The linkage between America's early development and Keswick, Virginia is well founded. During colonial times, the Keswick area was home to a number of prominent citizens and served as a vital corridor between Charlottesville and Orange. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison frequently passed through this part of Virginia, along with other well-known Albemarle county citizens including James Monroe, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
Keswick was considered the "western frontier" during the first half of the 18th century. In an effort to expand the crown's influence and land holdings, the King of England granted large tracts of land to a few foremost colonists, including surveyor Peter Jefferson, the father of Thomas Jefferson. In 1744, Albemarle County was established in honor of the Earl of Albemarle, the crown-appointed Governor General of the Colony at the time. These immense grants of land were soon divided and subdivided, forming numerous plantations at the foot of the Southwest Mountains. (Keswick Vineyards is located on the grounds of one of these generous property endowments.)
In 1735, King George II granted Nicholas Meriwether a tract of nearly 18,000 acres, running along the east side of the Southwest Mountains between the present-day Keswick post office and Route 33 in Gordonsville. Dr. Thomas Walker completed the main house known as Castle Hill in 1764. A close friend of George Washington and the Jeffersons, Dr. Walker was an accomplished citizen who served as representative in the House of Burgesses and explored the Cumberland Gap, the first "doorway to the west." Dr. Walker was also an innovative farmer who grafted the Newton pippin from New York onto the wild Crabapple of Virginia to produce the famous Albemarle pippin.
The Virginia Central railroad extended its line in 1849 and crossed an estate named Keswick. Owned by Rev. Thornton Rogers, the Keswick estate was named after the home of the English poet Southey, in Cumberland County, England. That same year the local post office was moved to what became known as the Keswick Depot. After World War II, the Keswick Depot was relocated after the railroad tracks were realigned. The newer depot was featured in the 1956 film Giant, starring Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, but all depot operations ceased by 1967.
Governor James Barbour, who resided in Orange County at the tip of the Southwest Mountains, wrote in 1835, "Let us, the inhabitants of the South-West Mountains, rejoice and be grateful that our benefits greatly preponderate over our ills. And so far as my testimony goes, resulting from actual observation of near one-third of the entire circumference of the earth, I feel no hesitation in declaring that I deem them the most desirable abode I have ever seen."
The appearance of Keswick has changed little over the past 250 years, thus allowing the area to retain its colonial charm. The estate owners of today continue the traditions of their forefathers. Many local landowners are avid foxhunters and members of the esteemed Keswick Hunt Club. Keswick Hall, formerly owned by Lord Ashley, is the local country club set on a 600-acre estate. The recent addition of Keswick Vineyards complements the area's prestige, while maintaining its rural appeal.
Photos courtesy of Barclay Rives.