Anchoring the northeast corner of Capitol Square and on axis with the Virginia Washington Monument, this governor’s residence is one of few surviving works by architect Alexander Parris. Prior to the completion in 1813 of the Federal-style mansion, Virginia’s governors resided in a small frame house on the same location. The house and gardens, developed by architect John Shields between 1812 and 1818, were designed in accordance with a plan initiated in 1785 by Thomas Jefferson. Situated on a slight rise necessitating the use of a brick retaining wall to the east, the remainder of the grounds facing Capitol Square was enclosed by an iron fence in 1820. The mansion and its dependencies witnessed a number of additions over the years and in 1954 landscape architect Charles Gillette was commissioned to design formal gardens on the south side of the allotment.
Gillette’s symmetrical garden, accessed from a balcony extending from the south portico, is organized in a cruciform shape. An expanse of lawn, enclosed by boxwood and other shrubs, provides the setting for two parterre gardens supporting urns and a reflecting pool and sculpture. Specimen magnolias and ginkgos punctuate the lawn while masses of oak screen the property from its surroundings. At the main entrance, a pool and fountain is surrounded by flower beds and brick walkways. In 1999 the Garden Club of Virginia commissioned Rieley & Associates to restore Gillette’s garden designs. The Executive Mansion was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1969 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1988.