Wilton: Everywhere you look speaks of time
by Tom Chillemi
Stephen Foster was looking for a challenge when he found historic Wilton. Built in about 1763, it had been vacant for more than 60 years.
Amazingly it was intact. Much of the materials were original, and it had not been remodeled—ever. “It was spectacular raw material,” said Foster, a retired attorney, who still is engaged in several projects.
The house, high above the Piankatank River on Route 3 at Hartfield in Middlesex County, was purchased through the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA), which wanted to ensure the restoration was authentic. And it was.
“Everywhere you look, the floor, the paint, the plaster… speaks of time,” said Foster. “They make it a very special place to be.”
In one room the blue paint that was applied to paneling in the 1790s was cleaned carefully and stabilized by a conservator. Blue was the second coat of paint and had been applied over a cream color. “It’s good for another 100 years,” said Foster.
About a third of the plaster had to be removed. The hand split-wood laths were retained and covered with new plaster. The plaster on masonry was restored on the first floor.
Foster’s favorite room is the southern facing red room. It’s furnished comfortably and is brighter than the blue room.
Most of the floors are original. They were never varnished or painted, and have a soft patina from being walked on for centuries. The floors were only washed by hand to retain the original character.
Foster was careful to keep the kitchen understated without too much cabinetry. The refrigerator was covered with wood so it would blend in. “Every time we designed the kitchen it got simpler,” Foster said.
Inside window shutters fold against the 16-inch-thick walls, constructed of hand-made bricks fired on site more than 250 years ago.
The entire heating and air-conditioning system was placed in the basement. Geo-thermal heat pumps, which draw energy from the earth’s constant temperature, provide the primary system. A propane furnace is used for backup.
Foster said there were many “gratifying moments” during the nearly two-year restoration, and he would restore another home. “But I don’t think I’ll find a house so well preserved.”
Foster wants Wilton to be “useful,” and it will be available for short-term rental. For more information visit wiltonhousevirginia.org.
Wilton will be open to the public on Saturday, May 10, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit middlesexmuseum.com to purchase tickets or send a check made payable to the Middlesex County Museum to P.O. Box 121, Saluda, VA 23149. Call 804-776-6983 for more information.