Virginia's Old Houses at the Beach

By: Conrad Neuf , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Old House Musings, In The News, Old House History
Mary Stith House in Historic Williamsburg from history.org

Mary Stith House (History.org)

I was out walking my dogs one evening last week and had the opportunity to talk to a neighbor doing some yard work. We had talked briefly in the past, but this was the first time our conversation had extended beyond dogs and how the weather had been lately. He mentioned that as a nature lover and history buff, he often looked out at the mountains that dominate our landscape and thought about how lucky he was.

I will have to second that motion. He was referring to the Native-American and Civil War history for which Virginia has a well-deserved reputation, but when it comes to historic preservation and old houses, I don’t think Virginia takes second place to any state. I know all states have their share of historic older homes and do their best to preserve the buildings and old houses that have played a significant role in the states’ growth and development: I recently wrote about Oklahoma’s on going preservation projects and have discussed successful efforts in many other states, as well. However, it seems like the importance of Virginia’s history as a state and as a driving force in the formation of our nation has been drilled into my head since I first moved here in seventh grade.

Virginia has Mount Vernon, Monticello, Jamestown, and Williamsburg–all well-known historic landmarks to any student of American history, or old house enthusiast. She has historic Charlottesville, Winchester, and Alexandria–and small towns dotting the countryside that are full of beautifully preserved old homes–but one area I never associated with old houses and historic preservation was the resort area of Virginia Beach.

Virginia Beach Preservation

Virginia Beach is the most populous city in Virginia and known for its miles of pristine Atlantic beaches, but it came from very humble beginnings. Virginia Beach was once nothing more than a small resort town in Princess Anne County, one of the first colonial counties in Virginia. However, as Virginia Beach grew, the county eventually joined forces with the city, and Princess Anne County no longer exists except in name and in the history books.

Historic old houses like the Adam Thoroughgood House, one of the oldest colonial homes in Virginia, and the Francis Land House, are now a part of Virginia Beach. Adam Thoroughgood was an indentured servant when he arrived on the scene in 1621 and his home was built between 1680 and 1720. The local preservation organizations are now hard at work trying to save the Whitehurst/Buffington House built in 1793. Virginia Beach has inherited the historic old houses of Princess Anne County, and just like the state it’s a part of, seems to be taking historic preservation seriously.