Virginia's Executive Mansion Restored
by William Lebovich
The executive mansion of the Commonwealth of Virginia is said to be the oldest continuously occupied governor's residence in the United States. The mansion is an outstanding example of Federal style architecture, and after its recent restoration, it demonstrates that an historic house can be improved by sensitive additions.
This National Historic Landmark building was completed in 1813 to the designs of Boston architect Alexander Parris. Since 1987 it has been documented in the Historic American Buildings Survey.
Prior to 1813, architect Parris had gone to Richmond in search of work. While there he designed two outstanding buildings in close proximity: the Governor's Mansion and the Wickham House for a prominent and wealthy attorney.
On his return to Boston, he designed his best known work, the 'classical revival' Quincy Market, which was the centerpiece of Boston's downtown renewal in the 1970s, and continues to be a major destination in the city.
Only 10 years older than Quincy Market, the Virginia executive mansion belongs to a markedly different architectural sensitivity. Quincy Market is brutally simple with its massive stone blocks and substantial columns at either end and its low dome above the center of the long building.
By contrast, the Virginia governor's house is almost delicate with its swag panels, foliated capitals atop the porch columns, and leaded glass side and transom lights framing the main entrance.
Granted, Parris was designing a house in Richmond and a commercial structure in Boston, but the former conveys the lightness of the Federal style while the latter conveys the solidity of the classical revival.