The unsuspecting traveler through a suburban Norfolk neighborhood might be surprised to find Solomon Talbot’s 1803, two-and-half-storied Federal style house sitting on the banks of the Lafayette River. But Norfolk residents and members of the Diocese of Episcopal Southern Virginia have long treasured the quiet setting for contemplation and reflection.
The Talbot Hall Foundation nominated the house and grounds when the Diocese of Southern Virginia announced plans to consider the sale of the property. While Preservation Virginia took no position on where the Diocesan offices or bishop’s residence should be, we did encourage stewardship of the historic property.
Once part of a 2000 acre farm, the house and its lush grounds have provided a retreat from the bustle of Norfolk. As the Talbot family home, the house survived the events of the War of 1812 and the Civil War, as well as the end of racial discrimination and the transition from farmland to suburbia. A bas-relief of the Federal Seal adorns the parlor wall over the fireplace, and a large porch with Doric columns catch the afternoon breezes along the Lafayette River. The riverside lawn is shaded by a group of specimen trees—each selected and planted to frame the river view from the house. The Talbot family gave Talbot Hall in 1954 to be the official residence of the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia and the Diocesan offices.
So what has happened since May 2012? After the Church’s governing board commissioned a study in December and engaged Harvey Lindsey Corporate Real Estate Services to sell the property. Listed at $4.25 million, the Talbot Hall Foundation continues in their efforts to persuade the Diocese to protect the property. Our advice remains the same to the Diocese:
· List the house on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register and
· Donate historic and land conservation easements to protect the house and the viewshed.
If those steps are taken, then Talbot Hall will survive for another 210 years and the historic landscape will be preserved.