VAGenWeb Lunenburg Co., VA
Page updated April 17, 2008
JoLee Gregory Spears
Return to the VAGenWeb Lunenburg Old Homes
Oak Ridge Plantation
The land on which this splendid brick plantation house stands was first owned by John Knight, who received the land patent to the property from King Charles II in 1742 in exchange for forty shillings. John Knight's son, Tarleton Knight, began construction of this fine home in 1830; work was completed by 1835. The current owners are Tarleton Knight's great-great- great-great grandson, Lynn J. Vaughan, and his wife, Sandra Smithson Vaughan. Both are natives of the area who take great pride in the restoration of this ancestral home, which is one of the finest examples of period architecture in Lunenburg County. Mr. and Mrs. Vaughan began restoration of the house in 1983 and updated the home by adding a modern kitchen, a family room with full basement underneath, bathrooms, and back porches. In the process of restoring the house, they also rebuilt what is the third front porch to grace the home, using columns salvaged from the Longwood College Colonnade. No one knows what the original porch was like, although speculation is that it probably had an A-roof and was smaller than the current porch, perhaps no wider than the front doors. The double front doors, which open into the magnificent entry hall with its lovely staircase, provide an interesting feature of the house. They are crowned by the original fanlight and are secured from the inside by a substantial bar. The entry fanlight, along with the oversized windows of the house, allow wonderful light to enter the high-ceilinged and airy rooms. The numerous large windows contain at least 90 percent of the original glass. Each of the rooms in the original structure has a fireplace which provides a focal point and adds additional charm. The construction of the house is substantial. Oak Ridge is built on a two- foot thick foundation. The remarkable brickwork, which includes English, Flemish, and common bond, features painted mortar joints which further highlight the beauty of the masonry. A protruding course of brickwork near the base of the house was designed to direct water away from the foundation, an architectural element that appears in many fine homes of the colonial and early national period. The solid construction of the house's foundation is verified by the presence of a 10"-diameter oak stump still clad in its bark which was found underneath the house during the recent renovation work. The stump had been perfectly preserved from the time that the original foundation was laid in 1830. The first roof on the house was probably constructed of wooden shingles. The present tin roof dates from 1899-1900 and is in excellent condition. The wide overhanging eves of the house make gutters and drains unnecessary. All of the bricks used in the construction of the house were made on the plantation of strong Lunenburg clay. Interior as well as exterior walls are of brick which make the house very solid. The exterior bricks were baked longer to make them impervious to the elements over the years, while the unexposed bricks for the interior walls did not have to be baked as long. At least 95 percent of the interior walls have their original plaster. When the Vaughans began their work on the house, the walls had not been painted, having been coated only with whitewash. Woodwork in the hall and parlor had had only two coats of paint in the 160-year history of the house. The current owners made the outstanding choices of paint colors for the walls which provide a beautiful contrast for the white woodwork. Family tradition says that the original woodwork in the house was imported from England. All doors and windows have bulls eye corner decorations which are hand carved. Most of these are original to the house, while those necessitated by the new construction or by replacement either were carved by local craftsman and furniture maker, Mr. Roy Underwood, or were made in North Carolina. Where necessary, window moldings were reproduced by Ruffin and Payne to match the original ones. Original floors are of six-inch wide heart of pine. Timbers used in the construction of the house were cut on the plantation. The first kitchen for the original house would have been outside for safety reasons. In more recent years, previous dwellers had moved the kitchen inside to occupy the room where the Vaughans have located the present dining room, which is conveniently adjacent to the gracious modern kitchen which they added. The pantry still retains the fragrances of hams and foods previously kept there. Three of the original dependencies can still be located on the property. The site of an old ice house is discernable. Another of the dependencies is a smoke house. The studs in the smokehouse are closely set at one foot apart to prevent intruders from tearing off the weatherboarding and stealing the meat! The purpose of another dependency is uncertain, perhaps slave quarters. Landscaping around the back of the house has been done with large field stones which were originally a part of the foundation of an older structure on the property. The wedge marks for the separation and shaping of these stones are still visible. A family cemetery located on the property to the east of the house is the resting place of numerous Knights and their Vaughan descendants. Family tradition says that the home of the original landowner, John Knight, was located near this cemetery, while Tarleton Knight's first house, which was constructed earlier than his plantation house which stands today, was located on the opposite side of the property. Speculation is that some of the timber in the outbuildings was from the first Tarleton Knight home because preservationists have dated some of the bearded weatherboarding used in their construction as predating the 1830s house. The house contains many interesting pieces of furniture and decorative accents. Among the notable furnishings are two antique piano-fortes from an earlier era. The Vaughans have tastefully decorated the house with many of their own family pieces and interesting items of memorabilia. Over the years, many family members and guests have traveled to the beautiful brick home situated at the end of a secluded drive protected by large oaks for which the plantation was named by the original builder, Tarleton Knight. Oak Ridge Plantation, still a working farm today, has been the site of many happy times and family celebrations. Among them were the recent weddings of the Vaughans' two daughters which took place on the front lawn with the plantation house and rolling tobacco fields as backdrops. Thanks to this family's preservation efforts, this substantial home promises to be enjoyed for generations to come.
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