' You’re Invited to Historic Chatham During 2024 Garden Tour on Virginia’s Eastern Shore - Chatham Vineyards on Church Creek



You’re Invited to Historic Chatham During 2024 Garden Tour on Virginia’s Eastern Shore

Chatham is back in a familiar spot. The stately, Federal-style home built in 1818 will be part of Historic Garden Week, the beloved statewide event that features unique tours organized and hosted by 48 member clubs located around the Commonwealth.


Chatham will be open for visitors on Saturday, April 27, marking the fifth time in its history it will be part of Historic Garden Week. Chatham was last part of the event in 2016 and made its debut on tour in 1995. Statewide passes to Historic Garden Week are available now and individual tour tickets will be available online beginning Feb. 20.


Joan Wehner, whose son, Jon, is vintner at Chatham Vineyards, resides in the home on Church Creek that she and her late husband, Harrison, restored with the help of Jon and his two brothers. Joan and Harrison considered several homes on the Eastern Shore back in 1979 when their primary residence was a farm in Great Falls, Virginia. They settled on Chatham, a dilapidated house built by Brigadier General Major Scarborough Pitts.


Joan and Harrison embraced the idea of a full renovation that became a family project that lasted 20 years. The Eastern Shore was something of a sentimental spot for the two University of Michigan graduates who had honeymooned on a sailboat on the Chesapeake Bay.


“We told the boys we had bought a place close to the Chesapeake Bay, and I think they were expecting a cottage,” Joan says. At that time, the property around the farmhouse had been split in a divorce and the Wehners owned 70 acres. On a weekend day in ’79, the family pulled up to the house with a horse trailer, bedding and an electric frying pan — “things that we thought we would need to at least be able to make a foothold there,” Joan says.


Harrison and Joan parked their boys in the knee-high grass along with the family dog, Winston, and headed to Eastville for the settlement and returned with the keys. By then, Jon’s brother Ross had pitched a tent in the front yard.


“There was a sink on 2x4s in the kitchen,” Joan recalls. “The kitchen floor was brick, and there was a red cupboard there that is still in the house, and that was it. I don’t even think there was a refrigerator.”


The family slept there, essentially “camping” during the renovations that took place mainly on weekends. They continued to live in their primary residence, 200 miles away in Great Falls, until 2001 when they relocated to Chatham permanently. The family met Shore neighbors by attending Hungars Episcopal Church when the idea to put the house on the Garden Tour came up in 1995.


“People are dying to see what’s going on inside,” Joan recalls being told.


As part of the 1995 Garden Tour, Chatham was distinguished by its original wood graining, marbling plaster work, paneling and elaborately carved mantels. Joan and Harrison had consulted the late Williamsburg architect Paul Buchanan on how to preserve what is one of the oldest two-story dwellings on the Eastern Shore. Chatham was sparsely furnished back then — Joan refers to what was there as “early marriage furniture.” Renovations were hardly complete. Many of the floors remained unfinished.


The garden part of the initial tour was minimal. Only a few box bushes remained from a former schoolhouse on the grounds.


Chatham went on tour again in 2003, its impressive 12-foot ceilings, tall windows and interior woodwork back to its original color thanks to the Wehners investing in paint analysis. By then Chatham Vineyards was in its early stages. Jon and his new bride, Mills, had moved into one of the two frame farmhouses that date back to the 1900s on the property.


Joan’s attention had turned to the gardens just off the kitchen. Her daughter-in-law, Karen is an archeologist, who dug out the basement area, putting some of the bricks in sand, and the Wehner excavated to find the original footing of what was a quarters kitchen, which had been connected to the main house. She used that original brick to build a wall over the footings to enclose a garden. The garden wasn’t quite finished for the 2003 tour, but by 2010, the next time Chatham went on tour, it was complete along with a smaller one in front of the house.


Prepping Chatham for a fifth time on tour won’t be overly taxing, Joan says. She’ll task Jon with washing the outdoor windows while she will focus on dusting, vacuuming and polishing the silver. On the day of the tour, Joan will be milling around the house and happy to answer questions. She was instrumental on Chatham being named to the National Register of Historic Places in 2022.


Historic Garden Tour guests are invited to stop by the tasting room at Chatham Vineyards, a 5,000-case family winery. All the wines are made by grapes grown onsite that derive their flavor from the marine terroir and coastal climate.

Post By:   Amanda Shortt
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