Touring Brooke’s Bank with Ralph Harvard

Apr 29, 2021

For our April virtual tour, we joined Ralph Harvard, the antiquarian, designer, and Trust Governor, in a visit to Brooke’s Bank, a stunning and unusual Virginia house. The house is atypical, in part, because it was built by a woman, Sarah Taliaferro Brooke, in 1751. It is also smaller than most formal Georgian Virginia houses at 54’ x 34’. Walking us around the property, Ralph highlighted the special elements both inside and out.

The brickwork is especially impressive. Ralph took care in explaining how the brick mason distinguished the house. Chimneys have diamond glazed panels and rich molded caps. Ralph pointed out “the extravagant or almost voluptuous belt course in the middle. You can see there’s a convex brick, then a bump out, and a concave under it. They were all cast separately, and you just don’t see this very often in a house of this size.”

One of the most striking features of the house is the central hall that allows you to see straight through the house to the Rappahannock River. Inside, Ralph shared more fascinating details. In the central hall, the view of the Rappahannock is framed by a massive interior archway which divides the house into two parts, and Ralph walked us through each side.

With silver julep cup in hand, Ralph highlighted a rare built-in buffet, attributed to Scottish craftsmen, with an idiosyncratic scrolled pediment. Featuring a hinged leaf, this cabinet was ideal for mixing cocktails.

The current owners have interpreted the interior from the 1780s period for an interesting reason: damage from British artillery during the Revolutionary War. Sitting right on the banks of the Rappahannock, Brooke’s Bank was on the “bank” of the river and thus an easy target for the British navy. Holding a cannonball found in the house, Ralph stated, “A British gunboat fired on this house.” The resulting damage required substantial repairs, at which time “the chimneys were ‘jazzed up’ with applied fretwork in the early-Federal or late-Colonial taste.”

To hear more about this incredible house, including a glimpse at the owner’s antique map collection, the original paneled walls, and a beautifully reproduced wallpaper and floor covering, watch the recording on YouTube: 

The Decorative Arts Trust offers monthly virtual tours that allow viewers to go behind the scenes and experience incredible collections and sites. Curators, collectors, and lovers of decorative arts share favorite objects through tours hosted on YouTube Live.

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The Trust’s calendar of events shows upcoming virtual and in-person programs. For updates on registration openings, sign up for our e-newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Instagram. The Trust is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that appreciates the involvement of members and donors who make programming like this possible. 

About The Decorative Arts Trust Bulletin

Formerly known as the "blog,” the Bulletin features new research and scholarship, travelogues, book reviews, and museum and gallery exhibitions. The Bulletin complements The Magazine of the Decorative Arts Trust, our biannual members publication.


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