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About Holly Hills

Holly Hills is a beautiful community of single family residences located in the heart of the Historic Triangle and about one and a half miles from Colonial Williamsburg.  There are three International Airports within driving distance and an Amtrak depot in Williamsburg.  This central location provides many attractions for those of us who live here and our guests. 

Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown Victory Center, Jamestown, Busch Gardens, Water Country USA, Williamsburg Winery and The College of William & Mary provide many exciting entertainment and educational opportunities.  We are conveniently located to both high end as well as economy shopping locations with five to ten minute drives to Bloom, Fresh Market, Farm Fresh, Trader Joe's and Ukrop as well as Merchant Square with William Sonoma, Talbot, Belk and Chico.  Major Outlets as well as Wal-Mart, Lowes and Home Depot are about 15 minutes drive. 

The residents, about 150 homes, are a diverse group of people with varying educational, business, economic and cultural backgrounds.   The CORE Committee effectively meets this challenge by organizing a spectrum of events and activities which gain enthusiastic and lively support from the Members of our Association. The Neighbor Awareness For Neighbor (NAFN) group ensures that new residents are familiar with what the Association and area have to offer and make sure that all new comers feel welcome to participate in any activity that interests them. 

This group also ensures appropriate Emergency Response whether the emergency is a family crisis or a broader area threat such as storm damage.  The NAFN group is organized on an area basis within the community with qualified trained people to assist in protecting our neighbors and property.  This is a community which cares for one another but also respects the privacy of our neighbors. 

History of Holly Hills

The history of Williamsburg is well known to most of you but the history of the area now known as Holly Hills is also full of interest.  We are grateful to Ted Kinni for the following report on the early history of the area on which Holly Hills was developed.

The Masters of Rich Neck
A 17th Century Residential Site in Williamsburg Connects the
Lives of Three of Virginia's Early Power Elite    

    Visitors to Williamsburg almost always comment on the brick. To be sure, it is the building material of choice throughout the city, in the College of William and Mary, in the major restored structures and hotels of Colonial Williamsburg, and in a preponderance of the homes in the city's residential neighborhoods. It has been that way for over 350 years, since before the founding of the city in 1699, when the area was known as the Middle Plantation.

    Some of Williamsburg's newest brick residences are in Holly Hills, a quiet subdivision located a mile up Jamestown Road from Colonial Williamsburg, known locally by its initials CW. Ironically, it was the impending development of Holly Hills that led to the discovery of Williamsburg's oldest brick residence, Rich Neck.

     Discovery may be too strong a word. Rich Neck was not lost exactly; it was in archeological limbo. In Virginia's historic Middle Peninsula, especially in the geographic triangle formed by Jamestown, Williamsburg, and Yorktown, significant sites are common and often must vie for attention and resources.

      David Muraca, a staff archeologist at CW, who is fast becoming an expert on the Middle Plantation period, puts it this way:  “If you dig close to a waterway on high ground that has a nearby source of fresh water, you’re probably going to hit something.”

      The Rich Neck site, which had survived relatively unscathed on a large privately owned tract for several hundred years, was known, but it was not high on anyone's priority list until highways and houses began to encroach on its borders. First came a four-lane bypass, Route 199, which curves around the property on its way to Route 64, and the 1987 archeological impact report on the new loop highway that noted the existence of the site. Then, in 1988, as the roads of the adjoining Yorkshire development were cut, the earthmovers began turning up a rich scatter of artifacts. The resulting archeological survey pinpointed Rich Neck just outside Yorkshire’s borders.

      The site remained quietly secure for another four years, until 1992, when Phase 1 of the Holly Hills development was scheduled to be built right on top of the house. David Muraca and a team of CW diggers were on the scene that November. Four weeks and 47 test holes later, three periods of occupation were uncovered: light scatters of prehistoric and 18th century artifacts and “a large scale Middle Plantation farmstead” that except for a 12-inch plow zone was largely undisturbed. And so began a series of annual digs and the unearthing of Rich Neck.

      By 1996, the parameters of Rich Neck had been largely revealed. The central feature of the plantation was a compound roughly an acre in size that included a main house separated by gardens from a large kitchen and a series of work areas, including several wooden dependencies, a brick kiln, and a clay quarry. Muraca says it “would have been considered one of the best houses in the colony” and he dated it to the 1630s.

