The bit of history that goes with this house tells that the plantation came into being in 1616 under a vast grant of land made to Captain John Martin, one of the adventurous companions of John Smith on his first voyage to Virginia. Martin, however, sold or abandoned his holdings after a brief owner-ship, for in the year 1637 Richard Quiney is named as one of its proprietors. The estate, named in memory of an English town, Brandon, next went into the possession of Nathaniel Harrison, under whose family its fame was established for more than two centuries. When Robert Daniel of Virginia acquired the estate an interesting link was forged in a chain more than three hundred years long, and Brandon again came under the control of John Martin’s line.
The great hall or salon, which occupies the center of the main building, is almost square, and is dominated by three perfectly proportioned arches lavishly embellished with hand carving and delicate gouging. The stair, which rises beneath the eastern arch, has risers decorated with carved shells and a mahogany balustrade. Both woodwork and walls are deep-toned old ivory. One finds in the dining hall a classic chimney breast and still more panelled walls. In all details the trim here follows that of the hall and drawing-room. The west wing is quite notable for a Chinese Chippendale stair with mahogany handrail, which ascends between two master’s rooms on the first floor to two others above. The most interesting feature of the older eastern wing is the original kitchen which, with its massive lintel, brick facing, and fire utensils, is an excellent example of the colonial cooking room.
On the north front century-old boxwood hedges are drawn in double lines across the house and around three sides of the garden to form romantic walks. Across a square of sward bound with the bloom of crepe myrtle, magnolia, and rose, with giant elms and ancient yews, the garden is brought with exquisite skill direct to the house. Cowslips give a golden finish, and fringes of daffodils form a vivid connection between the greenery of the river walk and that of overhanging trees. Shaggy knots of boxwood lend evergreen accent among snow drop trees and the guelder rose. Lilacs and smoke trees are tied together with yellow jessamine. Pendant blossoms of wistaria droop among mock orange and dogwood trees, and ancient roses bloom gayly in the tops of tall sycamores.
The purple of royal iris vies with the glory of springtime tulips, and from dewey April to bleak, frosted December parterres and borders show a sequence of beautiful bloom. In the northeast corner one chances upon a sequestered spot where, walled in by boxwood, a little tea garden is found. The charming vista created by the broad, turfed allee ends in the historic waters of James River, and it does not seem possible that so much loveliness can belong to one old house.