Halifax County, Virginia
Now Known as The Oaks
(This news article was taken from the scrapbooks of Kenneth Cook. News source and date unknown.)
Among the large estates on the Staunton River in Charlotte County are Red Hill, the home and burial place of Patrick Henry; Staunton Hill, of the Bruces, whose noble mansion, was for many years the most costly in Virginia, and is still one of the most beautiful; Ridgeway, of the Carringtons, and The Oaks, of the Rices - - to name only a few of many noted for their spacious homes and lovely surroundings. ("From Historic Gardens of Virginia")
Near Red Hill, where Patrick Henry lived his last years, there is a beautiful plantation which was called South Isle until the changing course of the Staunton River filled in about it and made it one with the mainland. Then it became "The Oaks," so-called because of a towering grove of trees about the homestead.
Like Patrick Henry at Red Hill, his neighbors at "The Oaks" loved the pungency of boxwood and in their rare garden it was at once the ornament and the frame. In this case it was the mistress of the manor who had the passion for a garden and Mrs. Izard Bacon Rice planned and supervised the creation of a garden that is, as the poem says, "a lovesome spot, God wot." (From "Boxwood Gardens Old and New").
Miss Elizabeth (Betty), Thiele, a student at the College of William and Mary, whose parents, Dr. and Mrs. Arthur L. Thiele of Charlottesville, are the present owners of Southl Isle, has written the following historical sketch of the plantation:
SOUTH ISLE PLANTATION (By Elizabeth Stone Thiele)
"South Isle" was one of the first plantations settled along the Staunton River in what is now Charlotte County. The plantation's first owner was William Fuqua, a French Huguenot, whose family was forced to flee France during the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre. In 1734 he obtained a land grant along the Staunton River. He added to this with further land grants and purchases, including the purhase of a forty acre island in the Staunton River which gave the plantation its name.
It is not known what year the first house at "South Isle" was built, although it is known that William Fuqua was living on the plantation at the time of his death in 1760. This was probably in the old brick house which stands on a hill above the river. The first part of the main house, which consisted of the back rooms of the present building, was probably built by 1780, when "South Isle" was owned by Samuel Fuqua, William's son.
In 1825, the estate Of Samuel Fuqua was bought by Claiborne Barksdale, Jr., a lieutenant in the Charlotte County militia during the War of 1812. Barksdale was a breeder of thoroughbred horses as well as a successful planter. Upon his death in 1839 he was buried in one of the two cemeteries on the place.
About 1840, the front part of the existing house was built, including the front hall with its elegant horseshoe staircase. In 1845 the plantation was sold to Izard Bacon Rice. His wife, Mary Stamps Rice, was responsible for the formal boxwood garden, covering an acre land a half. It was planted in the 1840's with the help of a Scottish landscape gardener. In addition to the many boxwood crepe myrtle, and roses which still remain, the plantation had an orchard, and grape arbors, including Scuppernong vine planted by Mrs. Rice, which still gives grapes each year.
In 1890 the final part of the main house was added, the chapel at the north end of the house. Friends of Mrs. Mary Gordon Pryor Rice, wife of Izard Rice's son Henry, sent contributions for the room, including an organ and stained glass windows, in order that it might be used as a schoolroom and Sunday School. Due to the changing course of the river, the Island no longer existed as such, so "South Isle" was called "The Oaks" during the Rice years.
In addition to the main house many accessory buildings remain. The colonnade or loggiai contains storerooms and the original kitchen for the plantation, separate from the main house for fire precautions, characterized by a large cooking fireplace. Two of the original slave cabins also remain. One, a two-room cabin, served as the home for two families. In the other cabin, which has a trap door in the floor, lived the carpenter for the plantation. The old smokehouse with its high peaked roof and the foundations of the icehouse also remain.
"South Isle" today is much as it was during the Rice era. Henry Booth, a lawyer from Columbus, Ohio, bought the place in 1913. His son-in-law Charles Young, owned it after his death. Young, who was a vice-president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, contributed the wrought-iron summerhouse, part of the P.R.R. exhibit in the New York World's Fair of 1939, and the gates of the drive.
"South Isle" also includes a tract of land known as "Upper South Isle" across the road from the main house. Before the Civil War, this was the property of the Lawson family and was the site of a tavern.
There are rumors of murder at the tavern with the victims buried in the cellar. Early in the twentieth century, the tavern was torn down and its huge logs were hewn in two to build part of the present house. Mr. Young added to this house and also built the "Inn" in back, on the foundations of the old tavern, as a retreat for his friends.
From "The Valley of the Staunton and the Dan" we quote the following description of part of the garden by Marie Gordon Pryor Rice:
Three cherry trees, a row of incomparable figs, other of raspberries, great beds of strawberries, a far-fluq Scuppernong vine, a long wall bordered with grapes, each in its season made generous contributions to the tables of neighbours, as well as to that of the owners. For all fruits possession must needs be disputed with the birds, for surer that garden was "the most bird haunted spot" in the world. The mockingbirds were so tame that they made pecking assaults upon the hats of intrusive humans who ventured into the grape walk when the fragrant clusters were ripening.
To walk in such a garden in the cool of the day, or, better still, in the dewy morning, was to dream dreams and to see visions. To paraphrase old Izaak Walton, it was to say: "Lord, what joys hast Thou prepared for Thy saints in Heaven since Thou givest sinful man such delights upon earth?"
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