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Dover: A Tour

20 Mar

“Dover” once stood on Dover Road near Hebron Church. In the 1850s, the mansion was enlarged by James and Ellen Bruce Morson into the large home seen in the pictures below.

dover 1 In a sales brochure put out by the American Trust Company in the early part of the 20th Century, the home was described as “A beautiful country estate, highly developed as a gentleman’s country home, with every natural advantage for a private country club.” At the time, Dover consisted of 350 acres and included a beautiful barn and stone gazebo.

Dover 3

Typical of the time, the home was decorated in the Victorian style with colonial influences. The billiard room had an incredible frieze as seen in the following photograph.

dover 5

The brochure boasted about the incredible finishes and marble mantel that could be found in the drawing room.

dover 4

The size of the rooms is one reason that the sellers were actively trying to interest country clubs to purchase the mansion, it would have lent itself nicely to that type of use.

Dover 2

It is unclear if the brochure worked or if any sales came forward, but sadly the mansion was destroyed by fire on the afternoon of February 8, 1933. Newspaper accounts said the fire began when a spark flew out of one of the decorative fireplaces. The mansion was a total loss.

dover 6

The ruins stood near the road for years and were a popular destination for many locals looking for an afternoon adventure. Finally they were declared dangerous and taken down.

To learn more about Dover Mansion, read Goochland County Historical Society Magazine Vol. 7, No. 2 “Dover – Memories” by Virginia Strange Kiser and Vol. 8, No. 1 “Dover” by Elie Weeks, information on Dover can also be found in Goochland Yesterday and Today by Cece Bullard.  These are available for purchase at the Historical Society Office.


Lost Goochland – The Barn Dinner Theater

28 Sep


The Barn Rainmaker May 27 1965The Barn Dinner Theater once stood alongside Patterson Avenue where Route 288 is today. The theater, which opened in 1963, was housed in a converted barn and featured a central stage that rose up and down to change scenes. Reservations for the evening would included dinner along with the show. Following the show, the actors would serve dessert to the patrons.


The theater featured mostly farce style plays, one particular show, “The Drunkard”, even asked the audience to boo and hiss at the villain and cheer on the hero!

The Drunkard Sept 2 1965

The theater changed owners in 1977 and became the West End Dinner Theater before finally closing in 1980, a victim of changing times. After closing as a theater, the barn became a shop for a period of time. The building was later demolished to make way for road construction. If anyone has memorabilia or photographs of this theater, please contact the society at 804-556-3966 or at We would love to be able to better document this long gone Goochland attraction!

The James River and Kanawha Canal

25 Aug

The James River and Kanawha Canal was to have been the key to Virginia becoming the economic center of the emerging United States in the late 1700’s. The project was envisioned by George Washington who surveyed and planned for the canal. In 1785, the James River Company was formed. A name change would create the James River and Kanawha Canal Company.


The purpose of the canal was to create a way to ship goods and people inland from Richmond. The hope was to connect the James River with the Kanawha River (in present day West Virginia) that would then connect to the Ohio River, the Mississippi River and finally to the Gulf of Mexico.

The problems began almost immediately. Floods and a shortage of funds hindered progress considerably. By 1790, a seven mile stretch from Richmond to Westham had opened. The War of 1812 caused it to slow as did the construction through the Piedmont’s rocky terrain. In 1820, the Commonwealth of Virginia took over the project and by 1825 the canal had reached Maidens Adventure in Goochland.  By 1851, the canal reached its furthest point, Buchanan, 196.5 miles west of Richmond.


The Lock-keepers House at Cedar Point

The canal met further delays during the Civil War when goods and people were not moving. Following the Civil War, the final blow to the canal came with the completion of railroad service to the Ohio River. In 1878, the James River and Kanawha Canal Company gave up and sold its towpaths to the Richmond and Allegheny Railroad Company. Turning basins, towpaths, and lock-keepers houses began to disappear with the rise of the locomotive.

