Hampton Roads Pt. 2

One of my absolute favorite things about living in DC is how close it is to literally so much. Drive for two hours and you can be in the mountains, exploring countryside, or at some of the most beautiful beaches in the country.

This weekend we headed down to Virginia Beach! Like I mentioned in yesterday’s post, on Saturday we were up against a 90% rain forecast that led to some quick thinking Friday of things that would mostly keep us indoors.

We started the day at Elsing Green, a colonial plantation built along the Pamunkey River (and a brand new National Historic Landmark that Paul had discovered.) The home and beautiful grounds are owned by a sweet and amazingly accommodating couple, who live in the home and agreed to let us stop by for a tour even though they don’t “open” to the public until next month! The oldest part of the home is a small Jacobean hunting cottage built by Lord Delaware (Delaware the state’s namesake) was built in the early 1600s, followed by a Queen Anne style manor house in 1715. The grounds, that now contain a wildlife refuge, are so perfect that when you make it down the long, tree lined driveway to the lawn of the home, you’re greeted by peacocks strutting around the lawn.

Being the preservationists that we are, we couldn’t help but love the story of this place. Although a majority of the home’s records were destroyed during the Civil War, the house is believed to have its original ties to Lord Delaware, and was passed down to the Dandridge’s after 1692. Martha Dandridge Custis, or the woman who went on to marry George Washington, was born into this family a few decades later. The property was passed down through inheritances and sold, until it was sold for the last time in the 1950s to Edgar Lafferty and his wife Margaret. The two were avid antique collectors, and it had been their dream to buy and restore an old home. That dream was passed on to the Lafferty’s son and daughter in law, who gave us our tour, and whose life’s work is to maintain, preserve, and share the house. Needless to say we left sufficiently inspired.

Everything in the part of the home that you tour is either original, original to the time period, or belonged to the Lafferty’s when they furnished the home. One of the coolest pieces for me was the surrender table, taken from the Moore House on the Yorktown Battlefield. This was the table where Washington, Rochambeau, and Cornwallis signed the Articles of Capitulation, marking the British surrender in the American Revolution. We were also able to tour Lord Delaware’s hunting cottage, where the pine wall and floors are original and in incredible shape. The downstairs of the cottage has been renovated into adorably rustic living quarters, used when weddings are held at Elsing Green.

This was such a lovely visit and, if you’re prepared to make the drive slightly to the middle of nowhere, I couldn’t recommend highly enough.

Next, we drove the hour and change to Newport News to visit the Mariner’s Museum.  The museum itself is interesting, but there’s one primary reason we sought this place out: the ruins of the USS Monitor. The Monitor was the first Ironclad ship built by the United States Navy, and was commissioned by the Union Army at the start of the Civil War. It fought in one of the Civil War’s biggest naval battles, the Battle of Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862, and in December of that year sank in storm off Cape Hatteras. In 2002, the turret and two Dahlgren guns were recovered from the wreckage and moved to conservation tanks at the Mariner’s Museum. I’m what has been called a Civil War nerd, so seeing these in real life was such a neat experience. The entire Monitor Center of the museum is so well done, complete with three fantastic films and exhibits, and we probably could have stayed the entire afternoon.

The last stop of the day was the city of Norfolk and the Douglas MacArthur memorial. Housed in the beautiful Old City Hall building, we saw his tomb in the capitol rotunda, and upstairs explored an exhibit about his life and legacy, complete with displays of his uniform and awards, his pipe and aviator sunglasses. On our drive from Norfolk to Virginia Beach, we stopped at the Francis Land House, which we had wanted to tour but by now it was well past five and the home was closed. Nevertheless, we did a drive by and it looked as charming as it does on the website! Will be adding this one to the list for next time we’re in the area.

We spent the evening eating seafood in Virginia Beach. Paul had been before, but this was my first time. I’m easily charmed by beach towns, and the evening views of the ocean did not disappoint.

Seeing as I’ve only gotten through one day’s worth of activities and this is already longer than I anticipated, I’ll say stay tuned for my next post about our travels the next day around Hampton Roads!

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