Hickory Hill (Ashland, Virginia)
|Location||E of Ashland off VA 646, Ashland, Virginia|
|Area||640 acres (260 ha)|
|NRHP Reference #||74002121|
|Added to NRHP||November 21, 1974|
|Designated VLR||September 17, 1974|
Hickory Hill is an estate in Hanover County, Virginia. The 3,300 acre former plantation is located approximately 20 miles (32 km) north of the independent city of Richmond and 5 miles (8.0 km) east of the incorporated town of Ashland.
The Hickory Hill property was long an appendage to Shirley Plantation in Charles City County, much of it having come into possession of the Carter family by a deed dated March 2, 1734. The Carters were among the First Families of Virginia. Robert "King" Carter (1663–1732) served as an acting royal governor of Virginia and was one of its wealthiest landowners in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
Robert Carter the younger gave 500 acres of land known as Hickory Hill to his daughter Ann Butler Carter and her betrothed on the occasion of her wedding in December 1819 to William Fanning Wickham. William Fanning Wickham, son of the famous defender of Aaron Burr, John Wickham esq., though a Richmond lawyer, soon adopted the life of a Planter, raising wheat as his cash crop and he and Ann eventually grew Hickory Hill to encompass 3300 acres. Once Hickory Hill became their modest home, the frame dwelling over an English basement grew with the plantation, eventually becoming a brick, seventy five hundred square foot Greek Revival mansion. Her sister, Anne Hill (née Carter) Lee, was the mother of Robert E. Lee. The Lee family visited often, before during and after the War Between the States. General Lee's daughter Agnes was proposed to by her childhood sweetheart Orton Williams in Hickory Hill's large parlor. She declined, never disclosing her reasons, but it is thought that the war had so hardened the sweet boy she had known, that he was gone and an angry, hard man had taken his place. Orton was later captured and hung the following morning as a spy. His last letter was written to Agnes Lee in which he proclaimed his innocence. General R.E. Lee wrote that this cruel deed was done to Orton in vindictiveness, simply to harm Lee and his family.
William and Ann's son, Williams Carter Wickham (1820-1888), became a notable lawyer, judge, politician and soldier. Williams Wickham had been a member of Virginia's secession convention and voted against leaving the Union. However once Abraham Lincoln demanded Virginia fight to enslave her sister states or be subjugated herself, Wickham knew where his duty lay, and the die was cast; he threw his whole might behind the Confederate cause. Williams Wickaham had raised a local cavalry company, the Hanover Dragoons at Hickory Hill in 1859, which he captained until the spring of 1861. When Virginia called for volunteers Wickham and his Dragoons rode into Ashland, Virginia and enlisted in the Confederate Army. The Hanover Dragoons became Company G, 4th Virginia Cavalry and Wickham was elected Lieutenant Colonel. After having been severely wounded at the Battle of Williamsburg by a sabre thrust through the body, he returned home it was thought, to die. God, his own strong constitution and loving attention pulled him through the crises and opened greater possibilities to aid his country. Wickham, knew every byroad in that portion of the county and since he was at home behind the Yankee lines he was familiar with all of the Union military activity in the area also. Because of this, Jeb Suart, when beginning his famed ride around McClellan left his troops at their jump off point and taking along Gen. William Henry Fitzhugh "Rooney" Lee, who wished to see his bride, rode to Hickory Hill. Rooney of course visited with Charlotte, but Stuart set with Colonel Wickham late into the night and made his plans for the morrow before drifting off to sleep in a chair. Before sunup Stuart and Lee were back with their troops ready to begin their ride.
Though Wickham had no formal military training he was a brilliant man and excelled in the art of war. Having been a hard and dependable fighter through all of Stuarts campaigns with the Army of Northern Virginia he quickly rose to the rank of Brigadier General of Cavalry under Jeb Stuart, On June 26, 1863, General Robert E. Lee's son, General William Henry Fitzhugh "Rooney" Lee was brought to Hickory Hill by his brother Robert Lee Jr. so that he could be with his wife, Charlotte Wickham Lee, and his mother and sisters who were staying at Hickory Hill while he recuperated from the severe wound he received at the Battle of Brandy Station in 1863. Having learned of his staying there, a Federal raiding party was sent to capture him in order to hold him as a hostage for a Federal Officer. At the time he was staying in the plantation office with his nurse, brother Robert "Rob" Lee, Jr. About two weeks after arriving, Robert Jr. and Mrs. Wickham stepped out onto the front veranda after having just finished breakfast and heard shots ringing out in the hickory grove down by the gate. She sent Robert to put a stop to the sport. While riding to the gate he espied the raiders approach shortly before they reached the mansion. Wheeling his horse he raced back to his brother in the Plantation's office and attempted to quickly remove Rooney, who protested that he himself had always paroled wounded prisoners and had no doubt the Yankees would do the same, not knowing that they were coming specifically to capture him.