Genito Culvert

Genito culvert

Beginning in the late 20th century there was a renewed interest in the old canal. In 1971, a 138 acre James River and Kanawha Canal Historic District was created. Richmond has a Canal Walk that stretches for 1.25 miles and Scottsville has a wonderful Canal exhibit. Goochland has the last remaining Lock-keepers house which was built in 1836 to serve Lock Number 7 at Cedar Point. There are also still a few culverts and aqueducts hidden in the woods along the old towpath which itself can still be seen in several places alongside of River Road West. Possibly one day Goochland itself will have a Canal Park to commemorate the part it once played in Washington’s great vision.

Lost Goochland – The Crawford Place

6 Oct

Crawford home0001 webIn the archives of the Goochland County Historical Society, there are many photographs of homes, some still standing and some that are not. The Crawford home falls into the latter category. The photo is from a yellowed news article that was published in the Goochland Gazette.

This ancient house is said to have been built by a member of the Crawford family, some of whom came from Scotland after the unsuccessful rising of the Clans against the House of Hanover in 1745. The date on the chimney is 1774.

We do know that the house was located near Broad Street Road (Rt. 250) in Centerville and was last owned by Mr. Crawford Davis. The home fell victim to fire sometime in the mid 1900’s. If you have any information on this house or have photographs of other long forgotten homes, please share them with the society so that we may add them to the story of Goochland for future generations. You can stop in anytime during business hours so that we may scan your photographs for preservation in our collection. We will only keep the original if you would like us to, otherwise, it is your to keep. Don’t let Goochland’s past be forgotten.

Relic Recall: Uncovering the forgotten stories behind our stuff

10 May

gold dustWhat is it: Gold dust and gold nuggets from Goochland gold mines.


Most people today do not realize that Goochland County has a long history in gold mining. When the early colonists came to Jamestown, one of their intended missions was to find gold. After early failures to locate anything near Jamestown, Christopher Newport led an expedition, in November 1608, up the James River about “four days above the falls”. They actually found samples of gold in gravels near the Indian village of “Rassawek” at the confluence of the Rivanna and James Rivers. Due to conflicts with the Monacan tribes, they never returned to the area, and soon the “gold” in Virginia became the golden leaf of tobacco and mining for actual gold was forgotten.

In 1829, gold was again discovered in western Goochland. A very distinct gold belt passes through Goochland along the current day Shannon Hill Road, from Shannon Hill in the north to Columbia in the south, near where Newport found gold in 1608. From 1830 to the start of The Civil War, nearly fifty gold mines were put into operation along this gold belt. The largest of these mines were known by such names as Bowles, Tellurium, Busby, Fisher, Moss, and Payne, with most of these names representing the people that owned the land where they were located.

A label attached to the gold samples in the picture provided information that the samples had been donated to GCHS in 1968 by Mr. & Mrs. Harrison Tilman of Crozier. Research into family history revealed that Mrs. Tilman was Edna Withers Kent, who had been born in Kent’s Store just across the county line in Fluvanna in 1896. Her father was George Henry Kent, the longtime owner, druggist and postmaster of Kent’s Store explaining why the samples were displayed in antique glass medicine bottles. Mrs. Tilman’s first husband had been Stuart C. Cottrell of Goochland, whose mother was Harriett Alexanna Bowles, a member of the Bowles family that owned and operated the Bowles and Tellurium gold mines in the 1800s.

The Tellurium mine was the largest of the Goochland gold mines, opened in 1834 by Judge D.W.K Bowles and G.W. Fisher. Bowles introduced, in 1836, a stamp mill which pounded the ore rather than grind it. This mill may have been the first of its kind in the country. The mill was expanded in 1848 but fire destroyed it in 1857 and it never reopened, although minor attempts were made up until 1910. For the most part, however, the Civil War marked the end of the gold mining era in Goochland.

Our relic of the past serves to remind us that in western Goochland, much like Christopher Newport 400 years ago, we can still say, “Thar’s gold in them thar hills”.

Relic Recall is contributed by Phil Harris of the Goochland County Historical Society.

