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Barboursville Mansion Ruins Still Draw Visitors 135 Years After Christmas Day Fire

Barboursville Mansion Ruins Still Draw Visitors 135 Years After Christmas Day Fire

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The gutted Barboursville Mansion is managed by, one of Virginia’s oldest wineries

Thomas Jefferson may be most famous for writing the Declaration of Independence, but he had many other interests and pursuits outside of fighting for the nation’s freedom. A lifelong student of architecture, the former president once said, “Architecture is my delight, and putting up and pulling down, one of my favorite amusements.” One of the most notable homes he designed was for his friend James Barbour, a wealthy attorney and Virginia politician. Once one of the most elegant and stately homes in the state, the Barboursville mansion was destroyed by a fire on Christmas Day in 1884. The ruins of the majestic structure still stand, casting shadows of the home’s former glory over the neighboring Charlottesville hills.

Construction of the home took several years, with Jefferson providing some of his personal workmen from his Monticello residence. The original drawings for the home had an uncanny resemblance to Monticello, following in the Jeffersonian ideal of classic sophistication. A large dome was to sit atop the structure as the focal point but was not included in the final construction of the home.

Barboursville Vineyards
Barboursville Vineyards is home to the famous Barboursville ruins, the shell of a mansion designed by Thomas Jefferson. [Photo courtesy of Barboursville Vineyards]

The exquisitely designed home featured eight rooms with elaborate porticos and an octagonal sitting room. The Flemish-bond style brick and sloping, hipped roof are characteristic of the era. Surrounded by lush, green boxwood gardens, the Barbour estate painted a lovely picture for visitors entering its lane.

Estate vineyard

Today, the estate is exists as part of the Barboursville Vineyards, one of the oldest wineries in Virginia. While the only remaining features of the original home are some of its brick walls and fluted columns, the winery owners preserved one of the other original Barbour structures that now serves as an Inn, along with an even older building known as The Cottage.

Barboursville ruins
135 years after a fire gutted the Barboursville mansion, its ruins are a popular venue for outdoor weddings. [Photo courtesy of Barboursville Vineyards]

Although the Barboursville ruins are a National Historic Site, the winery is far from just an architectural attraction that happens to offer wine. The 900 acres of rich soil produce delectable grapes and award-winning varietals.

The rolling hills and Colonial architecture make the winery a popular place for weddings and special events—the Barboursville ruins serving as the perfect backdrop to freeze a moment in time.

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The mansion is open for tours during winery operating hours and is just a short quarter-mile walk from the main grounds. In August, visitors can take their libations to the lawn in front of the ruins to enjoy a production of Shakespeare, with the stately brick structure in the background.

Jefferson put it best when he said, “Architecture…is then among the most important arts: and it is desirable to introduce taste into an art which shows so much.”

The Barboursville Vineyards exemplifies that sentiment by gracefully meeting its visitors at the intersection of art and taste.

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