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Postcard from Virginia, part II

Two presidential homes rooted in American history

Berkeley Plantation Photo (c) Virginia.org
Travel back in time and explore our country’s history by visiting the James River Plantations along scenic Route 5 in Charles City County, Virginia. It is here that Benjamin Harrison, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Presidents William Henry Harrison and John Tyler were born and lived.

Established in 1619, Charles City County boasts plantations and farms that survived the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the War Between the States (as the Civil War is still known in much of the South). Meticulously restored properties dot the highway and nearby you’ll find the Jamestown Settlement, America's first permanent English colony, and Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia's 18th-century colonial capital and the world's largest living history museum. While there is much to do, don’t miss these presidential highlights:

Berkeley Plantation

The Georgian mansion, built in 1726, is the oldest three-story brick house in Virginia and the first with a pediment roof. It’s also the birthplace of Benjamin Harrison V, signer of the Declaration of Independence and three-time governor of Virginia. It’s also the birthplace of William Henry Harrison, ninth president of the United States, and ancestral home of his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, the twenty-third president.  

Fun Facts:

The estate was occupied during the Civil War by General George McClellan’s Union troops.

“Taps,” the ceremonial bugle call for fallen soldiers, now a standard component to military funerals, was composed here in 1862 by General Daniel Butterfield.

Special tours are offered seasonally, such as: James River Plantations Historic Garden Week; Hauntings Tales & Tours featuring the spirits and mysteries of the three historic Edgewood, Berkeley, and Shirley plantations; Twilight Ghost Tour; a Candlelight Christmas; and a Presidents’ Day Weekend celebration highlighting one of the most popular presidential campaigns of American history, which coined the memorable campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too”.  

The mansion and its 10 acres of formal gardens are open daily with seasonal hours, except on Thanksgiving & Christmas.

The admission fee includes a film, museum tour, house tour guided by docents in period costumes, and self-guided tours of the grounds and garden.

Sherwood Forest

Sherwood Forest Plantation became the home of our 10th U.S. President John Tyler in 1842. He lived there until his death in 1862 and the plantation has been a continuous residence of the Tyler family ever since.

A native Virginian, Tyler served twice as Governor of Virginia, a U.S. Senator, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, a Virginia state senator, and member of the Virginia House of Delegates. He assumed the presidency following the death of President William Henry Harrison, who died just one month into his presidency. William Henry Harrison was born right down the road at Berkeley Plantation. Tyler was the first vice president to assume the presidency due to his predecessor’s death.

Fun Facts:

Tyler purchased the home and its surrounding 1,600 acres from his cousin, Collier Minge. Rumor has it that he renamed the plantation Sherwood Forest, alluding to his notoriety as a political outlaw.

The house, built circa 1720, is over 300 feet long and known as the longest frame house in America. The house survived the Civil War but was damaged by Union soldiers; marks on woodwork and doors are still visible.

The grounds include twenty-five acres of terraced gardens, lawns, and tranquil woodlands. The formal garden was used by Civil War troops.

Sherwood Forest Plantation's grounds are open 9:00 am-5:00 pm daily. There is a fee for a self-guided grounds tour that encompasses the exterior of the house and 21 numbered stations representative of a 19th century plantation; descriptions and history are detailed in a pamphlet.

House tours are available by appointment only.

There’s more to see in Charles City County, Virginia. Check it out here.

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