The grand frame structure, situated on a peninsula covering about 60 acres jutting out into the Ware River, Glen Roy was the third residence on the site. The property dates back to a 600 acre land grant from English King Charles I in the 1600s. The house was constructed in 1853 by William Patterson Smith, adjoining the site of Ware Church field and the glebe field. Early records indicate it was the original location of Ware Episcopal Church, the earliest Colonial church in Gloucester County.
Glen Roy as it became known in 1832 was then owned by Reverend Armistead Smith, father of William Patterson Smith. Unfortunately, the Gloucester courthouse along with its records was lost in a fire in 1820 so little more of its earliest history is known. At the height of its subsequent significance, the plantation included 2000 acres.
Glen Roy was the scene of a Civil War skirmish, The Battle of Glen Roy, when Union soldiers, headquartered at the house, got word that a band of Confederate Militia soldiers were heading down the half-mile entry road. Both sides, so the story goes, overestimated the size of their enemy and retreated after a short fight.
By 2006, Glen Roy had become the victim of years of neglect exacerbated by a four-year period during which time the house was uninhabited. A leaking roof caused severe structural damage to one corner of the house. Misdirected repairs had turned the building, as described by present owner Mr. Jay Smith, into “an impressive derelict with great potential.” The beautiful fireplaces had been fitted with ugly pot belly stoves. Twenty-four-inch red slate tile flooring on the 60 x 12 foot porch had been brutally chopped out and discarded. Black Buckingham slate fireplace slabs that constituted the hearths had deteriorated, along with black marble fireplace surrounds and were found in chunks at the bottom of one of the chimney flues, the victims of misuse and moisture. Walls had been constructed where walls never had been. Electricity was conveyed by primitive 1920s surface wiring where wire was attached to insulators nailed to the wall. The existing heating system was useless. Plumbing was ancient and had to be replaced. All of the 12 fireplaces had to be rebuilt. Numerous massive 11 x 14 inch sill plate beams were rotted and had to be replaced. The overall deterioration of the once glorious house would have caused most ordinary men to dismiss the job of restoring Glen Roy as an impossible nightmare.
But then Jay Smith is no ordinary man—he is a highly respected and skilled architect having worked for many years in Washington and New York City. Smith told me, “Part of the joy of buying an old house is when you go in and are doing it, you discover a great many things that were not on the surface. Instead of just proceeding, you often have to back up for a step and get something ready before you proceed.” However, there were some thrilling discoveries such as learning that the house was an engineering marvel when new and that the integrity of the interior architecture remained. Smith has proceeded rapidly despite the restoration turning out to be a far bigger project than it first appeared.
Jay and his wife, Miranda McClintic, love the history of the house and enjoy telling the humorous story of the mantel in one of the two living rooms. The baronial floor to ceiling fireplace mantelpiece had once adorned a “Hooker Hotel” in Baltimore and was acquired for the home by a previous owner. A renowned art expert, Ms. McClintic was a curator at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC and works as an art advisor and independent curator. Her appreciation for art is reflected in a 5 x 10 foot painting in the main hall which reinterprets the Judgment of Paris, a favorite subject of such old master artists as Peter Paul Rubens. In all other versions of this Greek mythological tale, Paris, son of the Priam the Trojan king, gave a golden apple to Aphrodite, choosing her as the most beautiful of goddesses over her rivals Athena and Hera, because Aphrodite offered Paris the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, wife king of the Sparta. Traditionally, Paris’ decision was the cause of the Trojan War. Here Paris chooses a dog which is more lushly painted than any of the three women, and peace prevails.
The furniture now decorating Glen Roy has been collected over many years by Jay and Miranda for their homes in Washington D.C., Merry Point Va., and New York City and is an eclectic mix of their varied tastes.
By 2006, Jay and Miranda were yearning for a change from the New York scene. They began looking in Tidewater Virginia because they had loved the land and water here during three years in the early eighties when they had completed a major restoration of an old house on the Corrotoman River. Remembering Gloucester fondly from previous detours from Lancaster County to the Norfolk Airport, they looked at many properties before settling on Glen Roy.
One of the features that intrigued Jay and Miranda was the very high ceilings ranging in height from 16 feet downstairs to 14 feet on the second floor. It was said the wife of the Mr. Smith who built the house suffered from asthma. The theory at the time was that high ceilings would allow the bad “humors” to rise above poor suffering Mrs. William P. Smith and relieve her of her difficulty breathing. Unfortunately, the poor lady never had a chance to prove the theory; she died a few weeks after the house was completed.
Perhaps one of the most unique features of the living room and dining room is the construction of the windows facing the river. The sills and the walls beneath them are hinged so that when the windows are fully opened; the sills can be moved back making it possible to walk through directly onto the porch. The massive windows throughout the house are all original, many containing the glass that was installed when the house was built, and they shower the rooms in bright sunlight. The three-story stairway has a landing half way between the first and second floors. The second floor landing overlooks the Ware River and a gigantic tulip poplar tree believed to be 400 years old. It recently became the home of a family of eagles. There is a large expanse of lawn between the house and the river where, from time to time, brilliantly plumed resident peacocks roam the grounds like sentries guarding their posts.
Jay Smith has done an astonishing job of restoring the house in a very short time while making it appear that everything is original. In many places he has taken period architectural items he found in a barn and incorporated them into the home. Smith has an incredible ability to make old things functional in a modern world. He restored the late nineteenth century carriage house and turned it into a seven room guest house, while keeping the original large front carriage entrance opening intact and covering it with a sheet of tempered glass. The outbuilding that once served as a doctor’s office, which is probably the oldest structure on the property—late eighteenth century, has been restored and is now a library. Jay actually found artifacts of a medical practice at the site. A newer garage near the house has been redesigned and also includes two offices and small kitchen on the second floor. Smith chose not to restore the old dairy but rather kept it as a fascinating brick ruin.
The boat dock Smith found when he bought Glen Roy was in unusable condition until his daughter Logan announced she would be having her wedding at Glen Roy. An insatiable romantic, Jay decided to have the dock rebuilt so Logan and her new husband Joseph Leigh Ferguson, could sail off into the sunset when the wedding ended. The new dock, with wide steps for comfortable contemplation, was completed in time and the newly married couple did indeed sail off into the sunset on May 29, 2010.
Jay Smith has a keen architect’s eye for detail and a contagious enthusiasm for old buildings. His ingenious vision was complemented by the structural expertise and preservation skills of contractor Kerry Shackelford of Museum Resources Inc. from Williamsburg. Together they transformed four large rooms and a passage, with one bathroom and no closets, into four comfortable suites with closets and bathrooms, using old windows to bring light to interior spaces, and maintaining all original details. Equally sensitive outside Jay did not want bulky air handlers standing on the ground next to the house. To hide this necessary part of the new heating-cooling systems, he adapted a period dependency that stood apart from the house that related to the library in form.
Jay has plans already worked out in his head for more work on Glen Roy. In the future he will restore the pre-Civil War barn the Union soldiers did not, in a kind gesture to provide food for the residents, burn when they plundered Glen Roy.
Surely William Patterson Smith, were he alive today, would be inclined to forgive the outrage he once felt when Yankee soldiers looted his home. If only he were to see the loving restoration work a brilliant Yankee architect named Jay Smith has accomplished at Glen Roy, his wrath would turn to admiration. The men share a common bond that stretches across the years in their shared love of Glen Roy Plantation.
Text and photos by Bob Cerullo