An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

October 11, 2010

Barboursville Ruins

This past Friday my son and I headed west for a weekend of camping. Along the way we travelled through one of my favorite parts of the state, the western Piedmont where it nears the Blue Ridge, and stopped at the Barboursville Ruins. The house was one of only a few that Thomas Jefferson designed for a friend, in this case James Barbour, who was a U.S. Senator, Secretary of War and a Governor of Virginia. It took 11 years to build and was constructed in Jefferson's favorite neo-Palladian style. The main receiving room was an octagon from which all other rooms flared. On Christmas Day in 1884 the house burned leaving nothing but the walls and porch columns. The love of Virginians for their history seems to know no age, and even back then the ruins were preserved. Today Barboursville is a central part of the Barboursville Vineyards, home of many excellent wines.

Barboursville Ruins (5)

Barboursville Ruins (2)

Barboursville Ruins (4)

Barboursville Ruins (9)

Barboursville Ruins (3)

Barboursville Ruins (6)

Along with the bricks, the historic landscape around Barboursville survived the fire as well. In order for Barbour's guests to get to the front door, they first had to traverse his race track still in place (this was and remains a country of serious horse culture). The other major feature of the landscape is its boxwood plantings. As I have said in several other posts, no old Virginia house, ruined or otherwise, can be without its boxwood. Those at Barboursville are the largest I have ever seen, and I was able to walk under them without hitting my head. If the house was still habitable, the race track would be obscured from the second floor rooms by boxwood.

Barboursville Ruins (7)

Barboursville Ruins (8)

Barboursville Ruins

(My usual disclaimer is in place, in that I have not received any compensation for the mention of anything in this post, including a case of 2006 Octagon which would not be refused if it should happen to appear on my doorstep.)


  1. What amazing sights your son is seeing on a weekend camping trip. The only local sight comparable is the tectonic ruin of a suburban housing tract slipping into the ocean, our "Sunken City," but that's Los Angeles. Wonderful, Les.

  2. I love the places you visit! :)

  3. Looks like a great spot to visit.

  4. I love the architecture. The form of the structure is so unique. Even the trees had architectural quality to the branching.

  5. My first known view of unhindered boxwood. How interesting. My mother's Algoma Virginia home was typical with a line of boxwoods protecting it from the road's dust. Boxwood is the smell of Virginia to me.

  6. Hopefully the curators of the house read this post and send you that octagon:) Bummer on the fire on Christmas day no less. Awful. The house must've been something. You mentioned boxwoods, the owner of Cheekwood loved boxwoods best and had a tone of them. I like them too. Very elegant and Virginian for sure.

  7. Talk about nostalgia and melancholy. Can't imagine owning that house and not rebuilding, it's such a lovely setting and scale.

  8. I love the ruins...really striking!

  9. Brick by brick, eleven years. And still gorgeous. Also, thank you for putting in perspective that my boxwoods are not, in fact, getting leggy at all. LOL

  10. I'm glad the ruins were preserved, they are really interesting. :)

  11. Les, you have great taste in historical architecture and in fine wines.

  12. That 5th picture is fantastic. I think it's great that the remains were preserved. --Randy

  13. THOSE are boxwoods? OMG! I think my shock is comparable only to the shock that I got when I learned, long ago, where children come from!...
    Very interesting tour, especially after I visited the Thomas Jefferson house with our 5th-graders in May. Even the ruins are beautiful. Thank you!

  14. What a cool ruin! How nice to go off camping with your son too. It looks like you got great weather.

    Thanks for your kind words on Stella.

  15. Hi i am new here. The photos are great clearly depicting the beauty of the area. I love your compositions and photo quality. Maybe you will also appreciate what i posted last in my site, related to places of unusual beauty too, as a respite from my orchid and flower posts. thank you.

  16. Les, I can only imagine what the house must have looked like as it's skeleton is such a striking sculpture.

    What is it that draws us to old buildings, homes, train stations... history must be a part of that. Octagon, eh? ;)

  17. Denise,
    Maybe it will be the Pacific version of Atlantis - Pacifis?

    I do too.

    It is indeed.

    It is a very unique place.

    The smell also reminds me of Va., old houses and Colonial Williamsburg.

    I can only imagine the house was lit up with candles or oil lamps for the holidays with many fireplaces blazing and one of these likely caused the fire.

    Not only did they not rebuild it, but left the ruins as is and built a new house next to it.

    Glad you could enjoy them.

    Those boxwoods are several levels beyond leggy.

    I am glad too.

    Thank you!

    R and J,
    I like that picture too. It gives you some perpective on the house.

    The first time I went to Barboursville I did not recognize them as boxwood. I am now anxious to see Poplar Forest, Jefferson's retreat near Bedford.

    You are welcome. I hope you can things to the new normal soon. It may be a while, I still expect to see Patsy toddling through the house.

    I look forward to visiting your site.

    I am not a big believer in ghosts, but am still drawn to these sorts of places. The past creates a presence.