When Julian A.C. Chandler, President of William & Mary, was searching for a College Librarian who would revolutionize the library, he found Earl Gregg Swem. Dr. Swem was described as a first-rate man who later made significant contributions to the development of the library.
In 1925, Dr. Swem and his wife, Lilia, decided to build their home close to campus on Chandler Court, off Jamestown Road. Their neighbors, Professor and Mrs. John Minor Stetson, had designed a formal garden at the rear of their property which adjoined the Swem property. The garden served as a test site for daffodils and miniature boxwoods for the Garden Club of Virginia. One of Dr. Swem’s favorite works was a study of letters (1734-46) on gardening between English Botanist, Peter Collinson and John Custis of Williamsburg. The work was entitled Brothers of the Spade. With that inspiration, Lilia and Earl Gregg Swem decided to christen their home “Spadehaven.” Here, the Swems entertained faculty, students and neighbors for many years.
William & Mary purchased “Spadehaven” in 1963, and three years later, the university library was named in Dr. Swem’s honor. The home was rented as faculty housing until 1999. At that time, it was recommended to President Timothy J. Sullivan that the house be renovated and used as a dedicated guest facility for visiting speakers and donors. Thanks to the generosity of William & Mary alumnus Joseph J. Plumeri, II ’66, D.P.S. ’11, who rented a room next door to Spadehaven as a student, the house was restored in 2000 to accommodate this need. During renovation, systems were updated and air conditioning added. The four bedroom house was converted to a two bedroom en suite, enabling multiple guests to have private work spaces as needed.
The late Robert Martin, ASID was recruited to coordinate the interior design and furnishings plans, which were brought together through the efforts of Joseph H. Steele, II ’76 and Carolina Furniture of Williamsburg. The home features artwork by William & Mary Art & Art History Professor Bill Barnes, and pottery by Professor Emerita Marlene Jack. Student artwork is also featured throughout the house from the President’s Collection of Art, founded by President Timothy J. Sullivan ‘66 and his wife, Anne Klare Sullivan ‘66.
Joseph Plumeri and Earl Gregg Swem shared two loves: William & Mary and baseball. On the occasion of his 90th birthday, Earl Gregg Swem wrote the poem, “A Meander in Meditation with Baseball Overtones” noting “Today the batter at the plate begins an inning new.” Fifty years later Spadehaven, too, has a new beginning as The Plumeri House - a home away from home for special members of the William & Mary family.
The historic significance of the Plumeri House has been recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, and its Chandler Court neighborhood has been designated a Historic District by the Virginia Historic Landmark Commission.
The Plumeri House will be one of six homes open to the public during the 57th Annual Christmas Homes Tour, Saturday, December 3, 2016, presented by Green Spring Garden Club, Inc. Along with the President’s House at William & Mary, the Charlotte Brooks House, the Lampert family home on North Henry Street and Scotland Streets, the Elkanah Deane House and the Custis Tenement will be open in Colonial Williamsburg’s Revolutionary City. Advance sale tickets are available through the website: www.greenspringgardenclub.org.
Green Spring Garden Club, Inc. is proud to distribute all proceeds from the tour to education, supporting scholarships in Environmental Science and Biology at William & Mary and Christopher Newport University, Horticulture scholarships at Virginia Tech University and Nature Camp scholarships for students in grades 5-12 in Williamsburg-James City County or the Bruton District of York County.
Beautification and conservation funds have been provided throughout the Greater Williamsburg area, including support for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation gardens, Hospice House gardens, the City of Williamsburg and James City County, the Williamsburg Botanical Garden, the Virginia Living Museum, Dream Catchers, the Norfolk Zoo and numerous other projects.