Effingham Manor Mansion’s rebirth builds on a 241-year-old legacy
On March 23, 2018, one of the most historic properties in Prince William County began writing a new chapter to its storied past when it opened as Effingham Manor winery.
Built between 1765 and 1767 on a portion of the 30,000-acre land grant known as the Brent Town Tract, Effingham Manor is steeped in Colonial, Civil War, and modern-day history. Its rebirth parallels and builds on the four-century-old Virginia wine industry.
The Nokesville mansion is a three-story, five bay, 18th century Tidewater-style home set on a raised basement. It is surrounded by several original outbuildings including a blacksmith shop, former slave quarters, smokehouse and a three-tiered English garden.
Effingham Manor Today
Today the manor house main floor has a full-size tasting bar. Two adjoining rooms provide a more intimate tasting experience. The five bedrooms on the second floor are furnished for small group get-togethers. Each room is named for its former use such the Princess Room where a young yesteryear resident slept. There is also the Library and Game rooms among others.
Numerous artifacts have been discovered on the property and are on display in the tasting rooms. The effect is to create a living museum within the setting of a modern wine tasting venue.
The home itself was one of several large plantations constructed in the latter part of the 18th century in southern Prince William County. Long established vintner and entrepreneur Chris Pearmund is managing partner behind the historical venture, one of 18 wineries he has helped op over his three-decade wine career.
“At the time Effingham Manor was the 16th winery I’d been associated with. I called it my ‘sweet 16’ project,” Pearmund said.
Effingham Manor was built by William Alexander, great-grandson of John Alexander for whom the city of Alexandria was named. At the age of 21, William married Sigismunda Mary Massie in 1765. Massie had previously turned down a marriage proposal from the teenaged George Washington thinking the lad too young to wed.
William and Sigismunda went on to spend their entire lives on the plantation raising 16 children, 10 of which lived to adulthood.
Alexander was a gentleman farmer and civic leader in Prince William County and a member of the Prince William County Committee of Safety. When war broke out with England, he was made captain in the Prince William militia. He went on to become a lieutenant colonel in the army and later appointed county justice after the conflict.
By all accounts, he led a long and fruitful life. At the time of his death, he owned extensive land holdings that he bequeathed to four of his sons. He died at the age of 70 and is buried on the property.
During the Civil War troops were encamped on the property and blood spilled in conflict. Bullet casings, coins, and other war-related memorabilia are on display in the home.
In 1955, the late Dr. O. Anderson Engh and his wife Sara purchased the home and undertook a major refurbishing of the buildings and grounds. While used as a summer home, the restoration efforts contributed to saving the historical property from decay.
Effingham Manor Outbuildings
In the 18th century, plantations were built to provide virtually everything needed to survive and thrive in an otherwise wilderness-like setting. One unique feature of Effingham are the outbuildings integral to the operation of the estate. Several are still standing and in generally sound condition.
With a glass of wine in hand, let’s stroll the grounds of the 16-acre property and reflect on the lives of the Alexander family.
Blacksmith Shop: Functioning as a modern-day hardware store, the shop produced horseshoes, plows, keys, hoes, nails, clamps and more. Pots and kettles would also be repaired by the blacksmith. Due to intense heat produced in the building, it was constructed on a sandstone and brick foundation. Virtually all original iron implements came from the shop.
Slave Quarters: Records indicate Alexander owned over 30 slaves who played a critical role in the success of the plantation. Only one of three buildings used to quarter the slaves remains standing. The three-tied garden at the back of the home was created by backbreaking enforced labor. Respect for this history is reflected in Pearmund’s commitment to showcasing the dwelling as a reminder of the contribution and sacrifice of those enslaved people.
Smokehouse: Like the blacksmith shop, the smokehouse is built on a brick foundation to withstand continuous heat. To gaze at the charred timbers and original meat hooks is to be transported back in time. Without refrigeration, smoking provided a steady source of meat for the farm’s residents.
Further along, one comes upon a beautifully landscaped Koi pond with dozens of the energic fish flashing in the sunlight. The pond was one of the first concrete pools in Virginia. It was installed by a previous owner in the 1930s and repurposing it saved another historical artifact of the property.
Three other fascinating elements of the plantation is a well house, the three-tiered English garden, and a 214-year-old Western Red Cedar tree.
The well is 57 feet deep. It was hand dug and lined with large stones in a 3-foot by 4-foot square pattern. As one enters the well house, its dark setting is highlighted by a string of small lights cascading down the well offering a dramatic view of the over two-century-old stone craftsmanship.
Viewed from the back porch of the manor home the tiered garden falls away in waterfall fashion to an expansive view of bottomland and distant forest. The garden’s style is considered the oldest in Virginia.
In addition to enhancing the beauty of the estate, the garden served as a natural deterrent to cattle from grazing into the yard of the home while precluding the need for a scene-stealing fence. Today the garden is a grassy expanse, but future plans call for the reestablishment of the formal plantings.
The cedar tree in the front of the property comes with a fascinating story linked to a momentous part of our Nation’s history. The Western Red Cedar was one of two saplings brought back by Lewis and Clark from their renown expedition.
It was gifted to the Alexander family reinforcing the importance of the family’s connections. Reach out and touch the bark of this living legend and experience a direct connection with the two famous explorers.
In a nod to modernity, Pearmund built an 8,800 square foot winery and event center on the property. The building’s architecture reflects the style of the original home is providing a seamless look between old and new.
The overall restoration project respected the property’s celebrated past while providing guests with a museum-like venue for tasting Virginia wines. Given the numerous historical elements of the site and its rare artifacts, Pearmund established an adults only-no dogs visitation policy.
While off-putting for some, the intent is to preserve the quiet and peaceful atmosphere of the estate and reduce potential damages to any of rare antiques and buildings.
Pearmund emphasizes Effingham Manor offers guests the opportunity to both enjoy and become part of the mansion’s history. “This home has a long past. I want people to come out and make their own history here by hosting weddings, anniversaries and other life celebrations.
“Everyone is invited. Not only wine lovers but anyone interested in history,” said Pearmund.
Effingham Manor is opened seven days a week 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and is located at 14325 Trotters Ridge Place, Nokesville. 703.594.2300. For more information visit http://effinghammanor.com/