Located in Richmond, Virginia, the Wilton House Museum is a living history museum preserving the historic manor house of William Randolph III. The Wilton manor house was built around 1753 for William Randolph III, the grandson of William and Mary Isham Randolph, who are considered the "Adam and Eve" of colonial Virginia.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, the Randolph family was among the wealthiest and most powerful families in the state of Virginia, owning several major plantations and holding a number of prominent positions in regional and state politics. As the centerpiece for a 2,000-acre tobacco plantation located on the north bank of the James River, the Wilton manor was built to mimic the British Wilton House estate, the famous home of the Earls of Pembroke. For more than a century, the manor played host to many of the most notable early American political and military figures, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and the Marquis de Lafayette.
The house was sold to Colonel William C. Knight by Catherine Randolph in 1859 as a means of paying off accumulated family debt. Throughout the following decades, the estate changed ownership four more times before nearly being lost to foreclosure as a result of the Great Depression. Upon news of its imminent demise, the Virginia chapter of the National Society of The Colonial Dames of America took an interest in acquiring the property. While the intervention of the Dames saved the manor building from demolition for commercial development, the land the house originally stood on had already been rezoned. As a result, the house was dismantled and rebuilt in 1934, moving to a site several miles west of its original location.
Since 1952, the Georgian-style manor has been open to the public as a living history museum. In 1976, the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Permanent Collections and Exhibits
The manor is Richmond's only 18th-century plantation home open to the public for tours. Restored to its original planter-style architecture and furnishings, it houses a decorative arts collection of more than 1,400 artifacts from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, including textiles, furniture, silver, ceramics, and fine art. Important documents pertaining to Virginia's colonial history and the legacy of the Randolph family are also on display inside the house for visitors to view.
Guided and self-guided tours are available to immerse visitors in the culture of 18th-century plantation life. Rotating art and culture exhibitions are also on display in the house, focusing on the art, architecture, and cultural preservation techniques of the colonial era, with special exhibition tour talks offered to provide an in-depth exploration of current exhibits. Group tours are offered for adult groups of 10 or more, tailored to individual organization topic needs. Educational tours are also offered for students of all ages, with a demonstration activity on colonial clothing and accessories provided for elementary school students and themed programs available for Girl Scout badge completion.
The facility and its 2-acre terraced grounds, set overlooking the James River, are available for rental for weddings and other private events.
Ongoing Programs and Events
An annual symposium is hosted by the manor, with themes corresponding to current special exhibitions. The all-day workshop features lectures and workshops with artists, historians, curators, and conservationists exploring ongoing dialogues with the area's social and artistic colonial history. During the summer months, a free concert series, Jammin on the James, is held on the grounds of the manor. Families are invited to bring a picnic dinner for an evening of kids' crafts, games, and all-ages music. Complimentary tours of the manor are offered before each concert. Other popular events include Family Days, offering activities for children, and Preservation Conservation talks highlighting architectural and preservation topics.
An internship program offers graduate and undergraduate university students the chance to assist museum staff with events and programming while learning about colonial art, history, and architecture. Internship programs are offered with special focus on education, curation, and collections management.
National Society of the Colonial Dames of America
The manor serves as official headquarters for the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America's Virginia chapter, which owns and operates the facility. As an unincorporated association of more than 45 regional chapters dedicated to the preservation and restoration of historic sites, the NDSCA owns 41 historic properties throughout the United States, with 30 more receiving significant operational and financial support from the organization. Since its 1897 acquisition of New York's Van Cortland House, the society has been recognized as a national leader in the restoration and reinterpretation of historic homes. The NDSCA also owns 13 independent museum collections and facilitates a number of educational and scholarship programs focused on colonial-era preservation.
215 S Wilton Rd, Richmond, VA 23226, Phone: 804-282-5936