Henrico County Historical Society
PO Box 90775   Henrico, VA 23273   (804)501-5682   hchsinfo@yahoo.com
Open by appointment only

Henrico County Historical Society's motto, which is Preserving the Past in the Present for the FutureSkipwith Academy in Three Chopt District, Henrico County, Virginia.Log Cabin in Tuckahoe District, Henrico County, Virginia.Mankin Mansion in Fairfield District, Henrico County, Virginia.Dorey Barn in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.Bethlehem Church in Brookland District, Henrico County, Virginia.

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Varina District Historic Sites - All Sites

Cedar Hill and Armour House

The photo below shows the current state of Cedar Hill reflects boarded windows as the result of vandalism.

Cedar Hill in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

In the year 2000, The Henrico County Historical Society deeded Cedar Hill to Henrico County after having acquired it from St. Paul’s Baptist Church whose plans to build a new sanctuary on the original property threatened the historic structure with demolition and it was moved to its present location. Dr. Henry Nelson was instrumental in this preservation effort. (Read about other past preservation projects by Henrico County Historical Society.)

In 2003 the Henrico County Historical Society and the Henrico County Board of Supervisors received an Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (HPAC) Award of Merit for efforts to save and preserve Cedar Hill.

One of few surviving 19th century farmhouses in Henrico County, Cedar Hill represents a legacy of history.

During the Civil War, Cedar Hill was owned by the Vaughan family. James D. Vaughan served in the Virginia Militia and the 10th Regiment of the Virginia Cavalry. Along the original Creighton Road (which connected Richmond and Tappahannock) there were a number of troop camps during the Seven Days Battle. In 1862, units of Dershaws Division of the Army of the Confederate States set up camp on the property of Cedar Hill. Produce was consumed from the estate, as well as timber used to build a hospital, cabins, and fortifications. James Vaughan petitioned the Confederate Government for damages totaling $1,102.00 on October 20,1862.

The structure was in a deteriorating state when it was moved. An architect was hired to draft plans for its restoration to reflect the original structures appearance. The exterior features period reconstructed chimneys, weather boarding, beaded trim, louvered shutters, dramatic nine over nine window sashes across the facade, a vernacular front porch done in a simple Greek Revival style, and paint colors were chosen to reflect colors common to the nineteenth century. The restoration thus far has been related to the exterior of the house.

The interior, which has not yet been restored, has an early nineteenth century stairway that features a hand carved fan motif, and an upstairs that features original floor boards, door trim and doors.

An HPAC status report states that there is no funding for the completion of the interior restoration however it is a priority project in the CIP budget (see related article on Capital Improvement Program). The report also states that there may be major structural issues that need to be addressed before finishing the renovation of the house. Architects are moving forward with construction drawings.

Plans for Cedar Hill will eventually be included in the 400 acre Meadowview Park project underway in the Varina District of Henrico County. Also included in this project is the Armour House, pictured below.

Front view of Armour House in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia. Back view of Armour House in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

Archeologists identified two areas of prehistoric Native American occupation in Meadowview Park. In the early 19th century, a country residence of Chief Justice John Marshall stood nearby, known as Chickahominy Farm. Confederate General Robert E. Lee observed the beginnings of the Seven Day’s Battle from the bluff at Meadowview. Edmund Christian built the house at Meadowview in 1915.

Built between 1915 and 1918, the Armour House and Gardens at Meadowview Park are located directly behind Arthur Ashe Elementary School. This Victorian style home is rich in Henrico family history. The surrounding property boasts a scenic walking trail, tennis courts, gardens, a flowing fountain surrounded by arbors with blooming vines, and children’s gardens and play areas.

Available for rental, The Armour House and Gardens are an ideal setting for small gatherings, celebrations, meetings, or retreats. A large shelter facility with a fireplace is also available for rent.

In addition, a variety of classes and events are offered for both children and adults.

