Is Wilton Virginia’s best preserved colonial plantation house?
Astonishingly Original. The Wilton House that stands today is, remarkably, very much the same Wilton House that was completed in 1763: a T-shaped, 1 ½ story, gambrel-roofed brick structure with approximately 4,000 square feet of interior space distributed over eight rooms with eight fireplaces served by three chimneys. Its external footprint – and the masonry that defines it — remains unchanged 250 years after its construction. Six of its eight rooms, and all its hallways, retain their original heart-pine flooring. Its wood-paneled parlor, the house’s showpiece room, wears today only its second coat of paint, applied circa 1790. Even more astonishing, extensive original woodwork throughout the second floor bears just a single coat of red paint, most probably applied at the time the house was built.
Contributing Factors. Wilton House is certainly a well preserved colonial plantation house. How did Wilton make it through two and a half centuries so well preserved at its core? There were, no doubt, many contributing factors: the decline of the Tidewater economy that made fashionable re-modelling (even painting, apparently) prohibitively expensive; the good fortune that kept Wilton out of harm’s way, not the least from Union soldiers; a backwater location that perhaps saved it from a Colonial revival remake in the 1920’s; the stewardship of a family of antique dealers who carefully shepherded the property from the 1930’s through the end of the 20th century; and finally the purchase of Wilton by Preservation Virginia in 2002 and the placement of historic easements on the house and surroundings before selling it back into private hands nine years later.
Reports from the Frontlines of Preservation. Less conjecture is needed when describing recent preservation efforts. Here are detailed reports by three of the many talented professionals, experts and craftsmen who worked at Wilton in 2012 and 2013. Each tells its own story about current preservation practices.
Read more about our preservation effort in a recent Washington Post Magazine article here.
Painting Analysis [PDF]
Those paint surfaces can’t really be that old, can they? That’s the question we asked Susan Buck, an expert in historical paint analysis, who then went on to make some remarkable discoveries.
Wilton Conservation Treatment Report [PDF]
So what exactly do you do with that old paint? Chris Mills, a leading conservator, describes in detail the process of cleaning, stabilizing, and preserving Wilton’s early finishes.
Wilton Dendrochronology Report [PDF]
How old is Wilton? Architectural historians, and others, have debated whether Wilton was built entirely in the early 1760’s, or in one or more stages ending in 1763. Michael Worthington, an expert in dating wood through the analysis of tree rings, adds his perspective.