Every historic building in Virginia has a
story contained within its walls. From small residential homes to great
churches and castles, hidden narratives can always be found — if you know where
to look. Here are the intriguing stories behind some of the oldest buildings in the Commonwealth.
Current view of the rebuilt 1907 church | ©Tony
Constructed in 1639, Jamestown Church is the
oldest building in Virginia — and one of the oldest structures in the entire
United States. Although much of the modern church was in fact constructed in
1906, the 1639 church tower and foundations still remain. Amazingly, the church
had already been rebuilt three times by 1639, with the original construction
thought to have taken place in 1607 under the oversight of Captain John Smith.
The first Jamestown Church burned to the ground in less than a year, and the
second fell into a state of disrepair not long after. Undeterred, colonists
constructed a third church in 1617, which thankfully avoided the fate of its
two predecessors and was used until 1639 when the colony expanded to the point
that a new structure needed to be built. The fourth version was never finished
and in 1676 it suffered the same unlucky fate as the first when parts of it
burned during Bacon’s Rebellion. The foundations and tower of the 1639 version
survived until modern day, however, thanks in part to the efforts of
Preservation Virginia. Today, the aforementioned tower is the last above-ground
structure from when Jamestown was still the capital.
Broad Bay Manor — Virginia Beach
Bay Manor | ©Bri/Wiki-Commons
A building so old it’s unclear exactly when it was constructed, Broad Bay Manor is thought to have been built sometime between 1640 to 1660 by a colonist named Thomas Allen. A tapestry of history from many eras, only the middle of the house is thought to be from the 17th century. The right addition is thought to have been constructed during the 1770s, and the left side is an even more modern addition from the 1980s. Due to its diverse background, the history of Broad Bay Manor comprises more than just the colonial era. Accounts indicate that the part of the house burned down from a lightning strike during the 1920s and was the site of large parties during the prohibition era. Today, the historic building remains a residential home.
Bacon’s Castle — Surry County
Built in 1665 by colonist Arthur Allen,
Bacon’s Castle is the oldest documented brick building in both Virginia and the
larger United States. Originally considered to be just a house, the building
became known as “Bacon’s Castle” during Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676
when the followers of Nathaniel Bacon occupied it as a defensive outpost.
Although Nathaniel Bacon himself never lived at Bacon’s Castle, his legacy
remains tied to the location. Today, Bacon’s Castle is maintained by
Preservation Virginia as a historic museum and a living monument to a key
chapter in Virginia history.
Willowdale — Painter
Untitled | ©Rick F./ZPost
First constructed in 1666 by a farmer named
John Smith (unrelated to the historic figure), Willowdale has been owned by the
same family for an astonishing 352 years. Located in a
small town of 200 called Painter in Accomack County, the family home is
thought to be the oldest building on the entire Eastern Shore. Although only a
few small parts of the original house are thought to remain, the building is
nonetheless historically significant as one of the only standing examples of a
building from its era.
Toddsbury — Gloucester County
Built around 1669 by a colonist named Thomas
Todd, the history of Toddsbury remains
something of a mystery. For one, it is unclear exactly which Thomas Todd built
the house. Records show one colonist Thomas Todd alluded to the Toddsbury
property in his will, however he gave the land to his son (also named Thomas
Todd), and it is unclear whether the father or the son was the true builder of
the Toddsbury building. In any case, records indicate the Todd’s continued to
live at Toddsbury until 1880, where it was sold to a different family. Today,
the house continues to be a private residence.
is a private, non-profit organization and statewide historic preservation
leader founded in 1889 that is dedicated to preserving, promoting, and serving
as an advocate for Virginia’s cultural and architectural history.