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The Oaks

( Originally Published 1932 )



The Oaks was originally situated in Amelia County, about twenty miles from Amelia Court House, on property owned by Benjamin Harrison IV, father of the builder of Lower Brandon. The exact date of its building is uncertain, but all the evidence points to 1745. The house remained in the possession of the Harrison family until 1839, when Donald Harrison sold it to Samuel Jones. During the period of the Harrisons' ownership the house had several distinguished visitors, and the last Harrison carried on a boys' school there, where many well-known men were educated.

When The Oaks was discovered by Miss Lizzie Boyd of Richmond, it was in a sad state of dilapidation, not having been occupied for some years. The old hand-wrought building materials, however, were found in such good condition that the house could be dismantled and removed to Windsor Farms, near Richmond, where it was rebuilt as nearly as possible in its original form.

The mansion has the fine proportions and simple plan of the smaller colonial dwelling. A broad hall runs through the center, and the stairs curve over the entrance door. On each side is a large room with windows, front and back. Opening from the room on the right is a smaller one, probably the "chamber," with a narrow, pine stair leading to the nurseries above. The second floor has three rooms opening from the stair gallery.

The great interest of the house lies in its fine woodwork, both exterior and interior, extraordinarily well preserved even after years of neglect and ill usage. As you approach The Oaks your attention is immediately arrested by the beautiful corbels of the cornice. The eye is led thence to the clapboards beneath, hand-hewn and sawn out of virgin timber, so well primed that it has never been necessary to paint them. At each corner the clapboards are locked together by one joist hollowed out to fit them, and running from roof to foundation. The old window frames, with the sills carved from one piece, and the old shutters, are still intact, as are the slender posts and balusters of the porch, all unpainted and now weathered to a beautiful silver tone.

The woodwork of the interior is not only very fine but has one detail that is almost unique: a three-foot poplar wainscoting in all the first-floor rooms, a single board running the full length of the walls, without panelling, entirely plain and darkened to a warm tone. With this wainscoting are combined fine, carved mantels of pine surmounted by a single Wall-of-Troy design and wooden-pegged pine doors now thin from time and use. These doors still retain their H - L hinges. Their pannelling seems to be copied from an old door brought from England to serve as a pattern. It is still in service, though it shows an early seventeenth century date.

The hall has a panelled wainscoting of pine which extends across the gallery above. There is also an unusual wall cup-board set into the back of the fireplace in the adjoining room. The stairs are of pine too, the handrail and balusters of walnut which has never been stained, but polished and darkened by long use.

The woodwork of the second floor is simpler than that on the first. The bedrooms have an interesting, moulded chair rail, and there are low, wall cupboards beside the dormer windows.

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