May 2, 2003
Colonial Williamsburg's Bassett Hall Gardens Restored to Their 1940's Beauty and Rockefeller Splendor
A recently completed two-year renovation at Bassett Hall, one of the restored historic properties at Colonial Williamsburg and the Williamsburg home of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller Jr., also included the restoration of the gardens to their 1940s appearance.
Hundreds of new boxwoods, dozens of fruit and shade trees, and thousands of bulbs were part of the 14-acre project. “During the last 50 years the gardens have slowly evolved and adjusted to environmental changes including overgrowth and dying out. Much of the landscaping around the house had to be removed to waterproof the foundation and basement,” said Gordon Chappell, Colonial Williamsburg’s director of landscape and facilities. “That was an ideal time to restore the landscape based on correspondence that includes letters and drawings between Mr. Rockefeller and landscape designer Arthur Shurcliffe that not only itemized what was in the garden, but also where it was planted.”
According to documentation, Mrs. Rockefeller loved periwinkle and that is now evident by its placement in many parts of the garden. The Rockefellers spent a few weeks in the spring and another few weeks in the fall each year at Bassett Hall. They therefore designed their garden to be in bloom when they visited. “Now that all of the perennials, bulbs and annuals support the correspondence, it is once again a spring and fall garden.”
Another important part of the re-creation was the woodlands view from the gardens to the woods beyond, according to Chappell. Both were equally important to the Rockefellers. Over the years the woods had filled in quite a bit, so it was important to thin the woods out behind the house so one could see into the woods and not just to the wood’s edge.
Bassett Hall guests also are able to tour the mansion and outbuildings that include a teahouse, smokehouse, kitchen and dairy. The house is located in a 585-acre tract of land on the periphery of Colonial Williamsburg’s renowned Historic Area. The colonial city’s pastoral nature is reflected in the nearby meadows that are inhabited by sturdy American Cream draft horses, sprightly Canadian ponies and rare Leicester Longwool sheep.
A generous gift of $2.7 million from George D. O’Neill and his wife Abby M. O’Neill, granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. Rockefeller, made the Bassett Hall renovation a reality.
Bassett Hall is located on Francis Street and is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is included in any Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket.
Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that operates the restored 18th-century capital of Virginia. Known worldwide as the nation’s largest living history museum, Colonial Williamsburg recently was recognized as the “Best Historic Site” by readers of Southern Living magazine for the seventh straight year. Colonial Williamsburg is located 150 miles south of Washington, D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information or reservations, call toll-free (800) HISTORY or visit online at www.ColonialWilliamsburg.org.
Lorraine C. Brooks