Mount Airy, Richmond County, Virginia

Mount Airy, near Warsaw in Richmond County, Virginia, is a mid-Georgian plantation house, the first built in the manner of a neo-Palladian villa. It was built in 1758-62 for Colonel John Tayloe, perhaps the richest Virginia planter of his generation. Mount Airy is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a National Historic Landmark.


The architect responsible for the design of Mount Airy is thought to be John Ariss, a notable professional architect in colonial Virginia.

Mount Airy is composed of a massive two-story central block above a high basement, long and deep, two curving one-story passageways, and two -square two-story end dependencies set forward. The five-part unit, long, encloses three sides of a semi-circular forecourt. This court is raised by a low terrace above the entrance drive and is reached by cut and molded stone steps, flanked by elaborate carved stone vases on pedestals. Set on a ridge, the house commands a wide view of the Rappahannock River Valley. The three-foot thick walls of the central unit are made of dark-brown sandstone, carefully hewn and laid in courses of random height, with architectural trim in light-colored limestone. It is possible that the exterior may originally have been stuccoed though no trace remains. The north or entrance façade is approached from the forecourt by a flight of steps leading to a recessed loggia, whose square columns, faced with four Roman Doric pilasters, define three rectilinear openings. The projecting central pavilion is of rusticated limestone, with three windows in the second story and a crowning pediment. The south or garden facade is almost identical in composition except that the three entrances in the pavilion are spanned by round arches with heavily marked voussoirs and keystones, and the upper windows are unframed. The other windows are framed by stone architraves and sills, and the limestone belt course and rusticated angle quoins are very prominent. The existing broad hip roof, pierced by four interior chimneys located near the ridge, is a replacement of the original roof, possibly a hip-on-hip that was destroyed by fire in 1844.

The south or rear elevation was undoubtedly taken directly from Plate LVIII of James Gibbs' Book of Architecture and the north elevation was less directly derived from a plate of Haddo House in Scotland, shown in William Adam's Vitruvius Scoticus.

The two stone two-story dependencies have hipped roofs and central chimneys and their corners are given the same quoin treatment as the main house. The connecting passageways, also of stone, are quadrants covered with shed roofs that are concealed from the north or front. At the junction with the central block, the roofs of the connections are stepped up to allow entrances to the main floor of the house.


The shaped terraced levels of its gardens are still clearly visible beneath its modern covering of lawn. Mount Airy has the earliest surviving Orangery in North America.


Col. Tayloe's son-in-law Francis Lightfoot Lee, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was housed nearby, in a house built for him by Col. Tayloe, Menokin Plantation. The grave of Lee and his wife are located in the Tayloe family cemetery, approximately from Mount Airy.

A fire in 1844 gutted the house, which was rebuilt within its shell of brown sandstone with limestone quoins. The original floorplan was preserved during the reconstruction.

Current use

Mount Airy is a private house in the Tayloe family and is not open to the public. The Tayloe family papers are at the Virginia Historical Society.

Listing on National Register of Historic Places

Mount Airy was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. It was identified as a National Historic Landmark on October 9, 1960.

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