Town schedules Castle tours

Published 12:06 pm Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Historic site yielding secrets

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

With little paper trail left regarding the nearly 300 years of Windsor Castle’s existence, historians are left to piece much of its story together, bit by bit, as they go.

The recent restoration work that’s taking place at the 1750s-manor house and its outbuildings has helped with that endeavor, unearthing small portions of the property’s lengthy history, which predates the town of Smithfield itself.

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Now, as the work progresses, curious residents will have the opportunity to tour the historic site and get a peek at the work being done to restore the buildings to their former glory, and hear about some of the insights discovered in the process so far. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The town will host free walking tours of the facility Saturday, June 10 at 2 p.m. and again on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 2 p.m. Its first tour was held this past Saturday.

The manor house was once home to the man credited with the founding of the town, Arthur Smith IV, whose ancestor purchased the property as early as 1637 in what was then known as Warraskoyack Shire (now Isle of Wight County), according to Tracy Neikirk, curator at the Isle of Wight County Museum.

While the house exudes 18th century wealth and class, there’s some evidence in the basement that the structure may have had humbler origins at first, built around a considerably smaller, two-floor building, according to Roger Ealy, a local historic home expert and construction manager for the project.

Work on the manor house so far has included asbestos abatement, much of it concentrated in the basement, where there is also evidence of a schoolroom, according to Neikirk.

Two wings to the sides of the building were added on in the late 1970s-early ‘80s, and will be removed as part of the restoration.

Photographic evidence suggests that there may have at one point been a second building connected to the manor house on its left facing the river, according to Smithfield Mayor Carter Williams, who is also chairman of the Historic Windsor Castle Restoration LLC. The LLC is tasked with overseeing the restoration work in order to be eligible for tax credits from the state.

The late 19th century smokehouse, its center beam still caked with pig grease drippings, would have been sized to hold about 200 hogs at once, and is one of the largest Ealy said he has seen in Isle of Wight.

The location’s proximity to the Pagan River also made it an ideal location for importing and exporting goods, Neikirk said.

The farm manager’s office, a small square building located across the street from the manor house, has offered up one of the largest historical puzzles on the property so far, according to Ealy.

The little hut-like structure had all the makings of a 20th century building, but after taking off its modern paneling inside, Ealy discovered a mortise and tenon frame underneath, an indicator of colonial-era architecture.

“That was a surprise,” said Ealy. “It may be a marriage of two different things.”

Another discovery was a child’s saddle found not far from the mule barn on the property. The owners of the property would likely have preferred mules over horses, as the smaller animal could withstand the heat better, Ealy said.

While there has been some uncertainty as to the exact date the caretaker’s house on the property was built, restoration crews found a toilet underneath the structure with the markings “Seaborne Supply Company, Tidewater 1917.”

“Why somebody shoved it under the house, I can’t tell you,” said Ealy.

The ongoing restoration work is currently funded by the town and Smithfield Foods, who gave $2 million and $1 million to the project, respectively.

The donations only fund part of the restoration, however, and the Windsor Castle Park Foundation is beginning its capital fund to raise money to complete the project, the total cost of which is estimated at $5 million.  {/mprestriction}