Virginia was the oldest, most populous and richest colony in the South, with early architecture of unsurpassed elegance and variety. Thomas Jefferson, who was an amateur architect as well as statesman, laid the foundations for the profession of architecture in young America, by encouraging the English-born Benjamin Latrobe and Robert Mills, who later claimed to be the first native-born professionally trained architect in America. Both Latrobe and Mills created important buildings in Virginia. The state suffered a relative decline in population, prosperity and cultural vigor as people abandoned the old, exhausted and overcrowded lands of the upper and coastal South and flooded to the fertile Southwest. Nevertheless, Virginia encouraged the work of excellent architects and builders, among them the renowned New York-based A.J. Davis, who created a considerable number of Italian villas and Gothic “castles.”
Among the principal buildings described and illustrated are Bacon’s Castle, the largest and earliest brick house in the South, Mt. Airy and other great Palladian mansions, Monticello and the other neoclassical houses designed by Thomas Jefferson, the elegant public buildings and houses designed by Benjamin Latrobe in the 1790’s, the magnificent Berry Hill and more Greek Revival plantation houses that were the work of talented country builders working with designs from pattern books, Belmead and other Romantic houses by A. J. Davis. Other buildings surveyed include the work of William Buckland, George Hadfield, Alexander Parris, Robert Mills, Isaiah Rogers, Thomas U. Walter, William Strickland and James Renwick.
Since the rescue of Washington’s Mount Vernon in 1858, Virginia has led the nation in the preservation of its historic buildings. The restoration of Virginia’s colonial capital, Williamsburg, became a tastemaking shrine to the preservation of early American culture. Virginians of today are again leaders in the reinterpretation and renewed restoration of the state’s most important buildings.