Browsing John Drayton’s Library: Architecture Books

John Drayton Library

This listing from Charles Drayton’s journal is likely an inventory of his father John Drayton’s library.

An individual’s personal library has the potential to reveal significant information about their character, interests, worldview, and education. Such is certainly the case at Drayton Hall where research has identified what is likely a list of the titles that once graced the bookshelves of John Drayton (c.1715-1779), the builder of Drayton Hall. Written by son Charles Drayton (1743-1820), such a list contains more than 440 titles published before or during John Drayton’s lifetime, indicating his intellectual pursuits and attention to the ideals of the enlightenment.

Not surprisingly, the list of titles includes nine architectural pattern books that were undoubtedly utilized to construct Drayton Hall and written by English neopalladian designers including Colin Campbell, James Gibbs, Isaac Ware, William Salmon, William Halfpenny, John Evelyn, and Batty Langley. Additional areas of interest include natural history, astronomy, landscape design, horticulture, dance, and even gastronomy. As research continues to investigate the titles of Drayton’s library, we anticipate that an increased understanding will be brought to Drayton, his educational opportunities, and academic pursuits.

This month, we are sharing our latest research on John Drayton’s library with a series of posts featuring some of the volumes he would have owned and read.


Architecture Books


  Plate 91, A Book of Architecture, by James Gibbs, published in 1728. This mantel and overmantel appear in the northwest chamber on the first floor of Drayton Hall.

Plate 91, A Book of Architecture, by James Gibbs, published in 1728. This mantel and overmantel appear in the northwest chamber on the first floor of Drayton Hall.

Given that Drayton Hall is widely considered to be the earliest and finest example of Palladian architecture in the United States, one might expect the design of such a remarkable edifice to be attributed to a famous architect. However, research indicates that the architect of Drayton Hall was very likely John Drayton (d. 1779) himself. Several popular 18th century architecture books are listed among the volumes that likely comprised the personal library of John Drayton. Such books were often consulted by wealthy intellectuals who wished to direct the construction of their estates. Among the architectural elements in Drayton Hall that are clearly attributable to these books are two classically-inspired overmantels that appear in William Kent’s, Designs of Inigo Jones, and James Gibbs’ A Book of Architecture. Considering the extravagant cost of acquiring such volumes and the education necessary to utilize them, the architectural books in John Drayton’s library offer valuable insight into his wealth and intellect.

Mystery Watercolor Update

Executive Director George W. McDaniel with Winchester, VA archivist Becky Ebert.

Executive Director George W. McDaniel with Winchester, VA archivist Becky Ebert.

Archivist Becky Ebert, who aided our staff in the search for the mystery watercolor’s provenance, recently visited Drayton Hall. As told in the intriguing story featured on our blog in August 2009 and later in this New York Times article, the watercolor was sent to Drayton Hall anonymously in September 2007 (hence why we refer to it as the mystery watercolor).

The envelope it was mailed in - postmarked Wincester, VA.

The envelope it was mailed in – postmarked Winchester, VA.

Prior to receiving the watercolor, the earliest known image of Drayton Hall dated from c. 1845, when the house was almost 100 years old, and the colonnade walls were already gone. When the 18th century watercolor arrived in the mail there was no note, and the envelope was simply postmarked Winchester, VA, zip code 22602-6754. Executive Director George W. McDaniel began a quest to find the owner of the watercolor, in order to find out the authenticity of the painting. He was referred to Becky Ebert, county archivist and expert on the Winchester’s history. A story was published in The Winchester Sun and the owner (who wishes to remain anonymous) responded to the story in the newspaper and acknowledged his ownership of the watercolor.

About the Watercolor

Artist: Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere (ca. 1736–1784), Drayton Hall S. C. Dated “1765” on reverse. Watercolor, pencil, and ink on laid paper, 8-3/8 x 12-1/2 inches. Drayton Hall collection.