      A fine house usually means a rich owner, and Rich Neck is no exception to the rule. Its first master was Richard Kemp, born in Norfolk, England in 1600, probably in his family's manor, Gissing Hall.  A third son in a society that traditionally passed the family fortune and title to its first sons, Kemp left England for Virginia late in the autumn of 1634. He knew that in the New World he could attain the wealth and power that had been denied him by order of birth in seventeenth century England. He would spend the rest of his life pursuing both in Virginia.      In December, Kemp landed in Jamestown, the colony's capital. He probably did not arrive with much money. His income, left him in his father's will, was only £40 per year; his mother's will did not mention him at all. But he had the next best thing, a political position. Kemp came ashore as Secretary of the Colony, the second most powerful position in the local political structure. The job entitled him to collect a filing fee for almost every kind of public document issued in Virginia.       The new Secretary walked smack into the middle of a full-blown battle for control of the colony and immediately proved he had the survival skills of the most astute politician. Within a few months of his arrival, a band of Virginia’s power elite, along with 40-odd musketeers, forced Kemp's immediate superior, the roundly disliked Governor John Harvey, to scurry back to England.

      Kemp was Harvey’s ally and had gained his appointment to assist Harvey in controlling the colony. Nevertheless, he adroitly managed to retain his favored position as secretary, and to begin building his own fortune with nary a pause. While Harvey was in exile, Secretary Kemp added a dowry to his income from filing fees by marrying Elizabeth Wormeley, daughter of Tortuga’s governor-in-exile Christopher Wormeley. He also began accumulating real estate.

      Kemp rented, as entitled by his office, a 600-acre tract on Archer’s Hope Creek (now College Creek) for a mere four pence per year and patented 2000 acres on the James and Appomattox Rivers. And, most significantly to our story, on February 23, 1636, he bought 1200 acres, an area roughly 20% the size of present-day Williamsburg, from George Menifie, one of Harvey’s sworn enemies, on “a neck of land comonly (sic) called the Rich Neck.”

       Kemp was not any more loyal to his new friends than to his old boss. When John Harvey returned to Jamestown with the full backing of King Charles in 1637, Kemp greeted him with open arms and the pair wasted little time taking their revenge on Harvey's enemies. The “mutineers” were stripped of their positions, lands, and property.

      It was during this period of unchallenged power that the Secretary developed and consolidated his small empire. Steadily politicking for an ever-higher salary and fees, and perhaps with added resources confiscated from his exiled enemies, Kemp appears to have built a large cash position.     
       In August 1638, he obtained a lot on Jamestown Island and built a brick townhouse on the property that Harvey called “the fairest that ever was knowen in this countrye for substance and uniformitye.” It may well have provided the pattern for Kemp's second home at Rich Neck      Rich Neck was probably all brick, perhaps the first brick house in Williamsburg, and based on the thickness of the foundation walls, stood one and a half stories high. It had glass windows (the archeologists found lead window cames dated 1632), a luxury in those days.

      Rich Neck may have been fine for the time, but modern day residents of the neighborhood would be less than impressed. The first floor covered about 540 square feet and the whole house sported about the same amount of space as a one-bedroom apartment.

      In what may be as good a clue to Richard Kemp’s personality as it is an indication of the limitations of homebuilding in the Middle Plantation, the home’s interior did not live up to the rich promise of its brick exterior. The three first floor rooms -- an entry lobby, a large public room, and a smaller private chamber -- had dirt floors. The central chimney served two hearths, which appear to have been undecorated. 

     Kemp would have walked out the front door of his home into a fenced garden area. Straight ahead was the kitchen, also of brick construction, one and a half stories high with glazed windows. It covered almost as much floor space as the house. Inside was a large cooking hearth, a bake oven, and a root cellar.

      We don't know exactly when Rich Neck was built, but it surely dates between 1637 and 1640, the three-year period of Harvey's unchallenged rule. By 1640, Harvey's enemies had successfully arranged for the removal of the governor and Kemp, and restoration of their own assets. In that year, Kemp was forced to flee to England to persuade the powers that be of his own innocence. He was in England from 1640 to 1642, and a land plat he had prepared in 1642 already shows four buildings on the property.

      Between 1642 and 1643, after his fully vindicated return from England, Kemp consolidated and re-patented his Rich Neck land holdings. The property had grown to a single 4332-acre parcel bordering College Creek, now an area almost 75% of the size of present day Williamsburg, and was as fine an estate as the Middle Plantation and Virginia could boast.

      Kemp, ever the savvy politician, not only retained his position as secretary, he even served as acting governor of the colony in 1644 and 1645. His fortune made, he seems to have lived happily and without further controversy until his death in 1650. His will, which was proved in England six years later, requested that his body “be decently buried in my Orchard.” It also instructed his wife Elizabeth to sell Rich Neck and all his other property and return with his only child to England.

      Elizabeth Kemp, however, did not leave her Virginia plantation. In fact, she ignored her husband’s wishes and, quite capably it seems, took over the management of his estate. It is Elizabeth, perhaps in her desire to become a Lady, who brought to Rich Neck its most notorious master, Sir Thomas Lunsford.

