beauty.
Our party began the tour by driving the mile-long dirt road, lined with ancient cedars and crepe myrtles and parked in the grassy area designated for the day’s visitors. As we approached the front porch with its traditional pale blue ceiling we couldn’t have imagined the treasures we’d find inside the home, and once there, we were so impressed by the intentional commitment to preserving the history of this family and the culture of the region as well.
Eyre Hall is a living museum of stately architecture, antique furnishings, original paintings and handcrafted decor, yet comfortably inhabited by its longtime owners. Along the tour we learned about items like the intricately painted wallpaper made by the French firm of Dufour around 1816 and called Les Rives du Bosphore (The Banks of the Bosphorus). In the library we were excited to see an original 1826 letter from the Marquis de Lafayette to Robert B. Taylor (a member of the family) which mentions the passing of Thomas Jefferson and a previous visit to Norfolk.
Sidenote: I can’t hear the name “Lafayette” without thinking of the now famous song in the Grammy winning musical, Hamilton, so this was an unexpected connection and the chorus of the song ran through my mind the rest of the day…
Hmmm…There it goes again.
Now back to the tour…Eyre Hall has been lovingly preserved and the front room and stairway haven’t changed much since this photo from 1930. The card table to the right was reportedly crafted in Williamsburg, Virginia not long after the house was built and still finds a prominent place in the hall.
As we passed through the various spaces I couldn’t help but envision the scores of people from all walks of life that have breathed life into this place. The original builders, craftsmen and enslaved people who contributed the physical labor to bring vision to reality down through the centuries. The business people, military, politicians and dignitaries that held court here and the families and friends, young and old, that graced the home with laughter, tears, authenticity and imagination. There was even a violinist and friend who lived with the family and took care of the many musical instruments that they owned, so we know the home was also filled with music.
As a private residence, tour attendees aren’t permitted to take pictures inside, so if you’re interested in more details about the home and its contents I’ll refer you to this wonderful article and photo gallery from The Magazine Antiques. But while there are many treasures inside, please don’t assume that the home is all there is to see. A magnificent garden beckons when you walk outside the door.
Laurie Klingel of Appleseed Porch and Garden has been entrusted with the daunting, but no-doubt fulfilling, task of Head Gardener at Eyre Hall. She and her team have masterfully crafted these gardens into spaces that even Monet would admire. The ruins of an orangery and a small family cemetery are also nearby.
While access is limited inside the home, the good news is that the current owner of the property, H. Furlong Baldwin has graciously granted permission for the public to meander through these tranquil gardens anytime without an appointment. Of course you’ll want to be respectful of the family’s privacy and appreciative of their generosity when you choose to go.
I hope you’ll enjoy this gallery of photos from our visit to Eyre Hall. Feel free to click on any image for a slideshow with full size photos and descriptions. It’s a magical place steeped in history and charm and I hope you have a chance to visit. I plan to go back as often as I can to, at least, stroll through the gardens.
By the way, the date has already been set for the Eastern Shore House and Garden Tour next spring, so don’t forget to mark your calendar for April 29, 2017 and visit the Historic Garden Week of Virginia‘s website beginning in December to purchase tickets.
Did you know that there are over 30 tours of nearly 200 properties conducted in the last week of April each year? Every region in the state is represented; from the Shenandoah Valley in the northwest to Martinsville in the southwest, beyond the Chesapeake Bay on the Eastern Shore Peninsula to Old Town Alexandria in the northeast, plus many more.
I had a chance to visit some of the homes on the Eastern Shore, Isle of Wight and James River Plantations this year and I’ll be writing more about them in the coming weeks. I’m hoping to visit new locations next year. Have you enjoyed an Historic Garden Week Tour recently? If so, what was your favorite destination and property? I’d love to get your recommendations for next time.
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I’ll look forward to hearing from you!