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Layer by Layer

One of the exciting things about being able to give tours at Bloomsbury, is that it is like an onion; each look, each avenue, leads to something new to learn and appreciate. For example, "Bloomsbury" was originally called "Arat" (Arrat?) - no one seems to know when or who renamed the property. Another nugget is that the "Orangerie" is actually what we call a greenhouse. A "Bath House" was not like a hot spring or sauna. Traditionally it was a whimsical or decorative structure that covered a cold water source and pool, often, but not always, included in a garden setting. One could enjoy a cold bath in the water; not a hot one. I can only imagine how much information will be uncovered during the restoration and archaeological work!

The informational panel pictured below is located near the house, and has the places marked where specific dependencies (support buildings/outbuildings) were located; or are believed to have been located. This is based on various wills, letters, diaries and other primary source documents. [1]

One of the things I have been learning about is the Swift Run Gap Turnpike. A turnpike (toll road) in colonial Virginia is obviously not what we know today; cement and asphalt did not exist. "The turnpike got its name from its toll gate. When first designed, the gate was a turnstile consisting of two crossed bars pointed at their outer ends and turned on a vertical bar or pole." [2] What little I have learned thus far (I am still reading) is that there were horse and walking trails and "waggon" roads. Those roads were usually hard-packed dirt which was highly problematic in wet weather when deep ruts developed and sometimes mud slides occurred; pot holes could break your wagon wheel or your horse's or mule's legs.

The image below is from the Library of Congress and is an 1871 map of Orange County, Virginia. [3] If you look closely, just left of center, you can read "Orange C.H." and just above that the diagonal line of the turnpike. Bloomsbury, or "Arat" as it was first known, is estimated to be situated fractionally above the turnpike line, over the "C." of "C.H."

Colonial parishes (1600s) then counties were required to develop roads inside their boundaries and to the capitol, first Jamestown and later Williamsburg. Better roads were needed between the Blue Ridge and the eastern portion of Virginia. Swift Run Gap was the way into the Valley from Fredericksburg and Alexandria. [4]. The advent and duration of the American Revolution drastically reduced the importance of road improvements. .

The remnants of Swift Run Gap Turnpike run along the tree line that separates the airport and ball park, and the 911 center from Bloomsbury; running almost parallel to the boundary between the 1,000 acres deeded by Col. James Taylor, II to his son, Captain James Taylor, III in 1722. In 1729, Captain Taylor purchased an additional 400 acres from the Taliaferro family . Today, Bloomsbury consists of 350-355 acres that includes acreage from both parcels.

There is a lot more to learn about these early roads and I hope to share more soon. I need to finish studying Ann Miller's research.

Special Tour: Saturday, April 27th, will be really interesting because Ann Miller will be leading an architectural tour of the home and we'll reveal the dendrochronology results....the envelope, please.


[1] Researched by Ms. Carrie Todd, a Rudy J. Favrette Fellow of 2007. In her report, written for the Garden Club of Virginia, she presented the chain of ownership of the property, its layout, what types of dependencies are believed to have existed around the home and other details about the farm and the surrounding landscape.

[2 & 4] "Royal Examiner," A history of roads in Virginia: Turnpike Era , published June 29, 2019. Retrieved from

[3] Hotchkiss, Jedediah. Preliminary map of Orange County, Virginia. 1871. Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.


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