Henrico County Historical Society
PO Box 90775   Henrico, VA 23273   (804)501-5682   hchsinfo@yahoo.com
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Henrico County Historical Society's motto, which is Preserving the Past in the Present for the FutureSkipwith Academy in Three Chopt District, Henrico County, Virginia.Log Cabin in Tuckahoe District, Henrico County, Virginia.Mankin Mansion in Fairfield District, Henrico County, Virginia.Dorey Barn in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.Bethlehem Church in Brookland District, Henrico County, Virginia.

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Varina District Historic Sites - Curles Neck

Manor House of Curles Neck, today, in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

Located on New Market Road (Route 5). "The name Curles is derived from the "Curles or meanders in the James River", which defines the broad flat peninsula known as Curles Neck. The property has passed through a number of hands, but the Randolf family, who acquired the land in 1698, had by far the longest tenure. Earlier, from 1674 to his death in 1676, Nathaniel Bacon lived at Curles. Through the years, various names have been applied to different sections of this vast tract, viz., "Raleigh", "Bailey's", "Tillmans", "The Slashes", "Bremo", and "Strawberry Plains."

The property was originally referred to by early settlers as “Longfield”. It is easy to see how the name Longfield originated. It is a noticeably wide expanse of open land along historic route 5 in the Varina District of Henrico County with trees apparent only at either end.

This property is among the most significant properties in Henrico County covering almost four centuries in American history. It is thought that the name Curles derived from the “curles” or meanders of the James River, which defines the broad flat peninsula known as Curles Neck. Researchers have also found the family name of Curle recorded in various grants over a span of one hundred years in the books at the State Land Registry Office.

“Curle’s” with an apostrophe was used on early documents prior to the Civil War, later dropped as in modern usage. A prominent representative of that family was the patriot Wilson Roscow Curle of the Revolutionary era. The first “Curles” patent was recorded in November of 1635 when a tract of 750 acres land “commonly known as Longfield” was granted to Captain Thomas Harris, 100 acres of which was due him as “an Ancient planter & adventurer in the time of Sir Thomas Dale”.

“Of particular interest are the ruins found during the excavations at Curles Neck in eastern Henrico along the James. Archaeologists uncovered the Thomas Harris house foundation, one of the oldest homes found in Virginia dating between 1635-1654. Thomas Harris served as Burgess for Curles Neck. The archaeologists noted that the framing posts of this house sat in the full basement and some were enclosed by bricks which was unique in the Chesapeake area. A large centrally located chimney suggests that there was a lobby entrance. Built later in the early 1700’s, adjacent to this structure, was the home of Nathaniel Bacon, the leader of the rebellion against the English authorities. Landscape features include intricate terraces and traces of underground tunnels down to the James River which could be used as an escape route from potential Indian invasions.” (Inventory of Early Architecture County of Henrico, Virginia)

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After Nathaniel Bacon was found guilty of treason his property was confiscated by the crown and later acquired by William Randolph. The grand Georgian plantation built by the Randolph family was probably destroyed during the Civil War.

The property has been in continuous use since the 1600s and changed owners many times with many prominent names in early American history associated with it well documented.

John Pleasants donated the first Quaker meeting house at Curles Neck and was one of the trustees appointed to represent the newly formed town of Richmond. Following a successful case before the Virginia Court of Appeals in 1777, the slaves of John Pleasants were allowed to follow the dictates of his 1771 will and were freed. (HC-17)

Curles Neck barns, circa 1930, in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia. Curles Neck Barns Curles Neck barns, circa 1930, in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

1930 G.B. Lorraine Collection

In 1852 Charles Senff, a New York sugar merchant, purchased the then 3,250 acre Curles tract along with the adjoining farms of Bremo (home of Richard Cocke) and Strawberry Plains. Seniff built the 15-room brick Georgian Revival mansion that exists today to replace the pre-Civil War house owned by William Allen which had fallen into disrepair.

