Eyre Hall on Virginia's Eastern Shore


Reflecting the early nineteenth-century interest in the romantic and the exotic, as well as enthusiasm for botany and horticulture, the Eyres installed French scenic wallpaper depicting Turkish scenes along the Bosphorus (see Figs. 5, 6, 9). The wallpaper, which later became known as Rives du Bosphore, was designed before 1812 and advertised in the United States by 1817. Joseph Dufour et Compagnie, the manufacturer, suggested its usefulness for "history and geography lessons," stating that the several kinds of "vegetation can themselves serve as an introduction to the history of plants."11 It seems plausible that the paper was installed about the same time as the building of the orangery, most likely completed by 1818 when Ann Eyre wrote to John McHenry (1791-1822) of Baltimore asking for clippings from his orangery.12 John and Ann Eyre also enclosed the vast parterred boxwood garden sometime in the early nineteenth century, although the inclusion in the 1774 inventory of "1 Stone Roller, Spades, Rakes etc." as well as "1 pair Gardener's Shears and 2 Water Potts" suggests that there was an ornamental garden on the property during Severn Eyre's lifetime.13

In 1855 John Eyre's great-nephew Severn Eyre III (1831-1914) inherited Eyre Hall and saw the property safely through the Civil War and into the twentieth century. A Princeton graduate with a Harvard law degree, he never practiced and considered himself a planter. At his death Eyre Hall was inherited by his granddaughter, the present owner's mother, Margaret Eyre Taylor Baldwin (1898-1979), whose affection and respect for her ancestral home were equaled only by her generosity in sharing it with others. Following a sympathetic restoration and modernization by the architectural firm of Victorine and Samuel Homsey of Wilmington, Delaware, and Boston in the 1930s, Eyre Hall has been open for April's annual Garden Week in Virginia every year of the Eastern Shore tour since 1941.

It is the totality of Eyre Hall, its collections, its historic landscape, and its history of stewardship over many generations, that distinguishes this Eastern Shore landmark. In the simple brick- and picket-walled cemetery adjacent to the garden and in the shadows of the orangery ruins (see Fig. 15) are buried all but one of the owners of Eyre Hall, the exception being the first Severn Eyre, who died in Norfolk and is buried there. The one nonfamily grave, marked by a simply shaped headstone, is of one James Marshall, "a Georgian by birth, who many years resided here, a sort of dependent friend, who presided over the destinies of all the musical instruments about the establishment."14 On a still autumn evening in this intact landscape surrounded by the contributions of all who have called Eyre Hall home, it is quite possible to recall Mr. Marshall, "the thrilling sounds of whose violin [are] almost audible now in that wide hall, light feet and lighter hearts keeping time to its music."15

1 Fanny Fielding, "Southern Homesteads," Land We Love, vol. 3, no. 6 (October 1867), pp. 504-511.  2 Mills Wehner and Ralph Harvard, Paneled Walls, Paneled Furniture (Eastern Shore of Virginia Historical Society, Onancock, Va., 2002), p. 7. For Eastern Shore architecture and furniture, see Henry Chandlee Forman, The Virginia Eastern Shore and Its British Origins:  History, Gardens and Antiquities (Eastern Shore Publishers' Associates, Easton, Md., 1975); Ralph T. Whitelaw, Virginia's Eastern Shore: A History of Northampton and Accomack Counties (Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, 1951); and James R. Melchor, N. Gordon Lohr, and Marilyn S. Melchor, Eastern Shore, Virginia, Raised-panel Furniture, 1730-1830  (Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Va., 1982).  3 Michael O. Bourne and Marilyn Harper, Eyre Hall, National Register Nomination, July 7, 2009, copy provided by Bourne.  4  Ibid.  5 William Waller Hening, The Statutes at Large; Being A Collection Of All the Laws Of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619, vol. 5 (Richmond, 1815), pp. 364-365.  6 "An Inventory of the estate of Colonel Littleton Eyre deceased," 1769, Northampton County Wills and Inventories, vol. 24, 1766-1772, pp. 224-226, Northampton County Courthouse, Eastville, Virginia (microfilm available at the Library of Virginia, Richmond).  7 Entry for August 22, 1770, diary 15, Diaries of John Adams, Adams Family Papers: An Electronic Archive, Massachusetts Historical Society, www.masshist.org/digitaladams.  8 Virginia Gazette [Purdie and Dixon], January 28 1773.  9 "An Inventory and Appraisement for the Estate of Severn Eyre Esq. deceased taken 27th February 1774," Northampton County Wills and Inventories, vol. 25, 1772-1777, pp. 390-400,  Northampton County Courthouse (available on microfilm at the Library of Virginia).  10 Entry for September 5, 1785, Severn Eyre diary, Virginia Historical Society, as quoted in Lorri Glover, "‘Let Us Manufacture Men': Educating Elite Boys in the Early National South," in Southern Manhood: Perspectives on Masculinity in the Old South, ed. Craig Thompson Friend and Lorri Glover (University of Georgia Press, Athens, 2004), pp. 33.  11 Quoted in Catherine Lynn, Wallpaper in America from the Seventeenth Century to World War I (W. W. Norton, New York, 1980), p. 202.  12 Ann Eyre to John McHenry, 1818, letter in the collection at Eyre Hall.  13 Severn Eyre inventory.  14 Fielding, "Southern Homesteads," pp. 508-509.  15  Ibid.

J. THOMAS SAVAGE, a native of Virginia's Eastern Shore, is the director of museum affairs at the Winterthur Museum in Delaware.

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[Compiled by Bill Stern, Executive Director at the Museum of California Design, Los Angeles. Originally published in "Curator's Eye" in Modern Magazi

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