      Lunsford was a Royalist and an active player in the English Civil War. He was, by all accounts, a man of questionable character. In a history of the Civil War, Cavaliars and Roundheads (Harper Collins,1993), Christopher Hibbert describes Lunsford as “a swashbuckling desperado who had, some years before, narrowly escaped being put on trial for murder and was said to roast the flesh of babies.”

      A caricature of Lunsford from the period, now in the British Museum, shows a burning church, a corpse being dragged by the hair, and a woman being chased. In the foreground is Lunsford himself, well armed and looking just-as-well satisfied with the day’s work. Hopefully, at least some of his bad reputation can be chalked up to parliamentarian propaganda, instead of pure fact.

      What is fact is that, in the late fall of 1641, Lunsford served as King Charles’ Lieutenant of the Tower. He celebrated his appointment by gathering a band of cronies, who proceeded to verbally and physically attack and imprison Charles’ opponents. The public uproar that ensued cost Lunsford his new job and, in what is a good insight into the King’s private view of Lunsford’s activities, also earned him a knighthood.

      Unhappily, Sir Thomas chose the wrong side in this particular conflict and ended up in the Tower himself. He did not, however, pay the ultimate price for his transgressions. Instead, perhaps because Parliament was more concerned with the conditions at home than in the colonies, he and his family ended up in Virginia in 1649. (King Charles did not fare as well. He was beheaded the same year.)

      On October 24, 1650, Lunsford patented 3,423 acres “lying upon a bay on the south side of the Rappahannock river.” His wife died sometime thereafter and according to the marriage records, Elizabeth Kemp of Rich Neck became Lady Elizabeth Lunsford in 1653. Lunsford probably made Rich Neck his home, but it is doubtful he made much of a mark on the neighborhood. He died that same year and Lady Elizabeth buried him near her first husband.         A timeless lesson: Styles always change and keeping up with the Joneses is a never-ending task. By the end of the 1650s, Rich Neck was not nearly as impressive as it had been 20 years earlier. Certainly, Secretary of the Colony Thomas Ludwell didn’t think so. Ludwell bought Rich Neck from the twice-widowed Elizabeth and her new husband, Major-General Robert Smith. Elizabeth had at last fulfilled her first husband’s final wishes and after the sale, left for England.  Ludwell embarked on a substantial renovation of the property.

      As CW’s archeologists read the architectural remains, Ludwell doubled the square footage of the main house. He removed the central chimney and replaced it with two, one on either side of the house. New wooden floors covered the original earthen floors.

      The small first-floor private chamber of Kemp’s days seems to have been enlarged and converted into public space. The diggers uncovered glazed tiles on the hearth of this room; the fireplace, they found, was decorated with tin-enameled tiles of children at play. Below the room, a root cellar was added.

      During the Ludwell tenancy, three new rooms were added to the house. Two of them date from the first interior renovation and measure 16 x 10 feet each. At this time, thinks Muraca, the entire house was re-roofed with imported ceramic pan tiles. (A portion of one of them sits on my bookshelf; so many were found on the site that the team was forbidden to bring any more back to CW's already-crowded labs.)

      The third room was added at a later date; its cellar was excavated in the summer of 1997. Like the rest of the house, it was of brick construction. The cellar itself was floored in brick and the interior walls were plastered and whitewashed. There was limited access to this addition and, while its walls incorporated one of the home’s two chimneys, there was no direct source of heat. The most interesting interpretation of this space is that it served as Ludwell’s office, where during the late 1670s some of the business of the colony was conducted. If so, visitors to the 1997 cellar excavation may have been looking down into the storage place of the colony’s records, which were moved to Rich Neck after Bacon’s Rebellion left Jamestown in ruins.

      Ludwell’s renovation of the kitchen building was even more extensive. By the time he was done, the kitchen building measured 24 x 46 feet and not counting second floor or loft space, boasted 1700 square feet. With its two new rooms, one on either side of the original kitchen, this building, which was all brick with a new tile roof, was now bigger than the house.

      Thirteen brick courses of the foundation and cellar walls of the two kitchen additions are still in place. The cellar floors are covered with glazed ceramic flooring tiles. The cellars were probably used to store food. The first floor and loft spaces, if any, may have provided housing for indentured servants. All told, its new owner had done Rich Neck proud.

      Thomas Ludwell’s initial voyage to Virginia in 1646 appears to have been sponsored, if not fully underwritten, by his cousin, Governor of the Colony Sir William Berkeley. Berkeley claimed land under the headright system based upon his cousin’s arrival. There are few records of Ludwell’s first decade in the colony, perhaps he spent his early years bootstrapping his way to prosperity just like his predecessor, Richard Kemp.

      In any case, by 1660, Ludwell was one of the most powerful men in the colony. He was appointed Secretary of the Colony, owned Rich Neck, and had probably already embarked on his extensive program of renovation.

