Villa Crawford, the historic north wing of Keswick Hall, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2012. Built in 1912 as a gorgeous, Italianate-style estate, converted to a country club in 1948, and restored in the early 1990s as part of the world-class hotel that now graces a most beautiful piece of Virginia countryside, its rich history goes hand in hand with the property's most recent prestigious award, won in both 2010 and 2011 -- Conde Nast's "#1 Small Resort in Mainland U.S." That same rich history has been well documented in a recently published and well received book, The Story of Keswick Hall, also featured at the 2012 Virginia Festival of the Book.
Meandering through the enchanting spaces of the property today, guests admire the well tended grounds bursting with color and life, they examine the fine lines of the architecture and enjoy the challenging contours of the golf course, they hear the old creak of the staircase and observe the artwork and antiques that adorn the walls and spaces, all of which vastly enriches the experience. They know intuitively that the stories of Keswick Hall not only reach into the past – they embrace both the present and, undoubtedly, an exciting future.
Private Residence: Villa Crawford, with its original fireplaces, ornate ceiling molding, and grand staircase, was built as a private residence in 1912 for Mr. & Mrs. Robert B. Crawford. Mr. Crawford, born in Alabama, had been a medical student at the University of Virginia, and his wife came from Providence, Rhode Island, where her father was Commodore of the Newport Yacht Club. Designed by prominent local architect Eugene Bradbury, their 8000-square-foot, two-story, stucco-clad villa originally cost $100,000. Its light fixtures were silver and its chandeliers, fine crystal. Room 9 was the original master bedroom, Fossett's Bar & Tavern was the family dining room, and the Crawford twins, born in 1910, enjoyed a pair of miniature donkeys on their idyllic working farm.
Following a surprising turn of circumstances, Mr. Crawford died in 1919, and Villa Crawford had five different owners during its total of 35 years as a private residence. One never lived here, though he tried to change its name, and one was adjudicated incompetent, forcing his wife to sell the estate plus its 311 acres for $30,000 in 1936. The large old cedar tree visible from the mansion's front portico (just beyond the infinity edge pool) has stood over numerous unexpected events over the years. When did Mrs. Crawford's beau first appear on the scene? What happened to the 100 columns that stood in two parallel rows in the direction of the Southwest Mountains? Did the tenant house burn down?
Country Club: In 1948 the newly formed Keswick Country Club opened with Villa Crawford as its clubhouse. The new owners, a group of local businessmen under the direction of Mr. Donald Stevens, purchased additional acreage and renovated the interior spaces to accommodate the hundreds of club member, providing food, drinks, entertainment, and camaraderie. They put in three tennis courts and a 100'x60' oval steel pool with two-story cabanas overlooking the nine-hole golf course that prominent golf course architect Fred Findlay designed. Through ups and downs of ownership and membership, the club remained a great place to bring your friends and have a good time.
The golf course gained its second nine holes in the mid 1950s, and by the late 1960s the club reached its heyday. More than 700 members enjoyed ten tennis courts (three indoor), an additional 5-lane Olympic length pool with space bubble for winter swimming, ice skating and a tow rope for winter fun. Swim teams and tennis teams competed regularly. Arthur Ashe played in an exhibition tennis match in 1969, and affirmed shifting social norms. Twice, the Keswick Club's golf course was the venue for the Virginia State Open Golf Championship (1969, 1970). But circumstances turned in 1971 with the death of owner Knox Turnbull, and the club began a sad slide into two decades of try-and-try-again but with little success. Scenes from "The Four Seasons" starring Alan Alda and Carol Burnett were filmed in the abandoned clubhouse in 1980, but for the most part, operations stood in pale contrast to former days, and the house fell into disrepair.
Keswick Hall: Villa Crawford came to be seen as a "mansion of senile ruin" with "touches of elegance" remaining. In 1990, along came Sir Bernard Ashley, affectionately known as B.A.; he was the widower of Laura Ashley, the famous designer who died in 1985. B.A. saw what wasn't there despite what was. His mind saw a world class hotel while his eyes saw boarded-up windows, falling plaster, and moldy wallpaper. He bought the 600-acre property for $5.5 million with the goal of turning it into a "country house" hotel, and felt strongly that Villa Crawford would be the heart of a truly outstanding property. His utter transformation of the property included on the one hand creatively modernizing and re-purposing it and, on the other, carefully maintaining the integrity of both interior and exterior.
Ashley's goal was that guests would feel as though they were visiting a grand country estate rather than a hotel, and for this reason neither a bar nor a reception desk per se was included in the original design. But he spent $25+ million to expand the number of guest rooms to 48, and had each one individually furnished and decorated with the type of cherished possessions that create the warmth and comfort of a bygone era. Laura Ashley's signature style was naturally incorporated into the public spaces as well, and B.A. gifted all future visitors with many items from his personal collection of antiques including paintings, sideboards, cabinets, sculptures, busts, and lithographs. Arnold Palmer redesigned the golf course, and the new clubhouse, which was built at the site of the old oval pool, opened in 1992.
Keswick Hall had its own "soft opening" in August of 1993, and thus began a steady stream of awards and accolades, as well as many capital improvements. In 1997 the tennis pavilion opened with additional courts; there are now seven, including two "hydrocourts." In 2002 the golf course was certified as meeting Audubon standards of environmental stewardship; it is one of only 30 certified courses in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The gorgeous infinity edge pool was added in 2003, Fossett’s Restaurant in 2004, Villa Lunch in 2006, Courtside Vineyard producing Petit Manseng in 2010, and Treble, a private dining wine cellar, in 2011. Now owned by Historic Hotels of Albemarle, Keswick Hall is proud to be part of a community that values the authenticity and character of that which came before us, while providing gracious and elegant accommodations for all guests, coming from near and far. Keswick Hall was purchased in January 2012 by Historic Hotels of Albemarle, part of the Riverstone Group based in Richmond. As this truly premier property launches into its second century, the past is festively celebrated, the present is thoroughly enjoyed, and the future – beginning with a new golf course designed by the legendary Pete Dye — begins to reveal itself.