Thomas Jefferson’s Elk-hill

31 Jan

Jefferson's Elk HillIf one is fortunate one sometimes finds a very important place of information while searching for a prosaic bit of evidence in the old deed books in the Goochland Clerk’s Office.

It was finding a deed to a William H. Miller of “Elk-hill” that led to discovering a description of the house owned by Thomas Jefferson in Goochland County called Elk-hill. Prior to this no one seemed to have any idea what the house looked like, what it was built of and how may stories tall it was. All that was positively known was that it was on a high bluff overlooking Byrd Creek near its junction with the Little James, and that it was on the 307 acres which Jefferson purchased from his wife’s sister in 1778. Fortunately, bricks of the foundation and chimneys, as well as huge tree stumps, marked the spot where the house once stood.

The land on which Jefferson’s Elk-hill house was situated was part of a Royal Patent dated June 16, 1714, granting all of Elk Island and 248 acres of upland to Charles Fleming and John Woodson.

John Wayles, the father of Martha Wayles (Skelton) Jefferson, purchased the land in question from Richard Weatherford by deed dated 12 September 1746.

John Wayles married Elizabeth Skelton, widow of Ruben Skelton on October 19, 1748. From this union there were two daughters, Anne and Martha. Anne Wayles later married Henry Skipwith, while her sister Martha, at age 17 married the 22 year old Bathurst Skelton in November of 1766 and moved to Elk-hill. Their only child, John, was an infant when Bathurst Skelton died in 1768. John died in infancy the year his mother, the widow Martha Skelton, married Thomas Jefferson on New Year’s Day 1772 and moved from her father’s home at The Forest, just outside Williamsburg to Monticello. Martha’s father died in May 1773 leaving her a large estate and making Jefferson one of the richest me in Virginia.

On September 21, 1778, during our Revolutionary War, Thomas Jefferson purchased 307 acres of land “with appurtenances” from Henry Skipwith and Anne, his wife, of the County of Cumberland for 710 pounds Virginia money.

The Elk-hill house was certainly built before 1766, when Martha Wayles moved to Elk-hill in November with her first husband, Bathurst Skelton. It may have been built some years earlier by Ruben Skelton whose widow, Elizabeth married John Wayles in 1748.

Jefferson was visited in 1781 at Monticello by Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton of the British Army under General Cornwallis. Jefferson escaped capture, and Monticello escaped pillage, but Elk-hill was thoroughly worked over by Cornwallis and his troops. In a letter to Dr. Gordon in Paris, dated July 16, 1788 Jefferson states: “Cornwallis encamped his army all along the main James River to a seat of mine called Elk-hill, opposite to Elk Island and at the mouth of Byrd Creek. He remained in this position ten days, his own headquarters being in my house. He destroyed all of my barns, containing all of the same articles of last year, having first taken what corn he wanted, as was to be expected, all of my stock of cattle, sheep and hogs for sustenance of his army and all of the horses capable of service.”

The theft of his property and the burning of his barns in 1781 did not discourage Thomas Jefferson from purchasing on January 21, 1782, a tract of 312 acres from Edward Smith and his wife Sally.  Jefferson also purchased 50 more acres on May 19, 1783 from Judith Smith of Goochland and Ruben Smith of Cumberland County for 50 pounds. This tract adjoined the tract bought the year before by William Holman and William Bowman. The deed has a provision that Judith Smith shall have the right to occupy the house and land during her natural life with free use of water, wood, buildings and enclosures.

Jefferson did not keep his Elk-hill property very long. On August 5, 1799 he sold his 669 acres, all three tracts, to Thomas Augustus Taylor of Chesterfield County. The price was 1500 pounds current money of Virginia.

Thomas Augustus Taylor sold the 669 acre tract almost immediately to Hugh French. Hugh French soon died and his will was recorded on July 3, 1802, naming Robert French and Mason French as executors. By deed dated July 3, 1802, Robert French, acting as executor, sold at public auction the Elk-hill tract for 1701 pounds, 10 shillings to William H. Miller, “reserving one quarter part of an acre for a burying ground, where the said Hugh French is buried.”