Artist: Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere (ca. 1736–1784), Drayton Hall S. C. Dated “1765” on reverse. Watercolor, pencil, and ink on laid paper, 8-3/8 x 12-1/2 inches. Private collection.

The watercolor of Drayton Hall was painted by Swiss-born artist and naturalist Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere (1736–1784), who also painted William Henry Drayton’s likeness. Painted during a visit to Charleston in 1765, the work captures the Palladian five-part plan of Drayton Hall, complete with flanker buildings to the north and south and colonnade walls connecting the three buildings. Du Simitiere’s watercolor also documents the now missing Doric entablature above the first floor of Drayton Hall’s two-story portico.


Preservation FAQ: Why is There a Stack of Columns in the Basement?

In celebration of Preservation Month, we are posting a series of preservation-related frequently asked questions. Do you have a question for our preservation department? Please comment below and your question could be featured in a future blog post!

basement columns 01

It is a common occurrence to have a visitor ask “What were these for?” as they point to the stack of column pieces in the raised basement; possibly, the same question has been asked by visitors to Drayton Hall since the time those limestone pieces were placed in their current location.

On May 2, 1815, Charles Drayton (1742-1820) wrote in his journal that one of the portico columns was “in jeopardy,” and was to be taken down. Four days later, he wrote, “Schnirle came [with] 26 fellows and took the pillar down safe and cleverly.” The stack of limestone columns in the cellar of Drayton Hall could be the original stone pillars discussed in Drayton’s journal.

The first known account to record the current placement of the stone fragments reads, “In one of the cellars are to be seen a number of marble columns lying on the ground just as they came from England.” Written by Constance Fenimore Woolson (1840-1894), who later became a noted American novelist and short story writer, and published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine December 1875 issue.

basement columns 02In 2005-2006, Edward Chappell, architectural historian at Colonial Williamsburg, came to Drayton Hall to conduct a series of investigations of Drayton Hall. Chappell, along with Drayton Hall staff, suggested that the columns in the basement were in fact the original columns of the portico. They compared the overall heights of the limestone pieces assembled which measure to roughly 10’ 5” in height, a similar height to the columns currently in the portico. Both sets of columns follow the suggested proportions of Palladio’s “Dorick Order.” Evidence continues to be uncovered to support and illustrate Chappell’s hypothesis that indeed the columns were replaced, with the originals stacked, at some point, in the basement.

While this answers the common question of “What were these for?,” it often brings about a follow-up question, “Why did Charles Drayton keep the old columns?” There’s always something to learn and discover at Drayton Hall!

To learn more about Drayton Hall’s iconic portico and the original columns, read Trish Smith’s article on the Preservation Leadership Forum’s blog here.

Conserving Drayton Hall’s Iconic Portico

This week, Drayton Hall’s Curator of Historic Architectural Resources Trish Smith posted an article on the Preservation Leadership Forum’s blog. Her article highlights the preservation work being done on Drayton Hall’s iconic portico. Below is an excerpt from her article. 


Drayton Hall, a National Trust Historic site in Charleston, S.C., is widely considered the earliest and finest example of Palladian architecture in the United States. Chief among Drayton Hall’s character-defining features is its two-story, iconic portico which projects from, and recedes into, the house. A recent structural assessment of the portico has brought to light important information about the construction and subsequent alterations to this well-known feature.

Since 1974, several interventions have been made to stabilize and conserve the portico, which documentary evidence tells us has been plagued with structural issues almost since its initial construction more than 250 years ago. On May 2, 1815, Charles Drayton (1742-1820) wrote in his journal that one of the portico columns was “in jeopardy,” and was to be taken down. Four days later, he wrote, “Schnirle came [with] 26 fellows and took the pillar down safe and cleverly.” A stack of limestone columns in the cellar of Drayton Hall may be what remains of the original stone pillars discussed in Drayton’s diary. Architectural historians have long speculated about other alterations made to the portico….Click here to read the full article. 

