Berry Hill Resort and Conference Center
3105 River Road
Even the ghosts of Berry Hill are spoken of in superlatives. In fact, the ghosts have found their way into the august pages of the New York Times, a place where even some of the most famous ghosts have yet to tread. In a 2002 article, the Berry Hill Resort is described as “bucolic” and as having, “ghosts. Lots of ghosts.” The reporter spoke with a local paranormal investigator:
“There are three ghosts upstairs,” said Francis Hunt, a local entrepreneur known as Biggy whose hobby is “dowsing,” or ghost hunting. “Malcolm, James Coles, and a lady. Three ladies are in the nursery; four slave ladies and three free black ladies are in the slaves’ quarters.” That adds up to an unlucky 13. Also, he says, 20 or so “immature” ghosts (of babies and children) haunt the main foyer, under the elaborately carved mahogany staircase.
The author continues:
Here at Berry Hill, rumors of celestial squatters have abounded for centuries — tales of phantom horses, mussed sheets, cold-air pockets, rearranged tools, people being “touched” on the shoulder or arm, and apparitions (especially of a young boy) in windows.
While the atmosphere of Berry Hill seems to be seething with “celestial squatters,” an investigation with the reporter and a local paranormal team produced few results. Though, one investigator reported that as they drove home their car inexplicably filled with the aroma of pipe or cigar smoke.
Berry Hill’s origins are impressive. The property, once owned by William Byrd of (haunted) Westover Plantation, and later statesman and planter Isaac Coles, was inherited by businessman James Coles Bruce from his father. Bruce, whose fortune had been made through a chain of general stores, was considered the wealthiest man in the country at that time, being worth an estimated $4 million. His wealth included some 3,000 enslaved who would work what would become the largest plantation in the state.
Undertaking the task of renovating the plantation’s original home in 1839, Bruce hired architect John E. Johnson to build this impressive manse. The home’s design borrows from the Parthenon of Ancient Greece to create a sense of awe. As one of the greatest examples of Greek Revival architecture in the country and possessing “the purest style of Virginia’s surviving Greek Revival houses,” the house has been named a National Historic Landmark. When he died in 1865, Bruce escaped witnessing the collapse of the Southern economy and the downfall of the planter aristocracy, though his spirit may be one of the throng that watches and stirs for the guests and staff of the hotel and conference center that now occupies the house and grounds.
While the New York Times reporter did not witness anything supernatural during her investigation, a reporter from the local South Boston News & Record participated in a different investigation in 2010. Starting at the plantation’s Diamond Hill Slave Cemetery, considered the largest of its type in the South, the group interacted with a number of spirits. To the investigators, the atmosphere seemed “welcoming, inviting, and restful.”
As the group spread out among various locations on the plantation grounds, they found the spirits to be “social and positive.” In addition to a few EVPs, the group collected several photographs that seemed to show odd figures and shadows within the house. One of the investigators told the reporter that she couldn’t “personally can’t say that Berry Hill is haunted. It’s very possible that there is something there.”
So it may be that even with its dearth of spirits, Berry Hill may not live up to its superlatives in terms of hauntings, but perhaps further investigation will help it to eventually do so.
- Ellin, Abby. “Business Travel; A Hotel Stephen King might find just right.” New York Times. 23 July 2002.
- Rose, Sullivan. “Just in time for Halloween, a ghost hunt at Berry Hill.” South Boston News & Record. 28 October 2010.
- Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. National Register of Historic Places Nomination form for Berry Hill. 25 April 1969.