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Shirley Plantation: 1932

Shirley Plantation: 1932

1932. "Shirley, Charles City County, Virginia. House dates from circa 1650. In 1660 granted to Col. Edward Hill, member of the House of Burgesses. In 1723 thru marriage of the eldest daughter to John Carter, it passed to Carter where it still is." 8x10 inch acetate negative by Frances Benjamin Johnston. View full size.


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Details and Dentils

Shirley Plantation was the first plantation in America. This house actually dates from about 1725. Most homes and furniture from this period through the Federal (home/furniture) period are based on design books from England. The fireplace and most the room looks like it is perfectly proportioned and right out of a builders book.

I'm amazed that the dentil crown molding was in such good shape. Could be wood but more likely plaster castings.

The "cloverleaf" on the rim lock (door latch) worked the mechanism. Later these were replaced by small knobs.


This was taken in 1932 people. Its a beautiful place now. I go there often. There are knobs on the door, but they are very small.

LCD or Plasma?

Dang! I had no idea they had big screen tv's back then!


I love the details of the door and moldings. But I have a few probably stupid questions.

How do the door mechanics work? I see no knob or anything else to activate the latch. I see something shaped a bit like a cloverleaf on the lower right of the latch housing, but it doesn't appear to be a functional part of the design. Or is that the knob and my eyes are playing tricks?

What is the dish in the center of the mantel?

Is the partition on the right side of the fireplace there to hide firewood? If not, what is it's purpose?

Finally, I guess the eyehook on the right side of the fireplace is supposed to hold the poker, but I'm not sure.

Faux finishes, or just dingy?

You'd think someone on the 'ol plantation would have sent a worker down to the hardware store and pick up a few gallons of off white paint and spruce up the joint. It's only been 200 years since the last coat was applied.


When I was a kid, Route 11 through the Shenandoah Valley was called the Shirley Highway. Any connection?

Arsenic and Old Lace

The smoke/patina/discoloration (and the oversize portraits) kinda give it the look of a "room" made of painted stage flats. I've been an actor for 35 years; that looks like a number of different stages I've been on.


The interior decorator for this room could have used a little guidance in "proportions" as the two oval portraits of the women are too large for that wall while the fireplace mantel decor is a bit too small. Also I see three cracked surfaces, the mirror, the silhouette and the marble fireplace framing. Strange that the photographer is not visible in the mirror reflection, but there does appear to be some sort of demon beneath the dining room chair reflected therein.

[The camera isn't perpendicular to the mirror, so we wouldn't expect to see any reflection of the photographer. - Dave]

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