Vitruviana Symposium Examines Classical Architecture in Charleston

Vitruviana LogoVitruviana 2014 is the third in a series of annual Charleston symposia examining the development of classical architecture and design in America through the lens of the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Vitruviana is a collaborative effort co-hosted by Drayton Hall, The Preservation Society of Charleston, the Center for Palladian Studies in America, the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation at Clemson University and the College of Charleston, Historic Charleston Foundation, The South Carolina Historical Society, and the Historic Preservation and Community Planning Program at the College of Charleston.

The symposium begins April 11th in downtown Charleston with a full day of lectures at the Charleston Museum, to be followed on the 12th with an optional guided walking tour exploring many of Charleston’s urban spaces.

Titled Vitruviana in honor of Vitruvius (c. 80 -15 BC), the author of De architectura, the only major book on architecture to survive from classical antiquity, event speakers include Carl Lounsbury of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Jonathan Poston of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, Virginia Architectural Historian Calder Loth, Bernard Herman of UNC Chapel Hill, Faye Jenson of the South Carolina Historical Society, and designer Jenny Bevan. The optional guided walking tour on day two will explore Charleston’s Courthouse, the Exchange Building, St. Michael’s Church, City Hall, the Customs House, and others. Discounts are available for members of Drayton Hall, The Preservation Society of Charleston, The Center for Palladian Studies, and Historic Charleston Foundation.

For more information, please visit the official Vitruviana website or contact Carter Hudgins, deputy director of Drayton Hall, at (843) 769-2717 or

Watercolor Mystery Solved! (So Far.)

The Mystery Watercolor dated 1765.

The Mystery Watercolor dated 1765.

Watercolor Mystery Solved! (So Far.)

I’ve been asked to recount the story of the historical detective work that led us to identify the owner of the mysterious watercolor of Drayton Hall, dated 1765, which was sent to us anonymously in September 2007. I’m happy to do so, especially since it means I can acknowledge and thank all the people, including my fellow detectives, who contributed to its success -– because without them, there would be no story.

To begin: in September 2007, I received the copy of the watercolor you see in the image above, purported to be dated 1765. There was no note, and the envelope was simply postmarked Winchester, VA, zip code, 22602-6754. Prior to its arrival, no one had seen such an image of Drayton Hall, nor had the prominent presence of colonnades even been suspected. In fact, no 18th-century image of Drayton Hall had ever been found, the earliest having been dated to c. 1845. But was the watercolor authentic? And who owned it?

To answer the first question, architectural historians and archaeologists have been hard at work, with promising, though not conclusive, results to date.

To answer the second question required historical fieldwork in Winchester itself. Since I’d done similar sleuthing for historical houses for the National Museum of American History, Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village, and other museums, I hoped that what I’d learned could still be of use, so I took up the challenge.

Upon receipt of the copy of the watercolor, I called the post office in Winchester to ask if they could identify the location of the 9-digit zip code, but they politely refused, citing privacy policies. I then followed the first rule of fieldwork: start with who you know. So I called Elizabeth McClung, director of Belle Grove, the National Trust historic site near Winchester, and she advised me to contact Becky Ebert, county archivist, who “knows everybody.”

The envelope it was mailed in - postmarked Wincester, VA.

The envelope it was mailed in – postmarked Wincester, VA.

It took me a while, but last April I was in Virginia and called Becky, and drove over to Winchester and met with her. She proved to be quite knowledgeable and tactful, and kindly introduced me to her friends with the post office. Though they were interested in helping Becky and me, the rules for privacy protection still prohibited them from telling us the location of the “6754” of the zip code. They asked me to write a letter, which they might or might not deliver. I did, with Becky’s help, but received no reply.

