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St. Julien undergoing major renovation project
St. Julien, near New Post, undergoing a thorough rehabilitation

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Chris Anderson (left) of Tidewater Preservation prepares an opening beneath the front stoop to create a wine cellar in the basement. At right is St. Julien's owner, Robert Lamb.
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Date published: 1/11/2008

BY RICHARD AMRHINE

Most of the activity St. Julien has witnessed since it was built by Francis Brooke in 1812 has taken place some distance from its front door. Traffic has increased at the New Post intersection not far away, and development has crept ever closer down Tidewater Trail from Fredericksburg.

But these days the Spotsylvania mansion is itself a hub of activity as work progresses on a major rehabilitation of the property.

The current owners, Robert Lamb and Mary Ann Brockenbrough "Mabs" Lamb, initiated the project last year, commissioning Fred Ecker of Tidewater Preservation Inc. of Fredericksburg to serve as general contractor.

Lamb inherited the property from his uncle, Aubin Boulware Lamb, who died in 2006. In 2002, Aubin Lamb had placed a conservation easement on the 301-acre property through the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. An adjoining 50-acre parcel is preserved under a separate easement.

Lamb said his uncle lamented the encroaching development, and saw the easement as a way of "preserving the place for family and posterity." Given that the easement will protect the land, Lamb sees the home's renovation as the next logical step.

THE PROJECT

The project is going to take years to complete, and a tour of the house makes that plain to see. It is not a huge house by modern "McMansion" standards, but its architecture, interior moldings and renovation potential make it unique among Federal-style homes.

Ecker is proceeding deliberately with St. Julien, as he has with the company's scores of other completed and ongoing projects.

"Our goal now is to get it stabilized and go from there," he said. Plans for all changes, inside and out, must be approved for Virginia's Rehabilitation Tax Credit program, for which Tidewater Preservation is handling the documentation.

On top, an old shake roof was replaced with a terne-coated standing-seam steel roof. Ecker explained that terne-coating uses tin, lead and zinc to boost the metal's corrosion resistance. "They used the same sort of thing at Monticello," he said. "It will last virtually forever."

The Flemish-bond brickwork, including the symmetrical inboard chimneys, has been repaired and repointed.


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FAMILIES HAVE HAD MANY ROLES IN HISTORY

St. Julien has been owned by only two families in its 196 years, the Brookes and the Boulware/Lambs, according to information compiled by current owner Robert Lamb.

The Brooke family was long involved in public service.

Francis Taliaferro Brooke and his twin brother, John, were appointed Revolutionary War officers at the age of 16. Their oldest brother, Robert, was governor and attorney general of Virginia, and their older brother Lawrence was the surgeon aboard John Paul Jones’ USS Bonhomme Richard during the Revolution.

Francis Brooke built the first, small brick structure at St. Julien sometime between 1796 and 1800. He served in the Virginia Senate from 1800 to 1804, when he was appointed a judge, and subsequently rose to president of the Supreme Court of Appeals, the highest state court at the time.

In 1812, he built the main house at St. Julien, which deviated from classic Federal style with a recessed (in antis) entry and balcony directly above.

The main house was then joined to the original small brick structure to the rear, creating the “ell” configuration.

Henry Clay, a Virginia native who relocated to Kentucky and eventually became speaker of the House and a frequent presidential candidate, was a friend of the Brookes and visited St. Julien often, calling it his “haven from Washington.”

During the Civil War, the area was traversed by soldiers on both sides. According to Lamb, the head slave at St. Julien, known as Uncle John, managed to persuade a group of Yankee soldiers not to burn the house down.

It, along with many of its well-known neighbors in Spotsylvania and Caroline counties, such as Mount Sion, Moss Neck, Prospect Hill, Belle Hill, Belvedere, Hayfield and Santee, managed to survive the unpleasantness.

In 1879, the plantation was bought by Aubin Lee Boulware from the estate of Francis Brooke. The new owners continued St. Julien’s tradition as home to public servants. Aubin Boulware and his brother Vivian had served in the 9th Virginia Cavalry during the Civil War, and Aubin later became a schoolteacher.

More recently, the late Aubin Boulware Lamb, who had the property set aside in a conservation easement, served in the Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1945. Current owner Robert Lamb served two tours as a Marine in Vietnam.

-—Richard Amrhine

TAX CREDITS PROVIDE INCENTIVE

Because St. Julien will be used as a residence, it qualifies for Virginia’s Rehabilitation Tax Credit program. Under the program, property owners are given substantial incentives for private investment in preservation.

The credits are dollar-for-dollar reductions in income-tax liability for taxpayers who rehabilitate historic buildings.

Qualifying work must take place within five years.

Fred Ecker, president of Tidewater Preservation Inc., is handling the documentation and approval process for St. Julien’s participation in the program, something his company has done time and again in the past.

Coincidentally, one of those projects was Federal Hill in Fredericksburg, which was built in 1795 by Robert Brooke, brother of St. Julien’s builder, Francis Brooke.

Ecker works with state Department of Historic Resources officials to make sure all changes are made according to regulations.

“Every crack, every piece of wood that must be replaced is itemized and documented,” said Ecker. “As long as you provide the information the way DHR requires it, the program is easy to work with.”

He said the department’s inspectors are frequently on-site to make sure the project is proceeding as planned.

For his part, property owner Robert Lamb welcomes the tax credit incentives to help defray the cost of the expensive project. “But this project was important to me, and I would have done it with or without the tax credits. This is our family place.”

-—Richard Amrhine