Dunnington Mansion, also known as the Poplar Hill Plantation sits slightly elevated above an active golf course in Farmville Virginia. Obstructed by tall grass and bramble this mansion continues to cast a long shadow over the surrounding farmland.
The 1,100 acre swath of land was first settled sometime in the 1700s by Richard Woodson, also known as Baron Woodson (due to him having such a vast amount of land). The property would soon become known as the Poplar Hill Plantation, featuring a modest wooden four room farmhouse.
When Richard Woodson died around 1760 the land was passed down to his daughter Agnes, and her husband Francis Watkins. A larger, more sturdy brick home was constructed in the late 18th century. Other early structures included slave quarters, a cabin, two barns, and several smaller sheds that were demolished in 2004 during the opening of The Manor golf course.
When the couple died in the 1820s, the land was passed down to their daughter Frances and her husband James Wood. For a short period the plantation was known as the Wood Plantation House until being acquired by Captain John Knight in 1860.
Soon John Knight would pass the property down to his daughter India, and her husband Walter Grey Dunnington, who ran a wealthy tobacco tycoon. The Dunnington Tobacco Company took root in Farmsville in 1870, and was known for their signature dark leaf tobacco, but quickly grew more popular with when their lighter blend was released.
A massive fire in 1898 destroyed 36 buildings, including two of the Dunnington Tobacco factories. This however did not slow down the business. In 1902 over 30 train cars filled with freshly picked tobacco were on their way to cigarette manufacturers in Norway, noting just how massive this empire had grown.
One of the main Tobacco Warehouses still stands today, and is currently home to Three Roads Brewing Company on the corner of West 3rd and St George street.
In 1897 Walter practically rebuilt the entire home and turned it into the 14 room 8,500 square foot estate we see today. Only portions of the core are the original brick home from the late 1700s. Outside the manor took on a Romanesque Revival style featuring thick hardy walls, rounded arches, and large turrets for views on all three floors.
French windows allow light to pour into the many of the first floor rooms, and vaulted ceilings the manor a true feeling of opulence. One of the most notable parts of the property is the manors conservatory. It’s here where India Dunnington enjoyed her time the most, tending to her garden, and enjoying the outdoors.
Walter Dunnington would pass away in 1922, while his wife India would live until 1960. She was 103 years old when she passed. The property was cared for until it was sold to the Community Development Authority in 1999. Plans were made to develop the entire area into a golf course, hotel, and spa, leaving the Dunnington Mansion to be restored into a grand clubhouse.
The housing crisis of the early 2000s would take its toll and postpone the restoration project. In 2006 enough money was found to build the golf course, but not restore the Dunnington Mansion. It was at this time that the original Woodman house was destroyed along with other historic buildings on the property.
The property the Dunnington Mansion sits on, along with other parcels of land was put to auction October 7th 2020. The current status is listed as “sale complete” but no public records show the property changing hands, or indicating who the new owner is at this time.
We can only hope the new owner has the vision and resources to restore this home to it’s former glory.