You can’t throw a rock in Virginia without hitting something historic. The Peninsula in particular is chock full of cool and scenic historical locales. Where you’re a history buff or just looking for some beautiful locations to spice up your Instagram game, here are some nearby places that you might want to check out this autumn.
1) Bacon’s Castle, Surry County: The name might conjure up images of delicious breakfast foods and medieval fortresses, but make no mistake, Bacon’s Castle has a crazy past. Built in 1665, Virginia’s oldest surviving brick building is not a castle. It’s only connection to colonial rabble-rouser Nathaniel Bacon is the fact that his followers seized the house during the doomed Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676. The doomed rebels clearly had good taste. With its historical 17th century garden, spooky attic, and dramatic history, this Jacobean marvel is well worth exploring.
2) Williamsburg Battlefield, Williamsburg: Williamsburg may be famous for its colonial past, but more recent events have left also left their historical impression on the area. Today, the muddy, bloody, and inconclusive 1862 battle is largely forgotten and much of the battlefield has already been developed. However, you can still venture out into the woods to see the abandoned redoubts and earthworks.
3) Thomas Nelson House, Yorktown: The Thomas Nelson House was built around 1730 and has bore the brunt of two wars over the course of its long history. It was damaged in the siege of Yorktown, during which Thomas Nelson Jr. commanded the Virginia Militia. It was also the served as an infirmary for first the Confederate Army and later the Union Army during the Civil War. The cannonballs dotting one side of the house speak to the building’s besieged legacy (but, while the house did suffer cannon damage in the past, these were not added until the 1900s).
4) Shirley Plantation, Charles City County: Visit this Georgian house and you’ll believe a staircase can fly! The plantation was first established in 1638 and has been passed down through eleven generations of the Hill Carter family, a prominent First Family of Virginia. One of the most striking features of the main house is its “flying” staircase, which rises up three stories with no visible means of support. Throw in a haunted portrait and several friendly cats and chickens wandering the grounds, and you’ve got one memorable historic home.
5) Fort Monroe, Hampton: The moated, heptagonal Fort Monroe was not the first fort on this site, which has a somewhat troubled history. English colonists initially built Fort Algernourne here in 1609, only to have it burn down several years later. In 1619, a Dutch ship arrived and sold 30 abducted Angolans to the colonists, marking the beginning of slavery in the British colonies. Centuries later, Fort Monroe was constructed and became a strategic location during the Civil War, situated between the Chesapeake Bay and Hampton Roads. The Union Army controlled the location throughout the fighting, attracting runaway slaves who formed a large camp outside the fort.
6) Westover Plantation, Charles City County: You can’t just stroll into this beautiful James River house, because it is still used as a private residence! However, visitors can wander the grounds of the estate, which was once home to the prominent Byrd family. The plantation features formal gardens, reestablished at the beginning of the 20th century, an excellent view of the James River, and secret passageways. Visitors can visit the graves of William Byrd II, and his lovely and tragic daughter Evelyn. While visiting England, she fell in love with the wealthy, connected grandson of an earl. The only problem? He was Catholic, which led Evelyn’s father to reject the match. She returned to Virginia and died shortly after. The gorgeous, Georgian building was both the crowning achievement of the Byrds, and the source of their downfall, as William Byrd III squandered the family fortune in constructing the magnificent building in 1750.
7) The Sir Christopher Wren Building, Williamsburg: The Wren is the oldest college building in the United States. It boasts a reconstructed colonial classroom, a portrait gallery of the presidents of the college, and a chapel that attracts numerous weddings. Beneath its flood lurks a hidden crypt containing the remains of Peyton Randolph, his estranged brother John and Virginia Governor Lord Botetourt.
8) Cape Henry Lighthouse, Virginia Beach: Looking for a place to belt out songs from the new smash Broadway musical Hamilton? You’d probably get some interesting acoustics in the Cape Henry Lighthouse. Built in 1792, this lighthouse was the first federal construction project under the Constitution, contracted by Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Visitors who complete the daunting trek up the spiral staircase are rewarded with a lovely view of the ocean.
9) Rosewell Plantation, Gloucester County: The powerful Page family began construction on the Rosewell Plantation in 1725. The house was one of the most magnificent dwellings in early America, and the site of many lavish balls. However, Rosewell was gutted by fire in 1916, leaving only eerie, beautiful ruins. Visitors can walk around the towering chimneys and brick walls and reflect upon the once-great house.
Visiting these nine unforgettable sites is the closest you’ll come to traveling back in time. These wonderfully preserved locations are practically in our backyard and well worth a visit.