Close to the sleepy village of that name, Claremont, on the James, is among the oldest and most historic places in Virginia. According to tradition, as early as 1649, an estate of some twelve thousand acres was patented in this region by Arthur Allen, who was a member of the royal house of Han-over and who came to America after the tragic ending of a stormy love affair. The property remained in the Allen family for over two centuries, and during that period the manor was a center of a bountiful and gracious hospitality. Edgar Allan Poe, during his turbulent early life in Richmond, is said to have been a frequent visitor, and there is some ground for believing that he wrote the Gold Bug in one of the upper rooms. The reader of Thackeray’s sympathetic study of manners in Virginia and in England in the eighteenth century, will be struck by certain local allusions which would indicate that the great novelist had at least a second-hand knowledge of Claremont and its surroundings.
In 1928 Claremont was acquired by General William H. Cocke, a prominent Virginian. Under supervision of General and Mrs. Cocke it has been restored to its pristine loveliness.
It is difficult to fix the date of the erection of Claremont, but it seems highly probable that its earlier portions go back well into the seventeenth century. Its brickwork, and the brick and woodwork of the various detached buildings which cluster around the main structure, merit special attention-the bake-house, loom house, large and small smokehouse, and the familiar “office” of Virginia plantations, the latter a unique structure of four stories. It is certainly the smallest four-story building on the continent. Entrance to the mansion house, either from the land or river side, is through characteristic square halls whence one passes into the gracefully proportioned drawing-room. The sweep of the staircase is worthy of notice.
The trees at Claremont are particularly lovely. The house itself is out-topped by giants whose slender tops seem close against the sky. At the front and rear are superb examples of dwarf box, and there are magnolias of unusual size and vitality. In the appropriate season jonquils and asphodels and crepe myrtle lend their splendor to the beauty of the garden. Leading from the front of the house down to the river is an ancient avenue of lindens. Another avenue of these noble trees leads in a great curve to a woodland dell by which one gains the river landing; from here are distant views of the mouth of the Chickahominy River, of Jamestown Island, and of the gardens of Brandon, from which Claremont is separated by Chipoaks Creek.
The old gardens of Claremont are receiving the same ten-der care in their restoration as the house itself, and they will soon take their place among their beautiful sisters along the noble river.