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.

September 24, 2010

To An Estate Sale

Today I headed to an estate sale at Talbot Hall, which is one of Norfolk's more historic homes and one of only a few antebellum plantation homes to survive time and tide. We need more stuff for our own house like a hole in the head, but I was lured by the kayaks mentioned in the classifieds, plus I wanted to see the inside of this home. The original house was completed in 1803 and was added onto several times by the Talbot family, which owned the home until the 1950's when it was gifted to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The diocese is currently thinking they may no longer like to own the property, and it might be put up for sale. Unfortunately the house has never been listed on the National Registry, nor is it under any other kind of protection. In a city where a good amount of our history has been "redeveloped", I hope a similar fate does not befall this house and its beautiful grounds.

Talbot Hall (12)

Like most historic Tidewater homes, the money side of the house always faced the water, because that is how guests came and went. The house is flanked by a pair of Magnolia grandiflora that were planted when the house was built, which would make them over 200 years old. They tower over the 3 story house and have seen their share of nor'easters and hurricanes, named or otherwise.

Talbot Hall (2)

Talbot Hall (3)

Talbot Hall (16)

Talbot Hall (13)

Talbot Hall (4)

Talbot Hall (14)

Once inside the house, you can easily see that it was built as a classic, two rooms up and two down, center hall colonial. The large back to front hall, big windows and one room depth of the house took advantage of any available breeze in an age before air conditioning.

Talbot Hall (11)

Talbot Hall (10)

Talbot Hall (8)

Talbot Hall (7)

Local legend has it that the house survives because it was one of the few not burned by the Yankees. When the Union made their way towards Norfolk, the Talbot family fled into the city entrusting the property to their slaves who pleaded with the soldiers to spare the home. When they entered the house and spotted a plaster seal of the United States over the parlor fireplace, they figured Confederate sympathizers did not live there. The seal is original to the house and shows 17 stars, the number of states when the house was built.

Talbot Hall (6)

To balance the parlor, one resident had the seal of Virginia installed in the dining room. Our state's current (and prudish) Attorney General, Ken Cuccinelli would aprove of the seal as it has both of Virtus' breasts covered. Normally the left breast is bare as she steps on a figure of tyranny (Great Britain) with his broken chains and fallen crown. Ironic isn't it, for a state that went to war to defend one's right to own another human being?

Talbot Hall (9)

Other than these photos, I left the estate sale empty handed. The used kayaks were ridiculously expensive and even though they will be half price tomorrow, they still cost more money than many a new one.


  1. Wow. As a west-coaster I really enjoyed the history lesson in your beautiful pictures!

  2. I'm not a history buff but I found this fascinating, Les. I really like the angles in which you captured your subjects with your camera lens. Very good eye;-) Those are some huge magnolias. Some of the pieces you show in the photos look interesting, too...although I need more 'things' like a hole in the head, as well.

  3. Looks like a cool place to visit. Is it not usually open to the public?

  4. I hope this beautiful home doesn't get torn down in the name of development. It's a shame it's not on the National Register ~ the magnolias alone are magnificent. It really is amazing to see the "backs" and "fronts" of waterfront homes. So different and today (in our automobile age) not often seen. Great reminder.
    Sorry you didn't find a good deal on the kayaks but the post was excellent!

  5. Bummer on the kayaks. Sometimes it is like that with estate sales. My daughter is an avid kayaker and took me once. What fun! She does whitewater though and I'm thinking you are going on the ocean? The house is lovely. I was wondering what the compass on the porch was used for? Did it have a purpose? A very nice touch.

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  7. How beautiful! This house reminds me of the days when we lived in Charleston. What a romantic idea to have both of the doors open while the breezes off the water flow through the house.

  8. What a beautiful home!! There is no doubt that it is National Register eligible, but it will take lots of work and research to accomplish it (been there, done that here.) As always, thank you for taking us along on your adventures.

  9. A beautiful house and beautiful photos. I do hope the Norfolk folks are enlightened enough to save this house for future generations. Thank you for letting more people know about it!

  10. I love old houses and live in an Oregon home that's on the National Historic Register, although not nearly as old as this one. Because it's an old farmhouse, it doesn't have the fabulous architectural detail that this house does. Loved your photos and love that house. I hope someone local takes the initiative to call attention to the historic significance of the house and see that it is saved.

  11. What a educational and interesting post Les. I would of loved to see the inside of that house myself. It's so beautifully preserved. Hope they don't tear it down, that would be a terrible tragedy.

  12. The magnolias are spectacular and so old. I love the architecture of the home and your history lesson too.I was intrigued by that compass. It seemed like an odd place for one.

  13. Those magnolias are beyond spectacular; merely seeing trees that old is always a thrill. And I love the idea of arriving by the water! Not the way most midwestern homes face. I always forget the Virginia motto and only think of it as Booth's phrase. Thus always a northerner, I guess.

  14. It's a beautiful house and property. Maybe someone will tackle getting this property on the registry... Nashville is also an area where development trumps history! Too bad. gail

  15. wow...that's grand old estate! I love all the little architectural details, the ceiling medallions and beautiful!

  16. Fantastic plaster reliefs. Looks like a fantastic place especially so close to the water!

  17. Loree,
    I am glad you enjoyed the post. Don't you have history there?

    There were some really nice items in the sale, none of them were part of the house, but they were still good. Many of them qualified as antiquities and were priced accordingly.

    The house has been a private residence, but the Diocese will let people wander the grounds.

    Thanks for stopping by, I am glad you enjoyed the post.

    I would love to go on the ocean, but mainly I want it to explore all the local creeks, rivers and marshes.

    I really like that form of house, and even though the number of rooms are small, if feels vast.

    I know it is worthy of the list, but I guess no one ever thought it needed to be on it. I hope someone will push the issue.

    Mary Kay,
    Some of us are enlightened and someone has even started a Facebook page to promote the house.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I am keeping my fingers crossed as to the fate of the house.

    It would be a tragedy indeed. The people who live near it are afraid the waterfront property would turn into condos.

    I think what looked like a compass actually was used to determine wind direction, critical for a home on the water in the 19th century.

    I tried to take a picture of the magnolias trunks, but could not make it happen. It would have taken 5 adults to circle each one. That whole business with Mr. Booth was not one of our prouder moments.

    I know what you mean about Nashville. When I was there I was surprised that such a historic city had so few buildings that looked it. I loved the Parthenon though.

    I am glad you liked the deails, they were really in good shape, and I tried to get them into the photo.


  18. So glad to hear about the web site will look it up. I am a docent at Ardenwood, a historic home and farm in Fremont, CA. We can't even get all the school classes that want to schedule tours.

  19. Love the virtual visits to the gorgeous estate and the ocean. I love when homes like that are opened to the public. Awesome - Les!