Friday, December 2, 2011

Beachland - Part One


Once upon a time, down a long, leisurely,
leaf-filled lane,
tucked away between some stately old trees and a creek 

(Pardon the glare. Camera issues.)

lived a beautiful, historic home called Beachland.

The home has been in the same family--the Smiths, one of Mathews' "first families"--since before our county was officially formed from Gloucester, which was one of the first 13 counties established in Virginia in the mid 1600s.

Mathews County was formed in 1791 from the part of Gloucester that used to be (more or less) Kingston Parish.

A bit of googling and library-ing unearthed the following excerpts from a fascinating 1934 Mathews Journal article on the Smith family and the first known Smith of Beachland:

 "There is no available data relative to the ancestry of Capt. Thomas Smith of Beechland. Since there were several families of Smiths residing in Gloucester about the same time, and owing to the similarity of names, it is almost impossible to determine to which line any one individual belongs without access to family records. Whether Capt. Smith was of the line founded by Lawrence Smith or that of John Smith of Purton, is a decision the writer is not qualified to make.

Capt. Thomas Smithy was evidently a ship builder, for in the Gazette of May 6, 1767, he advertises - to be sold - "A new ship about 263 tons, well calculated for tobacco trade, built of best seasoned plank and lumber, and can be launched in a little time if required. Twelve months credit will be allowed for two thirds of three fourths of the value. Any person inclinable to purchase may be shown the vessel by applying to the subscriber, living in Kingston Parish."

Capt. Thomas Smith first married Dorothy Armistead in 1753... His second wife was Anne Plater of Maryland...

...The will of Capt. Smith, Feb. 11, 1789 - "One third of my estate to Anne Smith during her life, desiring her to live with my son, Thomas, in the mansion house... 

..Thomas Smith, son of Capt. Smith and first secretary of Phi Beta Kappa, was a member of Legislature, 1784, and other years and a member of State Convention, in 1788, called upon to pass Federal Constitution."

The original 1700s home, which was all brick, was destroyed by fire. The current house, built on the original brick foundation, dates to the late 1800s.

An 1813 insurance policy, on "Beechland" (spelled both ways, though the current owner says it's Beachland) contains a map that described four buildings on the property:  "(A) a brick dwelling, two stories high, covered with wood, 52 feet long by 22 feet wide with a cellar; (B) a kitchen; (C) a laundry; (D) a smokehouse.

Today, there is also a beautiful barn on the property, which is in the process of being restored.  

That 1934 article from the Mathews Journal went on to talk about Thomas and Armistead Smith, sons of Captain Smith:

"Phi Beta Kappa was organized Dec. 5, 1776 at the College of William and Mary at Williamsburg, and was the first Greek letter organization. Among the charter members were two from Mathews County, Thomas Smith and his brother, Armistead, sons of Capt. Thomas Smith of Beechland. This old home is still occupied by a Smith family, but whether they are descendants of Capt. Smith, the writer is not qualified to state."

Well, this blogger isn't qualified for much, but she is qualified to state that the current Beachland resident and owner, a wonderful woman by the name of Gloria, is indeed a descendant of the original property owners.

I know because she told me so herself when I had the privilege of meeting her last weekend.  Although she's a bit camera shy, she gave me permission to post the oh-so-distant shot of her with the oh-so-beautiful Beachland off in the distance, below.

There is too much from this brief visit of mine to convey in one post. I've decided to write a book.  I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the estate; the significance of its history; and the charm and instant like-ability of its owner, who has so many stories that could never be found in books.

So stay tuned for a Part Two about Beachland, where I'll share some more fascinating facts and tidbits about this house and its family.

This is the view heading away from Beachland.
I hated to leave.

I'll also share how I came to be asked to visit Beachland.  I cannot thank Gloria and her sister Susan enough for the invitation.

But they may have created a monster.

I'm already daydreaming about my next project:  a novel with Beachland as the backdrop; a little bit of history mixed with CBW's vivid imagination. This could be dangerous be a novel that is turned into a movie, starring Chesapeake Bay Woman! a female lead actress and, naturally, Javier Bardem.

Stay tuned for Part Two of Beachland, which I hope to have up on Monday.

Enjoy the weekend.


deborah said...

