History on tap
SIZE: 5592 fin. square feet
YEAR BUILT: 1737 (architecturally renovated in mid-1990s)
ADDRESS: 860 White Hall Road (originally Three Chopt Road)
NEIGHBORHOOD: Boyd Tavern
CURB APPEAL: 7 out of a possible 10
LISTED BY: Kay Robinson of Montague, Miller & Co., 978-7452
History resonates throughout Albemarle in the persistent, ubiquitous red brick, boxwoods, and ivy. Little Monticellos dot the county, ensuring preservation of Jefferson's architectural legacy.
But Virginia's history began before Jefferson staked his claim. Lafayette Hill Tavern is one venerable pre-Revolutionary War building located just off 250 East across the Fluvanna County line (the house was in Albemarle County before 1777).
A visitor’s initial sense of the compound is one of completeness: people lived, worked, and died here. The first thing you see is the graveyard, a native-stone-enclosed square beneath a stately oak. Over a small knoll, several original outbuildings and a smokehouse remain, as well as a palatial barn, a swimming pool, and, of course, the Tavern, which forms the center section of the main house.
In 1740, a license to operate a tavern on this site was recorded in Goochland County; 1866 records show the structure was being used then as a post office. A little later it became a residence; over the years elements were added and removed. Today, the tavern part of the house has been restored and outfitted with museum-like simplicity, and the story-and-a-half structure still contains such relics as the original doors (which at less than six feet high could do some serious damage to today’s protein-fed populace).
One of the tavern's claims to fame was the event in 1781 which gave it its name– the Marquis de Lafayette and his army spent the night, gathering information and dispatching news of British troop movements to the Revolutionary army.
The upstairs rooms– originally the tavern’s lodging chambers– are small by today's standards but functional nonetheless. The stairway to them, with a door at either end, encouraged no flow, only a sense of privacy and quiet, especially with rowdy tavern activities in full swing downstairs. The doors embody a real sense of history, though, with a design etched in nails. Hand-tooled nails were costly and used many times over, but in doors they were pounded in and bent over to keep them from popping out with the continual opening and closing. Those nails could not be used again, hence the expression "dead as a doornail."
The modern house, which encircles the tavern, stretches out in every direction. The center of activity seems to be a sunroom that looks onto a southern-style veranda complete with climbing roses, wisteria, and a view of fields of peonies. The interior layout has a feeling of room-to-room expansion with little thought for the big picture.
One extension is a complete apartment, renovated to be wheelchair accessible. In fact, all the renovations have created a home for people to age in, with an elevator connecting all the floors including the basement. Even the dining room, almost in the center of the house (with no exterior windows) has a hidden dishwasher next to the table so cleaning up after a meal involves no more than turning around.
The unruliness of the layout gives the house much of its rambling southern charm. Brick paths connecting separate buildings have been enclosed and now serve as hallways. Outfitted with radiant heat, they keep feet warm on the way to the kitchen, a beautiful, light-filled addition with marble and wood countertops. The walkway to the parking area has the same design to melt snow and ice.
Adding to the charm is the current owner’s love of history. Alexandra Ripley penned her wildly best- selling Gone with the Wind sequel, Scarlett, behind these doors, presumably with her toes snug and toasty upon the same bricks over which the Marquis hurried with a crucial message for General Washington.