Windsor Castle to open for self-guided tours

Published 5:32 pm Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Isle of Wight County Museum Director Jennifer England hopes to have everything in place by spring for self-guided tours of Windsor Castle — the 18th century homestead of Smithfield founder Arthur Smith IV.

The house itself, which the town has renovated into an event space, remains off-limits save for its basement. Here, visitors can see the change in the brickwork where the home was expanded over the years and read interpretive panels on the lives of Windsor Castle’s various owners: the Smith, the Jordan and the Johnson-Betts families.

“Archaeologists and architectural historians believe that the current house’s construction began in 1720,” states one of the panels. “The one-room deep brick house was similar in style to Bacon’s Castle in Surry and the Matthew Jones House in present-day Newport News, and its high-quality brickwork was indicative of more ambitious dwellings in Tidewater.”

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But its outbuildings will be open to the public once each is fitted with a railing around the entranceway and interpretive panels.

“Separate buildings for kitchens and laundries were commonplace for elite households in colonial America,” states a sign mounted on the siding of a detached combination kitchen/laundry room with upstairs quarters for enslaved people. “All meal preparation was from scratch and cooked in front of an open hearth, while laundering required kettles of hot water, tables for ironing and racks or lines for drying. Both tasks were hot, arduous and smelly.”

The kitchen/laundry outbuilding is thought to date to the 1740s. When Smith died in 1755 — three years after parceling out his family farm into the original 72 lots and four streets that became known as Smithfield — an inventory of his household listed four enslaved people. Arthur’s nephew, Thomas Smith, inherited the plantation and by 1782, had 28 enslaved people. Enslaved women and children were often given the task of preparing meals and cleaning fabrics, the interpretive sign on the kitchen states.

While visitors won’t be able to go upstairs for safety reasons, England said the display would be designed in such a way that visitors will be able to peek inside to see an example of an 18th-century slave’s living conditions.

The smokehouse, which dates to the 19th century, was used to preserve meat and for storage. Inside, visitors will see several replica Smithfield hams hanging from the ceiling.

“We know a lot about what was happening at Windsor Castle, what with the farming and ownership, what was grown, due to tax records,” England said.

But one thing she doesn’t know for certain is the original purpose of the detached structure now known as the farm manager’s office.

“This building itself is kind of a mystery,” she said. “It was probably a dairy; it’s shaped like a dairy. Your dairies, of course, would have been very far away from your smokehouse just because cleanliness was so important.”

It was being used as a farm manager’s office by the 1840s when Watson P. Jordan Sr. owned the home.

“He really wasn’t into farming, so he had a farm manager to oversee the 400 acres that were here,” England said.

Guided tours of the property are also available once a month starting Feb. 7.