William H. Miller took out a fire insurance policy on his dwelling, a kitchen and a barn at Elk-hill on January 28, 1806. This can be seen amongst the records of the Mutual Assurance Company of Virginia at the Virginia State Library. William Miller sold Elk-hill 10 years later to Thomas R. Harrison of Cumberland County who insured his house against fire on June 6, 1815. It is from the descriptions and dimensions given in the two Virginia Mutual Assurance Society policies that Mr. Calder Loth, Historical Architect with the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission has been able to sketch a “reconstructed” Jefferson’s Elk-hill.

Elie Weeks

The above is exerted from an article written by Elie Weeks in 1971 and was published in the Goochland County Historical Society Magazine issue Vol. 3, No. 1. The article is followed by historical Calder Loth’s “Explanation of the Conjectural Drawing” that explains his drawing of the house. This issue can be purchased in the Society store.

Amazing things are happening in Goochland!

13 Aug
D. Brad Hatch and Jennifer McDonough

D. Brad Hatch and Jennifer McDonough

200-year-old bricks found at the center of the Courthouse columns! Footing for a 20-30 foot high brick wall that surrounded the stone jail was uncovered! Recently, archaeologists D. Brad Hatch and Jennifer McDonough from Dovetail Cultural Resource Group came to the Courthouse Green at the behest of the Historical Society to search for the footings of the wall long thought to have existed around the jail.

Various items found during excavation

Various items found during excavation

The first hole tried showed evidence of the long missing wall and immediately, the archaeologists started bringing things up that had been covered for a century or more. Nail, bits of pottery and ceramic, pieces of glass, chunks of brick and a 1905 Indian head penny.

1905 Indian head penny

1905 Indian head penny

The dig continued as the searchers tried spot after spot searching for more evidence of footings. Starting from the first hole, the pair moved outward, away from the jail and then across the jail yard looking for more evidence. Finally, with a little help from some ground penetrating radar equipment, the remains of the former wall were found in a large enough quantity to establish the size and length. Goochland’s nineteenth century jail wall had been proved to have existed!

The proof of the former wall.

The proof of the former wall.

Most of what is left in the ground is the rubble that was left when the wall was pushed down a century ago. Pieces of brick and cement remain as a testament to the walls that once surrounded jails in Virginia in the 1800’s. Once these structures were deemed no longer of use, most were taken down. The bricks were often used in other structures and what was left was pushed down and covered over as is the case in Goochland. This is just the first step in the upcoming restoration of the Old Stone Jail.

Courthouse column

Courthouse column

A few days after the excavation, workmen came to patch and paint the columns on the front of the historic Courthouse. During the patching, the bricks that make up the interior of the columns were briefly exposed. The is possibly the first time these bricks have seen the light of day in almost 200 years! What will turn up next?

Contributed by James Richmond of the Goochland County Historical Society

Lost Goochland – Ben Lomond

25 Jan

Ben Lomond in 1976 during the fateful restoration.

Goochland’s Ben Lomond is named after a mountain on the banks of Loch Lomond in Scotland. The name Ben Lomond comes from the Scottish Gaelic Beinn Laomainn which translates to Beacon Mountain. In 1736, Isham Randolph, Sr. of Turkey Island in Henrico County, was granted a Royal Patent for 3,000 acres in Goochland County. It was on a part of this land that he built his mansion, Dungeness. Isham’s grandson, Archibald Cary Randolph bought the property that comprises Ben Lomond from the Dungeness estate in the late 1700’s and built his own house. An 1801 insurance policy shows that the original house was roughly the size of the central portion of the house as shown in the picture above. One of Randolph’s passions was horses and it was on this farm that famed racehorse Sir Archie was foaled in 1805.

