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Governor's Palace (Williamsburg, Virginia)

Coordinates: 37°16′27.3″N 76°42′7.6″W / 37.274250°N 76.702111°W / 37.274250; -76.702111
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37°16′27.3″N 76°42′7.6″W / 37.274250°N 76.702111°W / 37.274250; -76.702111

Governor's Palace
General information
Architectural styleEnglish Baroque (original)
Colonial Revival (Reconstruction)
LocationWilliamsburg, Virginia
CountryUnited States of America
Construction started1706 (original)
1931 (reconstruction)
DestroyedDecember 22, 1781
OwnerColonial Williamsburg
Governor's Palace
LocationWilliamsburg, Virginia
Part ofWilliamsburg Historic District (ID66000925[2])
Added to NRHPOctober 15, 1966

The Governor's Palace in Williamsburg, Virginia, was the official residence of the royal governors of the Colony of Virginia. It was also a home for two of Virginia's post-colonial governors, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, until the capital was moved to Richmond in 1780, and with it the governor's residence. The main house burned down in 1781, though the outbuildings survived for some time after.[1]

The Governor's Palace was reconstructed in the 1930s on its original site. It is one of the two largest buildings at Colonial Williamsburg, the other being the Capitol.


Original ground floor plan of the Governor's Palace without the ballroom added later to the rear (at top).

Williamsburg was established as the new capital of the Virginia colony in 1699, and served in that capacity until 1780. During most of that period, the Governor's Palace was the official residence of the royal governor.

Construction and design


The palace was funded by the House of Burgesses in 1706 at the behest of Lt. Governor Edward Nott.[3][4] It was built from 1706 onward. In 1710, its first official resident was Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood who served as acting governor; the governor proper, George Hamilton, 1st Earl of Orkney, was absentee and is not known to have visited Virginia. Spotswood continued to improve on it until ca. 1720–1722, adding the forecourt, gardens, and various decorations.[1][5]

Under Lt. Gov. Robert Dinwiddie, from 1751 to 52, it was repaired and renovated, including the addition of a large rear addition featuring a ballroom.[1][5]

The exterior of the Governor’s Place inspired the design of the Sigma Nu Theta Chapter fraternity house at the University of Alabama.



The seven governors who lived in the original palace included:

Home to a colonial mayor:

It was also home to the post-colonial governors:



Around 1779, Governor Thomas Jefferson proposed the remodeling of the Palace in manner in keeping with his neoclassical ideals.[7] The proposal would have added a temple-like portico to the front and back.

However, in 1780, Jefferson urged that the capital of Virginia be relocated to Richmond for security reasons during the American Revolution. The new lodging for the governor adjacent to the current Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond is more modest in size and style, and is called the Governor's Mansion.

On December 22, 1781, the main building was destroyed by a fire.[5] At the time, it was being used as a hospital for wounded American soldiers following the nearby Siege of Yorktown.[8] Some brick outbuildings survived the fire, but were demolished during the American Civil War so they could be salvaged for building materials by occupying forces.[9]

In the 1880s, as the C&O Railroad was building the Peninsula Extension east to Newport News, due to difficulties in acquiring right of way along the preferred route, temporary tracks were laid along Main Street/Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg, passing through the area of the former Palace.[10]


View of the Governor's Palace and gardens (shortly after its reconstruction), ca. 1935, Frances Benjamin Johnston.

Through the efforts of Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Bruton Parish Church and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr., whose family provided major funding, the elaborate and ornate palace was carefully recreated in the early 20th century.

The reconstruction was based on numerous surviving pieces of evidence. Archaeological excavations of the site revealed the original foundations and cellar, together with architectural remnants that had fallen in during the fire.[11] Jefferson's drawings and plans from his proposed renovation have survived, conveying the interior plan.[11] In 1929, while the project was already in planning, a copperplate engraving nicknamed the Bodleian Plate was discovered in England's Bodleian Library. The plate included renderings c. 1740 of the exterior of the palace, along with the Capitol and the Wren Building. Additional evidence included original artifacts and Virginia General Assembly records. The house, outbuildings, and gardens opened as an exhibition on April 23, 1934.

In early 1981, the Governor's Palace underwent significant interior renovation and refurnishing to reflect updated scholarship of the building and its furnishings.[12] The renovation reduced the influence of the Colonial Revival style in favor of historical evidence, including records found at Badminton House in the UK.


  1. ^ a b c d Wilson, Richard Guy (2002). Buildings of Virginia: Tidewater and Piedmont. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 368. ISBN 0-19-515206-9.
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  3. ^ Brownell, Charles E (1992). The Making of Virginia Architecture. Richmond: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. p. 13. ISBN 0-917046-33-1.
  4. ^ Foster, Mary L. (1906). Colonial Capitals of the Dominion of Virginia. Lynchburg, Va.: J. P. Bell Company. pp. 63–64.
  5. ^ a b c Olmert, Michael (1985). Official Guide to Colonial Williamsburg. Williamsburg, Virginia: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. pp. 72–81. ISBN 0-87935-111-X.
  6. ^ "From the Garden: Of Green Peas and Blue Stars".
  7. ^ Kimball, Fiske (1922). Domestic Architecture of the American Colonies and of the Early Republic. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 152, 159.
  8. ^ Geist, Christopher (Autumn 2008). "Company for Christmas". Colonial Williamsburg. Retrieved February 14, 2014.
  9. ^ Yetter, George Humphrey (1988). Williamsburg: Before and After. Williamsburg, Virginia: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. p. 41. ISBN 0-87935-077-6.
  10. ^ "The Duke of Gloucester Street Special | the Colonial Williamsburg Official History & Citizenship Site".
  11. ^ a b Yetter, George Humphrey (1988). Williamsburg: Before and After. Williamsburg, Virginia: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. pp. 64–66. ISBN 0-87935-077-6.
  12. ^ Hood, Graham (Winter 2000–2001). "Palace Days: Recollections of Dismantling the Most Beautiful Rooms in America". Colonial Williamsburg Journal. Retrieved February 18, 2014.