The mysterious watercolor had aroused so much interest among our staff and others striving to solve this mystery. Among them was Anne Drayton Nelson, daughter of the last owner of Drayton Hall and a devoted friend, who called me in June, saying that a friend of hers had gone online and found that the “6754” referred to Bedford Drive in Winchester. Outstanding! Now we knew where it was -– not a single residence but a street. I “Google-earthed” it and saw it was a short cul de sac in a suburban development. With the street name in hand, Dawn Brogan, my executive assistant and fellow detective, was able to go online and identify the names of each of the Bedford Drive residents.

The opportunity to visit Bedford Drive came in late June because I was in Washington for National Trust meetings. From there I rented a car, drove to Winchester, and the next morning Becky and I headed over. To give credibility and to serve as “leave-behinds”, I carried with me Drayton Hall brochures, copies of our newsletter and of the recent Preservation magazine with the article about Drayton Hall, plus copies of the watercolor itself and my business cards.

When we arrived, I saw a lady walking down to her mailbox, and thanks to Dawn’s list of residents, I knew she was Mrs. Nancy Nettlerodt. So I walked over to her, saying “Hello, Mrs. Nettlerodt, I’m George McDaniel from Charleston, SC, and I’m here trying to solve a history mystery, connecting Winchester to Charleston, and with me is Becky Ebert, county archivist. “ Becky had remained in the car, but when Mrs. Nettelerodt heard her name, she exclaimed, “Oh, I know Becky. I was just with her mother this morning!” So Becky got out, and they hugged, and Becky explained the mystery we were trying to solve.

The History Sleuths of Winchester, VA

The History Sleuths of Winchester, VA

While Mrs. Nettlerodt didn’t recognize the picture, she was eager to help and introduced Becky and me to her immediate neighbors. None recognized the watercolor, but Blaine Dunn, who lived across the street and who’s very interested in history, offered to take us around to the rest of the neighborhood. He introduced us to Janet Colt and other neighbors, who were intrigued, but unable to identify it. Blaine then volunteered to continue the search since there were a number of neighbors not at home. I gave him copies of my materials to give to them.

Helpful Bedford Drive Residents

Helpful Bedford Drive Residents

Becky and I then went to the offices of the newspaper The Winchester Star, where Becky had set up an interview with editors Adrian O’Connor and Frances Lowe. Their interests too were piqued by the mystery, and after extensive conversations and reviews of my materials, they volunteered to run a story the next week. I then left Winchester, disappointed in part because we hadn’t found the owner but satisfied that the fieldwork had been complete. I was just going to have to wait.

The Winchester Star article by Adrian O'Connor

The Winchester Star article by Adrian O\’Connor

The next Tuesday, Blaine Dunn called to say that he’d not had success but some good possibilities remained. The next day he called with great news: he’d found the owner! It was one of his neighbors, who had not been at home during the day, and the man wanted me to call him. I did so that night and had a most informative and enjoyable conversation. He wishes to remain anonymous.

On Friday, Becky called to report that Adrian O’Connor had great news. The owner had also responded to the story in the newspaper and had acknowledged to Adrian his ownership of the watercolor. So both fieldwork approaches — the neighborhood search and the newspaper story — had brought results.

In early August, Carter Hudgins, our director of preservation, and I are going up to meet with Becky and the watercolor’s owner. Anne Drayton Nelson, daughter of Charles Drayton, the last owner of Drayton Hall, is going to accompany us since she lives in Montpelier, VA. Matt Webster, former director of preservation at Drayton Hall and now architectural conservator at Colonial Williamsburg, may be joining us. Together we hope to examine the original watercolor and resolve a number of questions: Is it authentic to c. 1765? Are there watermarks or other telltale evidence to support that date? Does the clarity of the original enable historians to discern more clearly clues about the 18th-century site plan and architecture of Drayton Hall? Was, for example, the colonnade a walkway or simply a colonnaded wall or screen, which is what archaeological evidence to date is suggesting.

There will be more to follow, but this concludes the fieldwork phase of the research on the still-mysterious watercolor of Drayton Hall, c. 1765.

– Dr. George W. McDaniel, executive director, Drayton Hall