- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

SMITHFIELD, Va. (AP) - A historic 18th century manor house may be a castle in name only, but it has fairy godparents working on a storybook ending.

Windsor Castle, a plantation built hundreds of years ago and now owned by the town, is about to be restored. The first phase of the roughly $4 million project has already begun, targeting both the main manor house on the 46-acre property, and old barns, a detached “summer” kitchen and a smokehouse.

Mayor Carter Williams said the goal is to make it look like it did when it was a bustling, working farm. The property sits “right smack dab” in the middle of Smithfield’s historic district, and preserving that piece of history is important, Williams said.

“It means a lot to the town, it really does,” he said.

So far, $3.2 million has been raised for the endeavor, including $2 million from the town of Smithfield and $1 million from Smithfield Foods.

Later, the project could be eligible for as much as $750,000 in historic tax credits, said Sue Ivy, chairwoman of the Windsor Castle Park Foundation, and project manager Rick Bodson. The immediate goal is to preserve the buildings. The larger vision is for the property to become financially self-sustaining by drawing more events.

Windsor Castle is listed on state and national registers of historic places. It sits within a much larger park that was once a plantation.

Old-growth trees occupy the yard around the house. A green swath of grass rolls down to Cypress Creek, flanked by 19th century farm buildings. The ravages of time and the elements are evident - the wood barns are deteriorating, red paint is cracked and peeling, and scaffolding braces walls.

A caretaker’s house, built around the turn of the 20th century, is in such disrepair that on a recent rainy day, water poured through the roof onto a spongy floor below.

Town founder Arthur Smith IV built the manor house in 1750, but a land patent dated about 100 years earlier shows his ancestor owned it as part of a 1,450-acre parcel, according to Isle of Wight County Museum curator Tracey Neikirk.

First, tobacco would have grown on the estate, Neikirk said, then corn and peanuts. Stamps found inside a barn a hint at sweet potatoes and watermelons grown in the early 1900s. The “huge smokehouse” would have produced a lot of hams, Neikirk said.

It was not uncommon for large manor houses to be called “castles,” Bodson said. Just don’t look for turrets, he added.

The 208-acre park around Windsor Castle was made possible by a $7.2 million gift from a retired Smithfield Foods CEO.

“It’s a wonderful gift we were given, but it’s a very expensive gift,” Ivy said. It needs to be supported by something other than the Smithfield tax base, she said. Some events are already held there, and the home is open periodically for small gatherings.

“Many a bridal picture has been taken in front of the historic barns,” Bodson said.

Smithfield VA Events, a community fundraising group, leases the property to hold three annual festivals on the site. Gina Ippolito, festival director, said the organization has contributed around $63,000 toward Windsor Castle’s restoration and maintenance in the past couple years.

Phase one of the project will focus on exterior restoration, infrastructure improvements, asbestos remediation and drying out the manor house, which has been hurt by humidity during 25 years of sitting mostly vacant.

Within a year or so, Bodson said, everything in sight from the middle of the farm yard will be historically restored - like rolling back the decades through a time machine.

Exterior changes to the manor house will be more subtle. A new, period-appropriate roof will be put on, and 20th century additions will be lopped off.

Interior restoration will be part of a second phase, Ivy said, and a third phase, which could be years away, contains wish list items such as a new event barn. Those could creep the project closer to $7 million.

“We can make it whatever it needs to be,” Ivy said.

Other long-range aspirations include turning the manor house into a wedding venue with a bridal suite on the second floor and a wine tasting room in the basement.

Future amenities will be contingent upon fundraising, committee members say. Right now, the priority is to halt any further deterioration and restore the historically significant parts.

“All the pretty stuff will have to come later,” Ippolito said.

___

Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, https://pilotonline.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide