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Take a step back in time and tour ‘The Marble House’ Dec. 8

The Marble House from the west

This year’s Historic Urbanna House Tour will feature “The Marble House” built by Lord Byron Van Wagenen in the early 1900s.

The Marble House, on Virginia Street in Urbanna, has never before been open to the public.

David B. Van Wagenen was born in 1817 in Ulster County, N.Y., where he learned shipbuilding.

David moved south to the Chesapeake Bay and married Emily Frances Crittenden of Gloucester County. They moved to Urbanna. David started a pile-driving business and one of his first jobs was to build the first wooden Urbanna bridge in 1858.

David’s son, Lord Byron Van Wagenen, was born in 1861 in Urbanna. “L.B.,” as he was called, went into the marine work and pile-driving business with his father. The business flourished and, in addition, they opened an oyster house and a pickle-canning business. The father and son owned several sailing schooners and several steamships used in the pile-driving business.

By the late 1880s, their businesses had prospered to the point where they owned several pile drivers and accompanying vessels. The Red Hill area of Urbanna was owned by the Van Wagenens and many pilings used for pile driving were cut from that area of town. A portion of the Red Hill cemetery was deeded and retained as burial grounds for family members. This is the old portion of the present-day cemetery that is on Red Hill today.

While L.B. was working driving pilings in Tilghman Island, Md., he met Eunice Frances Cummings and they married in 1895. They moved to Urbanna and lived with L.B.’s parents for several years.

A Marble House bedroom

In the early 1900s, L.B. bought the Marble House lot and began building a home. The brick, wood and marble used to build the house was brought in the Van Wagenens’ schooners from Baltimore. The marble was obtained by a salvage company from homes burned in the 1904 Baltimore fire.

The house had its own “battery” gas house that generated lighting, before electricity.

It was the first house in Urbanna to have an indoor bathroom in its design, which also has marble wainscoting. The original coal fireplaces are still throughout the house. The basement housed the kitchen and a great deal of living went on there. The lower level was utilized as a place for the children and grandchildren to get hot sweet potatoes after school. There was a large cook stove in the basement and a free-standing pot belly stove for heat.

After L.B.’s death in 1921 and the loss of his pile-driving business in a storm, his widow was left with small children, one only 6 years old. To provide for her remaining family, she maintained a retail store for a period of time, worked at a sewing factory in Urbanna, sold women’s garments from a mail-order house, sold fruit from The Marble House’s many fruit trees, including pecans and walnuts that were once on the property.

In later years, the house was converted to three apartments to provide rent income. L.B.’s widow lived in the house until her death in 1962, and her daughter, E. Frances Saunders, lived there until shortly before her death in the 1980s.

The house is owned today by Eunice Yesker, granddaughter of L.B. She remembers the many Christmases prior to World War II and the apartments. She said the adult family members would congregate in the large parlor room, the Christmas tree would be in the middle of the room, and the children would be at the top of the staircase to watch the holiday activities of the adults.

Mrs. Yesker started restoration of The Marble House in 1999. The project was completed in 2012. She has graciously agreed to open her home to the public for the December 8 house tour.

Patrons of this year’s tour will only have a short walk between featured houses. Located next door to The Marble House is Urbanna’s cornerstone mansion “Lansdowne,” owned and occupied by Col. and Mrs. Arthur Gravatt. Built around 1750, this Georgian-period home was the former residence of Arthur Lee of the Virginia Lee family.  Since purchased by the Gravatts, Lansdowne has undergone extensive historic restoration and has since been opened to the public for many community events, including the annual Christmas House Tour.

The James Mills Scottish Factor Store (Urbanna’s “Old Tobacco Warehouse”) and the historic Middlesex Courthouse (Middlesex Woman’s Club) are also included on the tour, and all are easy strolls, point to point.

Tickets for this year’s event are on sale for $15 at Bristow’s Store, Cyndy’s Bynn, Lowe Tide, and Make Thyme, all in Urbanna. In Kilmarnock tickets may be purchased at Papeterie on Main Street. In Richmond, Pigtails and Crewcuts, and Murphies in Carytown. Tickets also may be purchased on the day of the tour for $20.

For information about this year’s event, call 804-815-4639 or 804-832-8554, or visit

posted 11.14.2012

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