  • Publicly owned.
  • (Henrico County)

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Curles Neck

Manor House of Curles Neck, today, in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

Located on New Market Road (Route 5). "The name Curles is derived from the "Curles or meanders in the James River", which defines the broad flat peninsula known as Curles Neck. The property has passed through a number of hands, but the Randolf family, who acquired the land in 1698, had by far the longest tenure. Earlier, from 1674 to his death in 1676, Nathaniel Bacon lived at Curles. Through the years, various names have been applied to different sections of this vast tract, viz., "Raleigh", "Bailey's", "Tillmans", "The Slashes", "Bremo", and "Strawberry Plains."

The property was originally referred to by early settlers as “Longfield”. It is easy to see how the name Longfield originated. It is a noticeably wide expanse of open land along historic route 5 in the Varina District of Henrico County with trees apparent only at either end.

This property is among the most significant properties in Henrico County covering almost four centuries in American history. It is thought that the name Curles derived from the “curles” or meanders of the James River, which defines the broad flat peninsula known as Curles Neck. Researchers have also found the family name of Curle recorded in various grants over a span of one hundred years in the books at the State Land Registry Office.

“Curle’s” with an apostrophe was used on early documents prior to the Civil War, later dropped as in modern usage. A prominent representative of that family was the patriot Wilson Roscow Curle of the Revolutionary era. The first “Curles” patent was recorded in November of 1635 when a tract of 750 acres land “commonly known as Longfield” was granted to Captain Thomas Harris, 100 acres of which was due him as “an Ancient planter & adventurer in the time of Sir Thomas Dale”.

“Of particular interest are the ruins found during the excavations at Curles Neck in eastern Henrico along the James. Archaeologists uncovered the Thomas Harris house foundation, one of the oldest homes found in Virginia dating between 1635-1654. Thomas Harris served as Burgess for Curles Neck. The archaeologists noted that the framing posts of this house sat in the full basement and some were enclosed by bricks which was unique in the Chesapeake area. A large centrally located chimney suggests that there was a lobby entrance. Built later in the early 1700’s, adjacent to this structure, was the home of Nathaniel Bacon, the leader of the rebellion against the English authorities. Landscape features include intricate terraces and traces of underground tunnels down to the James River which could be used as an escape route from potential Indian invasions.” (Inventory of Early Architecture County of Henrico, Virginia)

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After Nathaniel Bacon was found guilty of treason his property was confiscated by the crown and later acquired by William Randolph. The grand Georgian plantation built by the Randolph family was probably destroyed during the Civil War.

The property has been in continuous use since the 1600s and changed owners many times with many prominent names in early American history associated with it well documented.

John Pleasants donated the first Quaker meeting house at Curles Neck and was one of the trustees appointed to represent the newly formed town of Richmond. Following a successful case before the Virginia Court of Appeals in 1777, the slaves of John Pleasants were allowed to follow the dictates of his 1771 will and were freed. (HC-17)

Curles Neck barns, circa 1930, in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia. Curles Neck barns, circa 1930, in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia. Curles Neck barns, circa 1930, in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

1930 G.B. Lorraine Collection

In 1852 Charles Senff, a New York sugar merchant, purchased the then 3,250 acre Curles tract along with the adjoining farms of Bremo (home of Richard Cocke) and Strawberry Plains. Seniff built the 15-room brick Georgian Revival mansion that exists today to replace the pre-Civil War house owned by William Allen which had fallen into disrepair.

C.K.G. Billings bought the property in 1913 and built it into one of the most important horse breeding farms in the country.

The next owner, A. B. Ruddock, started Curles Neck Dairy, which began retail operations in 1933 and became one of the leading dairy suppliers in the East under the ownership of Fred E. Watkins in 1943.

