Chartered in 1613 and the oldest plantation in Virginia, Shirley has been occupied by a single family, the Carters, for 11 generations. Their claim to the land goes back to 1638, when it was settled by a relative, Edward Hill. Robert E. Lee's mother was born here, and the Carters seem to be related to every notable Virginia family from the Colonial and antebellum periods. The approach to the elegant 1723 Georgian manor is dramatic: the house stands at the end of a drive lined by towering Lombardy poplars. Inside, the "Flying Staircase" rises for three stories with no visible support. Family silver is on display, ancestral portraits are hung throughout, and rare books line the shelves. The family lives on the upper floors, but the main floor, eight original Colonial outbuildings, and gardens of the working farm can be toured. A tour of the Shirley Plantation details stories from the 11 generations of the same family who to this day continue to own and operate it. The guided tour of the first floor of the Great House highlights family stories as well as original furnishings, portraits, silver, and woodwork. Today Shirley continues to be a working plantation, a private family home, and a National Historic Landmark, which includes an on-site gift shop, Lady Cessalye's.
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