Wilton House Museum
|Location||S of Richmond, on N bank of James River, Richmond, Virginia|
|Area||2 acres (0.81 ha)|
|NRHP Reference #|||
|Added to NRHP||April 30, 1976|
|Designated VLR||October 21, 1975|
Wilton House Museum is a museum in a historic house located in Richmond, Virginia. Wilton was constructed c. 1753 by William Randolph III, son of William Randolph II, of Turkey Island. Wilton was originally the manor house on a 2,000-acre (8.1 km2) tobacco plantation located on the north bank of the James River several miles east of the city of Richmond. Between 1747 and 1759, William III acquired more than a dozen contiguous tracts of land. About 1753, Randolph completed construction of large Georgian manor house overlooking the river, which he named “Wilton.” It is a mimic of Wilton House in UK, the family seat of the “Earl of Pembroke”.
With commercial development encroaching and the property in danger of foreclosure The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Virginia intervened and saved the mansion from destruction by purchasing, dismantling, moving, and rebuilding it on a site overlooking the James River a few miles west of its original location in 1934. Opened to the public since 1952, Wilton hosts a collection of 18th- and 19th-centuries furnishings, textiles, glass, ceramics, and silver that reflect the “planter” lifestyle of the mid-18th century.
About the House
The First Owners
During the 17th century the Randolph family of Virginia was among wealthiest and most powerful families in Colonial Virginia. William Randolph and his wife, Mary Isham Randolph, have been referred to as "the Adam and Eve of Virginia." Wilton was constructed circa 1753 for William III and his wife, Anne Harrison Randolph, on a 2,000-acre plantation overlooking the James River. William Randolph III was a planter and public servant. He was a member of the House of Burgesses for Henrico County, an officer in the militia, and a vestryman for Henrico Parish.
- None of his three subsequent male descendants who inherited Wilton would live to the age of 40.
- William Randolph III died in the year of 1762, age of 38 and leaves Wilton to his five year old son, Payton Randolph.
- Peyton Randolph died in the year of 1784, probably in his early 30 and leaves Wilton to his five year old son, William Randolph IV.
- William Randolph died in the year of 1815, age of 26 and leaves Wilton to his five year old son, Robert Randolph.
- Robert Randolph died in 1839, age of 29 and leaves a heavily indebted Wilton to his daughter, Catherine.
- Catherine was the last owner in Randolph family; she files a suit to sell Wilton in 1859.
Design and Architecture Style
Wilton is built in the Georgian style of architecture, which was commonly in use during the Colonial era. During the 1700s Georgian colonial became the rave in New England and the Southern colonies. Based on what materials were available Georgian architecture differs between England and the colonies, and from colony to colony. Regions could share the same characteristics, but also add their own unique features.
History of the House
Ownership of the House
Wilton was constructed for William Randolph III and Anne Randolph between circa 1753; their son Peyton Randolph (d. 1784) was the second owner, and after Peyton the house passed in the Randolph’s family after generations until 1859. Wilton went on to survive the Civil War and changed owners another 4 times before going into foreclosure by The Bank of Commerce and Trust during the depth of the Great Depression. When the house was in danger of demolition The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Virginia intervened and became the last owners of the house.
Wilton was originally located on a 2,000-acre tobacco plantation approximately 9 miles downriver from Richmond, the large two-story brick house is one of the most significant of the James River plantation mansions.
In 1742 William III inherited his father’s Fighting Creek land.
Several purchasing records of William III were found:
1747-William III purchased tracts of land which was over 1000 acres from William Finney, Jr.
1747-350 acres from Richard Randolph (Thomas Bayley, William Harding)
1747-150 acres from William Bayley
1749-136 acres from Arthur Giles
1752- 25 acres was “adjacent to the land of Randolph whereon he now lives called Wilton”
Wilton was in danger of foreclosure during the Great Depression, and then it was purchased by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America in the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1933 and was reconstructed along the banks of the James River, 15 miles west of its original location.
The Decline of Wilton in the Nineteenth Century
After William IV’s death, Wilton was probably heavily in debt. In his will, William Randolph IV had given his wife “compleat power at any time to dispose of any part of my property that she may think proper for the payment of my debts”. In 1833, the writer Catharine Sedgwick visit Wilton and described “Broken down fences, a falling piazza, defaced paint, banisters ties up with ropes, etc.” and added that “the general aspect of the house is that of a forlorn ruin”. The total value of the Wilton estate as reflected in the land tax books fell from $74,664 in 1832 to $45,066 in 1850. Wilton continued to decline. In 1833 and 1835, Robert Randolph was forced to place the plantation in trust to secure ever larger debts. Robert Randolph died in 1839 and leaves a heavily indebted Wilton to his daughter, Catherine. Four years after Robert’s death, his wife Mary, remarried to James Brook of New York. In 1846, James and Mary filed suit against the estate of their daughter, Catherine S. Randolph, to facilitate a division of the property. Wilton was divided into 744 acres belong to James and Mary, and 1,535 acres belong to Catherine. In 1859, Catherine filed a suit to sell Wilton. The suit was not settled until 1875, the depositions of the land condition indicate that soil fertility on the plantation had been reduced due to hard cultivation over the years by owners and tenants. The buildings were dilapidated and worthless. The auction was held on July 27, 1859, and William C. Knight paid $49,517 for 1,237.93 acres including the house. Catherine was the last owner of Wilton from Randolph family.
With a collection of more 1,400 objects Wilton is not merely Richmond’s only 18th century public plantation home, but also home of an array of artifacts. These 17th, 18th, and 19th century pieces include silvers, ceramics, textiles, paintings, documents, and furniture. You can browse the museum’s collection by visiting the National Portal to Historic Collections at the American Heritage website.
- National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.
- "Virginia Landmarks Register". Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved 19 March 2013.
- Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff (October 1975). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Wilton" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources. and Accompanying two photos
- James River Plantations, a National Park Service
- Wilton Speaks: Archaeology at an Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-century Plantation : Data Recovery at Site 44HE493, Associated with the Proposed Route 895 Project, Henrico County, Virginia. Williamsburg, Va.: College of William and Mary. 2000.
- Wilton House Museum, About Us
- National Park Service, Wilton
- Museum Collection of Wilton
- Media related to Wilton House Museum at Wikimedia Commons
- Wilton House Museum's official website
- James River Plantations, a National Park Service Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
- Wilton, Wilton Road (moved to Richmond), Richmond, Independent City, VA: 26 photos and 5 data pages at Historic American Buildings Survey