I’ve mentioned before that one of the most interesting kinds of research for me is to visit historic sites. Today I’m going to talk about Elsing Green plantation in West Point, Virginia, which was once the home of Martha Washington’s uncle and aunt, Col. William and Unity Dandridge. I was very fortunate to be granted a private tour of Elsing Green by one of owners, Virginia Lafferty, in the spring of 2015. I am sad to say that when I reached out to Mrs. Lafferty to let her know about the upcoming release of Becoming Lady Washington, I discovered she had passed away suddenly last summer. She was such a gracious woman and spoke at length about her beloved home and the history associated with it. The website for Elsing Green has been taken down, so apparently it is not open any longer for tours or events, which is a sad thing, too.
Here’s the description of the property from the above link to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources:
“One of the state’s most impressive Tidewater plantations, Elsing Green is marked by a prodigious U-shaped house, a grand expression of colonial Virginia’s formal architecture. Stretched along the Pamunkey River, the plantation was owned in the 17th century by Col. William Dandridge. The property was purchased ca. 1753 by Carter Braxton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who probably built the main house. The house burned in the early 19th century, but its brick walls survived unmarred. Rebuilt within the walls, the house was long the home of the Gregory family. In the 1930s, during the ownership of Mr. and Mrs. Beverley D. Causey, architect Edward F. Sinnott restored the original roof pitch and installed 18th century-style woodwork. Edgar Rivers Lafferty, Jr., who purchased Elsing Green in 1949, developed the plantation into a model farm and wildlife preserve.”
Elsing Green is situated upriver and on the other side of the Pamunkey River from Chestnut Grove, Martha Washington’s childhood home. Today there are two houses on the site along with a few outbuildings. The smaller of the two houses is called the Hunting Lodge and is the original manor Martha would have been most familiar with. Family legend tells us that Martha once rode a horse either up onto the front porch or into the house. I have no way to prove or disprove this legend, but it does say a lot about the spunk she must have possessed to foster such an idea!
I was impressed by the solid construction of the Lodge. The red and white brick exterior is a statement of strength and financial well-being. Thick doors and sturdy wood floors. I absolutely fell in love with the library’s shelves upon shelves of books, too. The tall grandfather clock was beautiful. Heck, the whole place was lovely! If I remember correctly, the décor is from the period but may not have been original. It’s been 5 years, so my memory is a bit fuzzy on the details. I’ll share several of the photos that I took so you can have a virtual tour. You’ll notice in the pictures that it had snowed the night before my husband and visited.
I found it interesting that they had a kitchen and dining room in the basement of the Lodge so it was cooler during the summer to enjoy their meals. It may also have been easier to heat in the winter, as well. Notice the number of windows they could open to allow the breeze through to cool the upstairs, too.
I enjoyed strolling through the building, trying to imagine little Patsy (Martha’s pet name) walking or running (doubtful?) around playing with her cousin Martha. I wonder what kinds of toys or dolls she played with. Maybe took dancing lessons when the itinerant dance instructor made his visits. Played the pianoforte or spinet, perhaps. I let my imagination run as I roamed through those historic rooms.
I can only wonder what the future of Elsing Green may be since Mrs. Lafferty’s death appears to have closed the venue for visitors. It had been in continuous operation since originally built in the 17th century. I imagine her family felt the blow too much to continue without her. (If any of the Lafferty family happens to read this post, please know my heart goes out to you all.)
As a reminder, there are a few of my books available to read for free. Find out more here. And as always, thanks for reading!
The catch phrase here in north Alabama is “stay safe; stay separate; and sanitize.” Hang in there, folks. It’s a tough time but we will get through this eventually. My heart goes out to everyone as we find our way through this pandemic crisis. Please listen to and follow the guidelines from the health experts so we can shorten the duration as much as possible. Take care of you and yours and I’ll do the same.
P.S. If you haven’t already, please consider signing up for my newsletter, which I send out most every month, including news like new covers, new releases, and upcoming appearances where I love to meet my readers, along with recipes and writing progress. Thanks and happy reading!
Visit www.bettybolte.com for more on my books and upcoming events.
Available for preorders now! Releases June 2, 2020…
Martha “Patsy” Custis manages an immense eighteenth-century plantation in the Virginia colony. But as a young widow she’s hard pressed to balance her business and to care for her two young children. They need a father and protector. She needs a husband and business partner…one she can trust, especially now as tensions rise between the motherland and the American colonies. Her experience and education have sustained her thus far but when her life veers in an unexpected direction, she realizes she has so much more to learn.
Colonel George Washington takes an interest in her and she’s surprised to find him so sociable and appealing. They form an instant bond and she is certain he’ll be a likeable and loving husband and father figure for her children. She envisions a quiet life at Mount Vernon, working together to provide for their extended family.
But when trouble in the form of British oppression, taxes, and royal arrogance leads to revolt and revolution, George must choose between duty to country and Martha. Compelled to take matters into her own hands, Martha must decide whether to remain where she belongs or go with her husband…no matter what the dangerous future may hold.