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Vintage announcement of Easter egg hunt at Curles Neck Dairies in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

Virginia Commonwealth University conducted a number of archaeological digs at Curles Neck during summer sessions and a Richmond Times Dispatch article written by Overton McGehee, dated May 13, 1985, quoted L. Daniel Mouer, director of the VCU Archaeology Research Center, as saying they had “found the entire gamut of American history.” They identified the outlines of two building sites from Bacon’s period and five sites from the Randolph’s plantation. Some of the pieces of ceramics found at the site were from the late 1600s. The evidence in the ground also matched an 1806 Mutual Assurance Society document description of six buildings. They found bricks jutting out of the soil where the chimneys once stood and identifiable pieces of steps remaining. The survey team also found pottery fragments and a wine bottle seal marked “Richard Randolph 1735.”

List of buildings on Curles Neck farm, circa 1930s, in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

Mouer was also excited about a site that predated the 1622 massacre of colonists by Indians. Clay pipe stems found there indicated the approximate age of the site. “The archaeological walk through time may eventually go from a 5,000 year-old Indian site to a Quaker meeting house that may have been a stop on the underground railroad in the mid-1800’s”.

An article written by Kent Miller, dated July 30, 1987 in the Henrico County Line, stated that the archaeological excavation project uncovered more than 100,000 artifacts. Evidence found from the ruins indicated that the Randolph Mansion began as an early 18th century house. The house was probably expanded to double its length in mid-century by Richard Randolph II. Either Richard Randolph III or Henry Heth, who had purchased Curles by 1799, added an enlarged Greek Revival porch on the front of the house. The house appeared to have been dismantled by Union Soldiers during the civil War. Civil War related artifacts were found at the site including a bent bayonet that may have been used to pry bricks loose from the walls of the house.

List of Buildings on Farm - 1930s

An artist's reconstruction of Curles Neck manor house in the 1700s, Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

An artist’s reconstruction of the Curles Plantation manor house in the 18th century.

Henrico County Line

According to an article written by Courtney Morano from Virginia Press Services News Clipping Bureau, The Village Mill, dated August 14, 1995, VCU finished its 11th field school at Curles Plantation. The article confirmed the identification of the house belonging to Captain Thomas Harris and also Nathanial Bacon’s plantation found adjacent to the Harris house. It is believed from their findings that the Harris house burned in the 1650s. Some of the artifacts found included an Elizabethan six-pence dated 1573, part of an armor breastplate pottery shards, part of glass wine bottles with a Randolph seal, smoking pipes, nails, an ax head, and a curtain ring.

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Presently the surrounding land at Curles Neck is being excavated by sand and gravel mining. Centuries of historical artifacts are certainly being destroyed every day. Most of the barns that once represented the dairy industry for which Curles Neck was most recognized in the 20th century have been demolished.

The Curles Neck property, consisting of 5,513 acres, was on the market for a couple of years and the asking price was $24 million. The owners were Richard E. Watkins and Betsy W. Short, the children of the late Fred E. Watkins. Leases for farming, hunting, and the sand-and-gravel mining produce $1 million a year in annual income.

Bald eagles, a large heron colony, and many other species of birds whose numbers are in decline, nest or migrate there for the winter. Conservationists have been looking for ways to protect Curles Neck.

This property represents the history of many people and the very beginning of our nation. Native Americans, early American settlers, as well as African Americans have left imprints in the soil at Curles Neck.

For sale since 2002, the house was purchased by three investors/new owners in 2006. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported the Manor House is being restored by the new owners.

  • Privately owned.
  • (Inventory of Early Architecture County of Henrico)

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Dabbs House

by Sheryl Kingery Mays, Curator of Education for Historic Preservation and Museum Services of Henrico County Division of Recreation and Parks

Dabbs House, photo courtesy of Henrico County government, located in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

Dabbs House to Serve as Tourist Information Center:

Henrico County is proud to announce the opening of its first Tourist Information Center on Friday, September 17. With so much to see and do in Henrico, it's a welcome addition. The center will help increase awareness of the county as a visitor destination, especially with the 400th anniversary around the corner in 2011. The center will be housed in the Dabbs House Museum in the county's East End and will provide information on local attractions and displays about Henrico's present and past.