C.K.G. Billings bought the property in 1913 and built it into one of the most important horse breeding farms in the country.

The next owner, A. B. Ruddock, started Curles Neck Dairy, which began retail operations in 1933 and became one of the leading dairy suppliers in the East under the ownership of Fred E. Watkins in 1943.

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Vintage announcement of Easter egg hunt at Curles Neck Dairies in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

Virginia Commonwealth University conducted a number of archaeological digs at Curles Neck during summer sessions and a Richmond Times Dispatch article written by Overton McGehee, dated May 13, 1985, quoted L. Daniel Mouer, director of the VCU Archaeology Research Center, as saying they had “found the entire gamut of American history.” They identified the outlines of two building sites from Bacon’s period and five sites from the Randolph’s plantation. Some of the pieces of ceramics found at the site were from the late 1600s. The evidence in the ground also matched an 1806 Mutual Assurance Society document description of six buildings. They found bricks jutting out of the soil where the chimneys once stood and identifiable pieces of steps remaining. The survey team also found pottery fragments and a wine bottle seal marked “Richard Randolph 1735.”

List of buildings on Curles Neck farm, circa 1930s, in Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

Mouer was also excited about a site that predated the 1622 massacre of colonists by Indians. Clay pipe stems found there indicated the approximate age of the site. “The archaeological walk through time may eventually go from a 5,000 year-old Indian site to a Quaker meeting house that may have been a stop on the underground railroad in the mid-1800’s”.

An article written by Kent Miller, dated July 30, 1987 in the Henrico County Line, stated that the archaeological excavation project uncovered more than 100,000 artifacts. Evidence found from the ruins indicated that the Randolph Mansion began as an early 18th century house. The house was probably expanded to double its length in mid-century by Richard Randolph II. Either Richard Randolph III or Henry Heth, who had purchased Curles by 1799, added an enlarged Greek Revival porch on the front of the house. The house appeared to have been dismantled by Union Soldiers during the civil War. Civil War related artifacts were found at the site including a bent bayonet that may have been used to pry bricks loose from the walls of the house.

List of Buildings on Farm - 1930s

An artist's reconstruction of Curles Neck manor house in the 1700s, Varina District, Henrico County, Virginia.

An artist’s reconstruction of the Curles Plantation manor house in the 18th century.

Henrico County Line

According to an article written by Courtney Morano from Virginia Press Services News Clipping Bureau, The Village Mill, dated August 14, 1995, VCU finished its 11th field school at Curles Plantation. The article confirmed the identification of the house belonging to Captain Thomas Harris and also Nathanial Bacon’s plantation found adjacent to the Harris house. It is believed from their findings that the Harris house burned in the 1650s. Some of the artifacts found included an Elizabethan six-pence dated 1573, part of an armor breastplate pottery shards, part of glass wine bottles with a Randolph seal, smoking pipes, nails, an ax head, and a curtain ring.

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Presently the surrounding land at Curles Neck is being excavated by sand and gravel mining. Centuries of historical artifacts are certainly being destroyed every day. Most of the barns that once represented the dairy industry for which Curles Neck was most recognized in the 20th century have been demolished.

The Curles Neck property, consisting of 5,513 acres, was on the market for a couple of years and the asking price was $24 million. The owners were Richard E. Watkins and Betsy W. Short, the children of the late Fred E. Watkins. Leases for farming, hunting, and the sand-and-gravel mining produce $1 million a year in annual income.

Bald eagles, a large heron colony, and many other species of birds whose numbers are in decline, nest or migrate there for the winter. Conservationists have been looking for ways to protect Curles Neck.

This property represents the history of many people and the very beginning of our nation. Native Americans, early American settlers, as well as African Americans have left imprints in the soil at Curles Neck.

For sale since 2002, the house was purchased by three investors/new owners in 2006. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported the Manor House is being restored by the new owners.

  • Privately owned.
  • (Inventory of Early Architecture County of Henrico)

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Varina Sites: Curles Neck
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