The ruins of Ben Lomond

The ruins of Ben Lomond

In 1806, Archibald Cary Randolph was forced to sell Ben Lomond and his horses to pay debts. Archibald was also known to be particularly bad with money.  In a case heard before the Supreme Court, Archibald along with his two brothers, were said to be “notoriously insolvent” and had wasted their father’s estate. Archibald sent Sir Archie went to his partner William Tayloe and Ben Lomond was sold to Benjamin Watkins. The property passed down through the Watkins family for several generations and then went through a succession of owners: Van Mater, Schuett, Hazelwood, Rutherfoord, Bremner, Lewis, Hicks, Woodruff and Liebert to name a few.

The house has been described as a two-story, central passage plan house that was popular in the eighteenth century. Houses built in a similar style in Goochland include Tuckahoe, Rock Castle. In the 1970’s, Ben Lomond was undergoing an extensive restoration and renovation  project when it caught fire. Neighbors could only stand in awe as the historic structure succumbed to the intense heat before the fire department could arrive. All that remains today is the western chimney, brick foundation and the steps. Strewn amongst the ground cover are fallen bricks from the massive eastern chimney, broken glass and pieces of metal. Two beautiful magnolia trees and scattered boxwoods give evidence of the park-like grounds that must have once existed. A few crumbling outbuildings stand as reminders of the once magnificent farm are slowly following the manor house into oblivion.


Past the decimated structure and just beyond the edge of the wood line is a square stone wall, the age of which is unknown. Inside this enclosure is speculated to be the grave of Sir Archie (1803-1833). He was the greatest racehorse of his day and sired many champions in his years at stud. His line went on to produce Man O’War, Seabiscuit and Secretariat to name just a few. Part of the mystery surrounding Sir Archie is his burial place. Sir Archie spent his last 17 years at stud at Mowfield Plantation, just west of Jackson, North Carolina which also lays claim as his place of burial. For decades, this has been a heated debate.

Burial place of Sir Archie?

Burial place of Sir Archie?

The loss of Ben Lomond was another devastating blow to that part of Goochland. By the time of the fire, the historic area of Rock Castle had already lost Dungeness and Mannsville, both with Randolph connections, and Bolling’s Orapax. Today Ben Lomond survives as a haunting ruin that can only hint at its former glory.

Contributed by James Richmond of the Goochland County Historical Society

To learn more about Ben Lomond: read Volume 3-1 of the Goochland County Historical Society’s magazine.


31 Jul

Recently, the Historical Society received an email from architectural historian Edward Polk Douglas. While reading the Society’s blog, Mr. Douglas noticed that a photo was mislabeled. The January 13, 2012 post on Lost Goochland featured a photo of the ruins of Dover Mansion. This photograph depicting the remains of a burned mansion has been published several times, including page 60 of our own publication, Goochland: Yesterday and Today by Cece Bullard. Mr. Douglas recognized the photo to be Sabot Hill and not Dover as the photo was labeled in the Society’s collection.

The ruins of Sabot Hill

The ruins of Sabot Hill

We are now attempting to set the record straight. Close examination of pictures of both Dover and Sabot Hill confirm that the ruins are definitely Sabot Hill. This is a bonus for the society because we did not know we had a photograph of the ruins of that great mansion.

The following pictures are confirmed to be of Dover. The first two were taken in 1959 by Richard T. Couture, Professor of History and Historic Preservation at Longwood College. The third was taken by Society member Jane Saunders.

We would like to thank Mr. Douglas for bringing this to our attention. We are always striving to learn as much about Goochland history as we can. If you see anything that you should be corrected, please do not hesitate to bring it to our attention. Our email is


Remaining walls of the main home. Taken Dec. 30, 1959 by Richard T. Couture


The remains of the east wing of Dover. Taken Dec. 30, 1959 by Richard T. Couture

The ruins of Dover

The ruins of Dover

Dover mansion by Jane Saunders

A Shrine of History, Chivalry and Romance

17 Oct

Norton 1In the files of the Goochland County Historical Society, there are often little pieces of history that get overlooked. In the file marked “Norton Family of Sabot Hill” there is a newspaper clipping donated years ago by a descendant of that family. We know the Norton’s owned Sabot Hill from 1883 until 1903, which helps date the clipping to that time period. It has been suggested that this could have been an advertisement to interest buyers.  If so that would put the date closer to 1903 when the Norton’s sold Sabot Hill. The newspaper name is cut off and we do not know the author so we cannot give credit where it is due. So sit back and enjoy this little slice of the “sunny southland”.