Built in the 1820s and originally known as High Meadow,the Dabbs House has enjoyed an interesting history. General Robert E. Lee established headquarters in June 1862 and used it off and on throughout that summer. In 1883, Henrico County purchased the property to use as an almshouse. Before opening as a musuem in 2008, it served as Henrico's police headquarters from 1941-2005.

The lobby of Dabbs House will serve as the reception area for both the existing museum and the new information center. The county is adding display racks and other components to turn this historic house into a full-fledged information center, offering brochures from 60 other local and regional certified visitor centers aross the state. The center will also provide maps and other publications from the travel industry as well as information about the county's history, attractions, and upcoming events. Henrico souvenirs will be for sale, including specialty items to commemorate Henrico's 400th anniversary.

The Henrico County Tourist Info Center at 3812 East Nine Mile Road will be open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; tours of the Dabbs House will be offered on the same days from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

  • (Historic Preservation and Museum Services of Henrico County Division of Recreation and Parks)

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Dorey Barn

Vintage photo of Dorey Barn in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

Dairy farming became the new agricultural industry in Henrico County during the period following the Civil War. As early as 1880, there were 2181 milk cows in the county. By the early 20th century agriculturists boasted Henrico as the Dairy County of Virginia.

In the early 1900's, Francis Frederick Dorey and Sarah Ellen Rose Dorey moved with their eight children from Barron County, Wisconsin to Henrico County, Virginia. Considered one of the most progressive farmers in Barron County, Francis Dorey transported all of his dairy cattle to his property in Varina in search of a milder climate.

Henrico County proclaimed in 1919 that nearly everyone had some registered cattle and all farms were sanitary and had up-to-date barnes. The number of dairy cattle continued to rise with over 5,000 head of dairy cattle documented in 1929, the height of milk production in the county.

Fred Orwin Dorey, youngest son of Francis and Ellen, married Belle Ferguson in 1923. Together they raised six children on the Dorey Homestead site in Varina. The 400-acre property consisted of a farmhouse, dairy barn, bunkhouse, tenant farmer house, chicken house, springhouse, silos and a small barn.

Silo of Dorey Barn, today, in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

It is said that one of the Dorey children fell to her death in this silo.

Although dairy operations like Dorey and Curles Neck survived into the 1960's by 1950 there were less than 3,000 milk cows in the entire county. Fred continued the dairy operation begun by his father in the late 19th century through 1966.

Fred Orwin Dorey died in 1973. His widow Belle Ferguson Dorey, sold the property to Henrico County in 1979 and it was opened as a park in 1984.

Dorey Barn and its silo, today, in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks renovated the dairy barn and opened it to the public in 1992 as the Dorey Recreation Center.

  • Privately owned.
  • (Henrico County, Dorey Park)

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Gravel Hill

Gravel Hill in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

"Following a successful case before the Virginia Court of Appeals in 1777, the slaves of John Pleasants were allowed to follow the dictates of his 1771 will and were freed. His son, Robert Pleasants then gave seventy-eight former slaves 350 acres of his plantation. A community developed known as " Gravelly Hill". Here in 1801, a Quaker school for blacks was established and following the Civil War, the Gravel Hill Baptist Church was founded. Gravel Hill Community center, c 1930, once a public school, became a facility operated by Henrico County in 1970."

  • Open for special events.
  • (County of Henrico 2001 HC-17)

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Osborne School House

Osborne School House in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

This structure having been converted in later years to a single family residence was, quite possibly, the earliest school house in the Varina District of Henrico County. Original plans called for the residence to be moved from its present location to preserve its historical value.

Dr. Henry Nelson, President of the Association for the Preservation of Henrico Antiquities, reported that the Osborne Schoolhouse has been resold as a residence and will remain at its present location. This is a partial victory in that the historic building will be preserved for the present.

  • Privately owned.
  • (Dr. Henry Nelson)

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Varina Sites: All Sites
Cedar Hill and Armour House | Curles Neck | Dabbs House | Dorey Barn | Gravel Hill | Osborne School House

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