Watch it Evolve
Copyright © 2002
Evolution of the Longest Frame House in America
Stretching over 300 feet in length, longer than a football field, Sherwood Forest is the longest frame residence in America. Its history spans almost four centuries and details the evolution from a modest 17th-century English house once owned by William Byrd and a part of the Minge family's "Creek Plantation," to a substantial 19th-century Big House, complete with surrounding plantation yard and cultivated fields.
Here's how the plantation evolved:
Circa 1660 English basement and detached kitchen/laundry built during the Colonial era, part of the early westward expansion in the colonies. The first house was probably destroyed circa 1700-1720.
Circa 1720-30 The second house, built over the original basement, resembled a three-story English Georgian townhouse and included detached plantation dependencies, building upon whose "work" the plantation was dependant.
Circa 1780 Main house was balanced by the addition of a three-story wing, connecting the main house and dependency.
Circa 1800-1830 Law office/overseer's office constructed. Originally, this structure served as a "garconnier," a separate house for the planter's sons and their servants. The addition of a parlor and a nursery provided symmetry for the central northern portion of the house.
1842 President John Tyler bought "Walnut Grove" from Collier Minge, his cousin and a local planter, and renamed the plantation "Sherwood Forest," as he likened himself to the story of Robin Hood regarding the Whig party.
1844-45 Ballroom, designed by President Tyler for the Virginia Reel, built with hand tools by skilled plantation laborers.
1845 Colonnade added to connect the main house with kitchen/laundry, creating five storage rooms and a "whistling walk," a long, narrow hallway, to allow access from the Big House to the kitchen.
During President Tyler's final stage of renovation in 1845, Julia Gardiner Tyler was influenced by the popular Greek Revival style, which led to the decision to add the porches, pilasters, cornices and ornate medallions designed by New York architect Minard LeFever.
By attaching the kitchen/laundry and garconnier to the main house, Tyler sought to modernize Sherwood Forest according to the local building method. Sherwood Forest became an example of a typical Tidewater Virginia plantation and a type of building style, known as the "Big House, Little House, Colonnade, Kitchen," however, it remained unique because of its mirror-image symmetry.
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