Robert Jr. escaped into the formal garden on the grounds and burrowed into the hedges from where he watched the whole affair unfolded; periodically creeping closely to see if all was clear but was several times turned back. Meanwhile, Scott, their faithful manservant, led all but one of the officer's horses to safety. Afterwards he was captured, escaped and returned.  The Yankees, rightly or wrongly believed that they had been taken across the Pamunkey River into Caroline County to their Uncle Williams Carter's plantation, North Wales. Not content with their capture of the General, horses, wagon and other items looted from Hickory Hill, the Yankees sent a raiding party to North Wales to steal the officer's blooded horses. Not discovering them, they proceeded to beat the old gentleman to death, but he did not disclose the whereabouts of the boys horses. "Rooney" Lee was captured in the Hickory Hill Plantation office and carted away on a stolen wagon while his wife, two children, mother and sisters stood watching. Afterwards, even with the weight of Gettysburg upon him, R.E.Lee always the gentleman wrote to his daughter in law Charlotte (whom he referred to as daughter)while he penned up in Hagerstown, Maryland waiting for the waters to fall so he could cross back into Virginia: "The consequences of war are horrid enough at best, surrounded by all the amelioration of civilization and Christianity. I am very sorry for the injuries done the family at Hickory Hill and particularly that our dear old Uncle Williams, in his eightieth year, should be subjected to such treatment. But we cannot help it and must endure it" While he was held in a damp cell in Fortress Monroe, his children died of scarlet Fever and his wife Charlotte wasted away. General Robert E. Lee always expressed the opinion that she died of a broken heart.
In 1864 he was elected to the Confederate Congress and was a member of the Hampton Roads Peace Commission. He served as a lawyer and jurist in Hanover before and After the war. In November 1865, he was named the President of the war-ravaged Virginia Central Railroad, which ran westerly from Richmond. Needing capitol to expand and update, the Virginia Central was merged with the Covington and Ohio Railroad to become the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway (C&O), with the goal of completing a railroad link to the Ohio River. Williams Wickham is credited with attracting transcontinental railroad builder Collis P. Huntington and fresh financing from New York City to complete the task by 1873. Wickham remained active with the C&O through a receivership and financial reorganization, and was at his office in Richmond working when he died in 1888.
The frame portion of the house at Hickory Hill was partially destroyed by a fire in 1875, and the family resided in the three story brick addition which had been erected in 1857, while the damaged frame portion was rebuilt with a magnificent Flemish bond structure over the original brick English basement. The house was built to commercial standards of the day, and consequently has remained unusually solid. All of the sills were made of sandstone and all of the lentils granite. The back veranda is made of a checkerboard pattern of slate and marble, surrounded by massive granite beams. The rich mahogany doors and ornamental plaster, mantels, and heart pine flooring still remain and have been preserved to meet modern living needs, but in such a way as to be virtually unchanged. One of the mansions architectural gems is the massive two story great hall with double balconies.
Hickory Hill produced wheat (its major crop), corn, oats, and other fruits and vegetables. Unlike other Hanover County plantations, which sold locally, Hickory Hill sold its produce in Richmond where it brought a higher price. It had its own stop, Wickham Station, just below the manor house on the former Virginia Central Railroad. Clay was mined on the property and baked into bricks alongside the railroad tracks and all of the brick used in Hickory Hill's construction was made on the plantation. It is also thought that many of the bricks that rebuilt Richmond after the War Between the States came from Hickory Hill. This revenue greatly aided in maintaining the lifestyle the Wickham's had enjoyed prior to the War.
General Wickham remained at Hickory Hill until his death in 1888 at which time his son, Henry Taylor Wickham was master of the plantation. the house changed little for over fifty years, but in 1915 five bathrooms were added to the mansion, and probably at this same time a coal fired steam boiler heating system was installed. A gas shed and carbide gas generator was also added and gas for lighting was piped to the mansion, the kitchen and office. the house was not disturbed again until it was wired for electricity in 1930.
The mansion, though fallen into disrepair, remains surrounded by the Plantation office, kitchen, smokehouse, Mammy's house, root cellar, carriage house and the first floor brick of the barn and stables. The property remained in the Wickham family for six generations, not coming out until approximately 2005, when it was sold. The Mansion and some of the dependencies are being meticulously restored to their former glory. Work on the structures will continue until the full restoration is complete. The property now consists of the mansion, out buildings, fifty acres. A 546 acre view-shed was placed around the remaining estate that can never be developed, thus preserving the mansion, grounds and setting for the foreseeable future.
- "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09.
- "Virginia Landmarks Register". Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
- My Father General Lee
- Wickham family history