Favorite

Good Neighbors 

Getting inspiration from the fences of historic Jamestown: natural, simple and practical.

click to enlarge fence100.jpg

Visitors will flock to Jamestown Island in the coming weeks and months to participate in activities marking the 400th anniversary of English settlement on the banks of the James River. In the historic area they will find contemplative pleasures — a simple brick church; a half dozen statues and monuments; preserved foundations of buildings that time almost forgot; pathways along the water shaded by century-old trees; and, inadvertently, a virtual museum of rustic-fence techniques.

Owned by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA) and operated by the National Park Service, Jamestown has never been the stylish attraction that nearby Williamsburg became. In the 1920s, Rockefeller money and the resulting assemblage of talented archaeologists, architects, landscape designers and merchandisers all converged to create an internationally appealing historical theme park, Colonial Williamsburg Inc.

Virginia's storied role in the American Revolution may be the major theme that Colonial Williamsburg promotes, but don't be fooled. High, Anglo 18th-century style and good taste in furniture, accessories and garden design are equally on its agenda. Of course, Williamsburg's heyday, most of the 18th century, was at the pinnacle of the British Empire and a flush time for Virginia, the largest and wealthiest English colony.

Jamestown's story is not nearly so glamorous. For many years, following struggles with settlement in 1607, the place was marked by starvation, disease, fear of the natives and internal bickering. Even if there ever was a Jamestown "style" (and of course there was), 400 years later the material evidence from that era is thin. Jamestown was more of a medieval place; Williamsburg later would reflect the Enlightenment.

What, then, are the aesthetic pleasures of historic Jamestown? Today the island is mostly a broad meadowlike stretch of land. Here and there are mature shade trees, and stubby brick and cement ruins.

But look closely and you'll see that wooden fences, in an array of delightful styles, suggest the division of former house lots and property lines, creating a subtle sense of order and geometry in the landscape. The fences at Jamestown were built for utility, not decoration.

Fences as a group were one of three types of structures that comprised the Colonial homestead in Jamestown and beyond. The first was the main house; next were the supporting structures such as smokehouses, offices, barns and sheds. The third category was fencing. At Jamestown, brick or stone would have been expensive and elaborate. Timber was plentiful and relatively easy to work with.

Within this riverfront landscape of memory and the imagination, the reconstructed wooden fences ground the place and, in the absence of buildings, create a human scale.
Favorite

Tags:

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

  • Re: The Almshouse

    • Read more about Davis in The Business of Relief: Confronting Poverty in a Southern City…

    • on September 8, 2017
  • Re: The Almshouse

    • My great grandfather, George Bernard Davis, married first to Mollie Trewolla whose parents were from…

    • on September 8, 2017
  • Re: The Quiet Giver

    • GREAT MAN VERY INSPIRING AND HONEST!

    • on September 1, 2017
  • More »
  • Latest in Home Style

    More by Edwin Slipek Jr

    • The 2011 Bar Guide

      The 2011 Bar Guide

      Whether we were Revolutionary patriots, moonshine runners or just imperfect souls considering our bar tabs, we're all just passing through. So why not stop for a few sips along the way?
      • Jun 14, 2011
    • After the Fire

      After the Fire

      The South fell, and Richmond went up in flames. But the Civil War is still here — if you know where to look.
      • May 10, 2011
    • Digging Up Bones

      Digging Up Bones

      A monumental new book chronicles 160 years of the real Hollywood.
      • Oct 6, 2010
    • More »

    Copyright © 2017 Style Weekly
    Richmond's alternative for news, arts, culture and opinion
    All rights reserved
    Powered by Foundation