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Primary Source of the Month
Top: A pre-1930s photograph of the Tayloe House. Bottom: The Tayloe House and Office after restoration. From the collections of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Each of the restored and reconstructed buildings in Colonial Williamsburg’s 301-acre Historic Area was researched extensively. Archaeological excavations uncovered foundations and disclosed a number of other features. Early maps, plats, and deeds helped to establish boundaries and locations. Newspapers, wills, inventories, insurance policies, account books, ledgers, journals, and other primary sources of all descriptions contributed valuable information about the buildings and the people who had lived in them. Fortunately, early photographs of many of the buildings also existed to document exterior appearances and supplement the archaeological and documentary evidence.
The Tayloe House (above) was constructed between 1752 and 1759. Colonel John Tayloe purchased the property in 1759 for 600 pounds, a very high price for a frame house at that time. Tayloe, one of the wealthiest men in eighteenth-century Virginia, probably used it as a town house during the years he served on the Governor’s Council.
In his book Before and After, George Yetter describes the Tayloe House as follows:
“The gambrel roof has two separate slopes to provide more headroom in the upper story. A distinctive architectural refinement is the elongated kick, or upturn on the lower eaves. The house is also noted for its fine interior woodwork and the original marble console table supported on wrought-iron brackets near the front door.
The late nineteenth-century wings and porch were removed in 1950. The reconstructed porch is based on archaeological and architectural evidence. Its platform is paved with fragments of English Portland stone found on the site during excavations. Most of the brick foundations are original and still retain their colonial mortar which, due to the local unavailability of limestone, was made with ground oyster shells. Remains of original brick drips, or ground gutters, were excavated along the north and south walls and were restored. They broke the force of rainwater falling from the roof, prevented erosion, and carried moisture away from the house.
The most interesting, as well as the most conspicuous, of the surviving outbuildings is the office with its ogee or bell-shaped roof. Located just east of the main house, it is the only example in Williamsburg of this roof form, which was illustrated in many eighteenth-century architectural pattern books.”