Address: 215 South Wilton Road, Box 8225, Richmond, Va. 23226
Web site: http://www.wiltonhousemuseum.org
William Randolph III, one of the great colonial landholders in Virginia, purchased 2,000 acres along the James River in eastern Henrico County in 1747. There, he and his wife, Ann Carter Harrison of Berkeley, built a mansion they named Wilton, completed about 1753. The center of a bustling tobacco plantation, the house remained in Randolph family hands until the start of the Civil War, and then through a succession of owners was left virtually intact, although losing much of its original grandeur as a prime example of Georgian architecture. The increasing industrialization of Richmond pushed its boundaries further east early in the twentieth century, threatening Wilton's survival and leading both to its acquisition by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1933 and to its move to a new site on a bluff overlooking the James in the Westhampton section of western Richmond.
The new setting, while auspicious, was limited in area, a far cry from the spaciousness of the original Wilton site. Hence, when the owners approached The Garden Club of Virginia about a landscape plan for the new site, the Clubs architect, Arthur A. Shurcliff, undertook the creation, rather than the restoration, of colonial gardens. With an ambitious master plan, he set about creating a sense of space while at the same time providing a significant buffer from the surrounding residential properties. The design of a series of terraces, leading from the entrance gate to the house to the gardens and river beyond, helped to transform the steep and rocky hillside on which Wilton was now situated.
In aid to his plans, Shurcliff depended on excavations of the old Wilton site undertaken by Herbert A. Claiborne of the firm of Claiborne & Taylor, Inc., which had moved the mansion house and reconstructed it in its new location. From those limited studies, Shurcliff's plan developed, the ultimate implementation of which gave the impression that Wilton had always stood in this congenial location. As had been the case at Smiths Fort Plantation, Shurcliff used boxwood, both large tree and smaller dwarf varieties, around the house and gardens, while employing American holly to define site boundaries. While numerous trees were removed at the front of the mansion, native forest growth remained in place as a shield from abutting properties.
Over the years, vegetation had regularly to be pruned and renovated in order to maintain vistas and the semblance of spaciousness. In 1959, Alden Hopkins supervised additional planting, and successively in each following decade through the 1990s The Garden Club continued its activities at the site.
The images presented here record various stages of the property's landscape restoration. Since additional work has been supported by The Garden Club of Virginia at many properties, these images do not necessarily represent the current-day experience. Also, accession numbers reflect the year in which an image was received by the Virginia Historical Society, not the year in which it was taken.
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If you would like to browse The Garden Club of Virginia collection in the online catalog, click here.
Last updated March 15, 2011