Fascinating facts about the majestic mansion and the Smith Family! I'm so glad you got to visit and I'll be waiting on the novel and part II-
Have a wonderful weekend!

Anonymous said...

Looking forward to part 2 of the Beech/Beachland saga. I love history and the personal stories that give it meaning. Can't help but wish that the brick structure could have survived, but it's all too common that many homes were lost to fire.
I have no doubt that you could write a fascinating book about this place. Could it be turned into a movie? That would be great...could Bardem be cast as a Spanish trader, or pirate..or another bossa nova loving Brazilian ? hmmmm...
I have a friend from Guatemala who is a high school teacher, with a "thing" for Antonio Banderas--she has posters of him in her classroom and her students love teasing her about her crush.
What is it about Spanish actors,lol? You'd do better to see "my Javi" in a comedic romance like Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" ( rather than his more tragic films, or the violent "No Country for Old Men")

AverettLadyNana said...

Thank you!!! Again your pictures brought back a flood of memories. I would go there with my grandmother, mother and g-aunt to see Cousin Joicey. She always would come up to our house to bring us butter for baking the Christmas Cakes.

Daryl said...

Gorgeous .. cant wait to see more

growing wild on waverly lane said...

Love this stuff. And yes, we who pined after Ricardo Montalban understood the term "Latin Lover."

There's a little caveman in them, causing us to itch to be clubbed and dragged off. Sigh

thomas said...

Nice report , the house looks to be well maintained. Unlike many old estates.

What year will the novel be based ?

Smith Island MD is a place I've always wanted to visit. Just a unrelated comment, sorry.

Dghawk4 said...

What a marvelous historic home. Oh the stories those walls could tell.....that is if walls COULD talk! Can't wait for more.

Anonymous said...

What part of the County is it in?

David D

Meg McCormick said...

I want to go to Beachland!!

Craig Taylor said...

You really need to interview Gloria and Susan.

Maria_NJ said...

What a wonderful house, can't wait to hear and see more...

have a wonderful weekend...

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

To answer some of the questions on this brisk Saturday morning...

Thomas-I am thinking it would be modern day but with many, many flashbacks to the earlier history of the house.

David D - Horn Harbor/Peary/Port Haywood area. On many, many acres. It's beautiful.

Craig-I did (sort of) interview Gloria in my conversation with her, but the problem is I didn't take notes (that would have been far too logical). I told her I'd likely forget much of what she told me, so I'd need to come back another time and truly interview her. (Perhaps that was my subconscious way of ensuring a return visit!)

Happy Saturday, my favorite morning of the week. Don't have to drive ANYWHERE.

Kristine said...

Ive had the privlage of staying at beachland with my dear friends Susan & Gloria. There are many books and movies to be made about this family & home. I can say "I have had such a peace" when I am there. A peace, I can't describe. The history of this home & family, I believe is the next OSCAR worthy movie in the making. The books, recipes, history from generations before us. I can see them in my mind at Christmas & Thanksgiving sitting around the table, and cooking in the kitchen. To my friends Gloria & Susan... Girls this is your project and heritage for your grandchildren & beyond...Lets get busy and get the novels & movies made...I know the magic beachland has....Lets show the world what we know...HMMMMM...whatcha think? Thank you for writing this blog. I will spread the word on it...

Chesapeake Bay Woman said...

Kristine, I know exactly what you mean by the peace that you feel there. I did not want to leave. There's something very special about it, it's hard to put into words - which is why there has to be a movie! I got chills (the good kind) walking around the property and inside the house, listening to Gloria tell the stories.

I think there is great potential for a book and a movie!

kdm said...


Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any pictures, drawings, info, etc., related to the Brownley Property adjacent to Beachland. My great great uncle, William M. Brownley was friends with Sands Smith prior to his death in 1863 and also prior to the burning of La Grange, the Brownley Property adjacent to Beachland which was destroyed in Wistars Raid on Mathews. We are working on the Brownley History and any info that you have would certainly be appreciated.

Dave Wilson

Felton and Susan Jones said...

Susan and Gloria had a younger sister named Harriet. Sadly, Harriet died when she was in her 40s. My husband and I were friends of Harriet and her husband, Rick. Our family has great memories of visiting Harriet and Rick at Beechland. Especially memorable were fantastic crab fests at the house. We just visited Mathews to relive some of those great memories.