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Evelynton

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1936–1937, W. Duncan Lee. 6701 John Tyler Hwy. (VA 5). Open to the public

Evelynton is the paramount example of the twentieth-century revival of the James River plantation house. The house was commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. John Augustine Ruffin, Jr., for a site originally owned by the Byrd family of nearby Westover. Ruffin's family, which had owned the property since 1847, had fallen on hard times. He married a wealthy Richmond heiress, Mary Ball Saunders, who decided to replace an earlier house and hired Richmond architect W. Duncan Lee. In addition to designing many Richmond houses and buildings, Lee had directed the enlargement and restoration of Carter's Grove, had worked on Westover, and was a member of the architectural advisory board at Colonial Williamsburg. From these and other sources, such as Henry Chandler Forman's Early Manor and Plantation Houses of Maryland (1937), Lee concocted a formidable design.

The house is built of old brick laid in Flemish bond, the brickwork similar to that of the stable and caretaker's cottage at Carter's Grove. Located on Herring Creek, which empties into the James River, the house is on a north-south axis with the land approach from the north, down a tree-lined drive. This front is a five-part composition consisting of a central block of five bays (with a projecting pavilion of three bays), hyphens, and flanking pavilions. Following the eighteenth-century formula, the river, or south, approach is the more impressive, with a seven-bay central facade, hyphens, and flanking dependencies. Details are drawn from a variety of sources: the riverfront doorway resembles those at Westover and Wilton, the wide spacing of the chimneys comes from Gunston Hall, and the right-angled flanking pavilions were inspired by Woodlawn. Indeed, the entire house could inspire a session of the television show Jeopardy. The interior follows twentieth-century room arrangement and function, but with details drawn from the past. The influence of Carter's Grove is apparent in many details, including the large archway, but the entry sequence is shifted, with the staircase pulled off to the side, so that someone entering from the land (north) side has a clear view to the creek beyond. The other rooms are equally furnished.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Richard Guy Wilson et al.
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Citation

Richard Guy Wilson et al., "Evelynton", [, Virginia], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/VA-01-PE66.

Print Source

Buildings of Virginia: Tidewater and Piedmont, Richard Guy Wilson and contributors. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, 357-358.

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