Sabot Hill

A Shrine of History, Chivalry and Romance.

Sabot Island, Feb. 18th. – Mr. Editor – Having had occasion to visit Sabot Hill, I desire to chronicle some of the striking features of this notable plantation that impressed me, it being the grand old homestead of one of Virginia’s noblest sons, Hon. James A. Seddon, who was Secretary of War, and where Jefferson Davis frequently met to counsel with his cabinet and all the leading statesmen, and where he outlined many a speech, the general tenor of which was an endeavor to revive the drooping spirits of the people and to inspire confidence and hope.  Sabot Hill bears the same relation to the upper James that Westover does to the lower James.  At the entrance I noticed a massive stone wall, which formed a fence up the winding accent to the ridge leading to the magnificent mansion.  As I looked at the house and grounds, I could but wonder at its beauty and its wonderful state of preservation.

Some years since, Mr. Arthur Seddon sold Sabot Hill to Prince Nestorowitsch, from Russia, who spent many thousands in improving the estate, and surely could not have more lavishly adorned the walls and ceilings.  The former are finished with oil in the most delicate tints, while the latter are decorated with beautiful and elaborate designs in water colors and gold leaf which would attract the eye of the finest artists.  Indeed the beautiful polished floors, the imported marble mantels, rosewood doors, silver hinges, the huge white pillars and broad winding staircase of Corinthian design, lavishly ornamented with gold leaf, adds each in its own graceful way, to the charm of the interior of this home of cultivation and refinement.

Norton 2

Mr. Seddon surely made no mistake in selecting this spot to build such a palatial home.  The broad acres of rich and gently rolling uplands, the fertile low grounds and island, outbuildings and tenant houses, and all, are in keeping.

From these noble grounds one of the most beautiful views along the James can be seen.  For miles you can see the sparkling waters of this historic river.

“To him who in the love of Nature holds

Communion with her visible form, she speaks

A various language; for his gayer hours

She has a voice of gladness and a smile,

And eloquence of beauty; and she glides

Into his dark musings with a mild

And healing sympathy.”

A short distance west of the house is the garden of noble dimensions.  The stately magnolias, the box, the marimosa, the great willow, and many other rare and imported trees spread their branches and their leaves which stir lazily in the charmes, languorous stillness of one of Virginia’s golden summer evenings.  The velvet turf, the broad and picturesque avenues which lead me past the tall hydrangeas, the nodding Eulalia grass, the clinging fragrant Wistaria, and Hilliana honeysuckle, the sweet English violets, the Persian lilacs, the Perle d’Or, the Jacqueminot and other countless varieties of fragrant roses, brought to my memory the days when “Love’s Young Dream” was continually being sung in this same rural spot.  Beyond this garden, the peaks of the Blue Ridge can be seen, also the C. & O. R. R. as it follows along the James in its broad and crooked course around the hills.

Owing to financial trouble, Sabot Hill was sold from Prince Nestorowitsch to a syndicate of wealthy Southern gentlemen.  Two years since they sold it to Major Augustus Norton, of Ohio, who was president of the First National Bank in Athens.

Major Norton’s family, when he came to Sabot Hill, consisted of a wife and eight children, but soon thereafter, his eldest daughter, Miss Frances Johnson, married Prof. S. C. Price, and now lives in Mt. Clemens, Mich.  Mrs. Norton is a great-great grand-daughter of Major General Israel Putnam, of fame in the French and Indian War, and in the War of the American Revolution.

Norton 3

This family possesses high literary and artistic talent and has added very much to our social surroundings.

There are other fine estates in this section for sale, and we would like to have many more families like this to come and settle in this part of our “Sunny Southland.” S.L.J.

To read more about “Sabot Hill”: read volume 10, No. 2 of the Goochland County Historical Society’s magazine.