      By the early 1670s, Thomas Ludwell was creating a land empire that would help guarantee the prosperous future of the entire Ludwell clan. He laid claim to 1400 acres in Westmoreland County, almost 3000 acres in Henrico, and with two other partners, 20,000 acres in New Kent.      Although Ludwell’s official correspondences with England exhibit an obsequious tone, he may have been much less polite with those he felt were inferior in position and status.  In 1674, after a drinking session at Rich Neck, Ludwell suggested that a property claim by newcomer and fellow imbiber Giles Bland was based on forged documentation. Enraged, Bland called Ludwell every name in the book (Sonn of a whore, mechannik, and coward among others) and challenged him to duel. Ludwell refused to physically defend his honor, but then used political means to prosecute Bland.

      Many historians see the incident with Bland as an early clue to the pressures that would explode as Bacon’s Rebellion just a year and a half later. Thomas Ludwell was in England when Nathaniel Bacon went on his infamous rampage of 1676 and the damage caused by the rebels to Rich Neck is not fully known. CW archeologists found no signs of fire damage, but it is believed that the plantation was thoroughly looted.

      Ludwell returned to Rich Neck from England in 1677. He died the next year, leaving all his Virginia property to his brother Philip.  Philip, it appears, never occupied Rich Neck. That same year, he married Governor Berkeley’s widow, the owner of the even more prestigious and newly renovated Greensprings Plantation, into which he promptly moved. Rich Neck’s glory years had ended.

      Philip Ludwell, along with John Page, a neighbor and major landowner, was instrumental in the founding of Williamsburg in 1699 and its establishment as the colony's capital. Certainly owning such a large tract so close to the new capitol must have influenced his thinking on the subject. He also donated part of the Rich Neck parcel to the newly formed College of William & Mary.

      Philip Ludwell’s son, Philip II, eventually built a new house on another site within Rich Neck, but he too left the land for Greensprings around 1705. The plantation remained occupied by tenant farmers, indentured servants, and slaves and was worked throughout the next 200 years. Bit by bit, the large patent was broken up and sold off. In the early years of 20th century, the farming appears to have stopped, but the ruins of Kemp’s home could still be seen. Finally, even they were covered over and loggers worked the property through the 1950s.

      Forty years later, developers rediscovered Rich Neck and the latest influx of carpetbaggers, including my family, repopulated the plantation grounds. From the window of my home office, I often gaze across the street at the two new homes that conceal the foundations of the main house and the kitchen.

      Three things that haven’t been found at Rich Neck are the final resting places of its masters, Kemp, Lunsford, and Thomas Ludwell. There are no remaining signs of the orchard that Kemp specified as his burial spot.

      There is a marble memorial to all three men near the north door of the Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg's restoration district. Philip Ludwell II had it made and placed at Rich Neck in 1727. It was moved into the churchyard from its original location sometime before 1891 in a successful preservation effort. It reads:

Under this marble lieth the body
 Secretary of Virginia, who was born
 At Bruton in the County of SOMERSET
 In the Kingdom of ENGLAND  And
 Departed this Life in the Year 1678 and
near this place lye the bodies of RICHARD
 KEMP, Esqr his Predecessor in ye Secretarys
Office and Sr THOMAS LUNSFORD Kt in Memory
of whom this marble is placed
by Order of PHILIP LUDWELL, Esqr
Nephew of the said THOMAS LUDWELL
in the Year 1727.

        I've asked David Muraca for his best guess on where Kemp, Lunsford, and Ludwell might be resting. “They would be somewhere close,” he mused. And then, with a sly smile, he added, “Maybe they’re under your house.”

Theodore Kinni


We are also grateful to Anne Geddy Cross for providing the following additional information relating to the period following 1845.

Robert F. T. Cole purchased Rich Neck in 1846 for a country farm.  He lived in what is now called "The Taliaferro-Cole House" in Williamsburg.  Robert Cole died in 1887 and his son, Henry Denison Cole, inherited his property.  In 1951 Henry Cole's widow, Caroline Lane Cole, sold part of the Rich Neck property to Walsingham Academy. 

In 1940 Mrs. Cole's niece and her husband, Vernon M Geddy, Sr. built a new home on a hill at Rich Neck and called it "Holly Hills" for the many large hollies in the front yard.  Mr. Geddy, the first Executive Vice President of Colonial Williamsburg, was an ancestor of Jame Geddy, the most important silversmith in colonial Williamsburg.  Mrs. Geddy inherited the property in 1952. 

Mrs. Geddy enjoyed telling her grandchildren about driving her horse and buggy from Williamsburg out to visit Rich Neck when she was a young girl.  During her lifetime Mrs. Geddy sold part of rich Neck, which became Walnut Hills, Richneck Heights and Village Green.  When Route 199 was built, it cut off more of the property, which eventually became part of Williamsburg Landing.  ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

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