Sunday, December 3, 2023

Where We Live: Bacon’s Castle has many stories to tell

Bacon’s Castle in Surry County can lay claim to many things.

For starters, the 17th-century mansion is the oldest, brick dwelling still standing in North America; it is one of few remaining structures that has almost continuously been lived in for more than 300 years; it was used a fortress; and it is has – on many occasions – been described as “haunted.”

First, a little history:

Wealthy tobacco agent Arthur Allen built the mansion in 1665 and lived there with his family for four years until his death in 1669. Following his death, Allen’s son, Arthur Allen II, member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, inherited it.

In total, three generations of Allens as well as the widow of Arthur III, Elizabeth Bray and her grandson occupied the house for nearly 200 years.

Following that, John Henry Hankins and his family occupied the house for about 30 years and raised nine children through the Civil War era.

William A. Warren and his family owned the house from about 1880 to 1972, when it – along with 40 acres of surrounding property — was purchased by The Preservation for Virginia Antiquities.

Preservation Virginia meticulously researched, restored and furnished the house in the 1980’s. Bacon’s Castle is currently open to the public during the weekends from March through December for tours and various events.

“To have a house or building to connect to this far back is very unusual,” said Carol Wiedel, site coordinator for Bacon’s Castle.

Most know of the home’s historical relevance. It is the oldest brick dwelling in North America and earned the moniker “Bacon’s Castle” in 1676 when several of Nathaniel Bacon’s men occupied the home for four months during the uprising that became known as Bacon’s Rebellion. Bacon himself never actually lived there.

The home’s architecture is also worth noting. The mansion is an example of High Jacobean architecture and noted for its triple stacked chimneys. Wiedel said Allen modeled the home after mansions he’d seen in England. He knew the Jacobean style would stand out in the Virginia Colony and it would impart to others his status and wealth.

Unlike most homes during that time period, which were made of wood, Jacobean style homes were built using more expensive materials such as brick or stone, featured symmetrical wings on either side of the main house and featured columns and pilasters – which are ornamental columns that are made to look like they give support, but don’t. A full 75 percent of the castle’s brick is original.

Bacon’s Castle is one of only three remaining Jacobean structures west of the Atlantic still standing. Wiedel said the other two are former sugar plantations located in Barbados.

Though no one currently resides at Bacon’s Castle, there have been cases made that perhaps “something” still inhabits the house.

The Center for Paranormal Research and Investigation has been studying the historic home for the past six years, Wiedel said.

Tales of fiery cannonballs in the night sky and tragic love stories with grisly endings are only a couple of the scary stories associated with the castle.

“A lot of stories have certainly been handed down over the years,” Wiedel said. “CPRI is a very scientific group. They set up equipment and are very thorough – they always try to see if there’s a natural explanation.”

There have been reports of knocking sounds, screams, laughing and footsteps, reports of doors opening, a feeling of being touched on the shoulder and more recently an intern reported seeing an apparition.

For the past several years, Bacon’s Castle has hosted Historic Haunt nights where visitors can sign up for a paranormal tour and discussions lead by members of CPRI.

CPRI has documented some of their findings online here.

Read more about Bacon’s Castle here.

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