Historic Avenel and the Weems-Botts Museum

Posted on August 15, 2017

VirginiaLearn about #10 and #9 on our list of Virginia’s most haunted places coveringHistoric Avenel and the Weems-Botts Museum!

10. HISTORIC AVENEL – BEDFORD, VIRGINIA

Visitors encounter human and feline spirits at the spooky plantation.

Historic Avenel, house's exterior facade.
Historic Avenel, house’s exterior facade.

 Image Source: Black Raven Paranormal

Before the idea for Ghostbusters struck screenwriter and actor Dan Aykroyd, interest in the paranormal had yet to go mainstream. So after the film’s 1984 release came many big surprises: worldwide box office success, positive reviews from critics, even a few Oscar nods. Interestingly, Aykroyd’s intention wasn’t to break records or define pop culture; he simply wanted to bring some family legacy into his career. His great-grandfather, a famous mystic and psychic researcher, made a lasting impression; Aykroyd took up Spiritualism at a young age and has always been extremely interested in ghosts:

“Loads of people have seen them, heard a voice or felt the cold temperature. I believe that they are between here and there, that they exist between the fourth and fifth dimension, and that they visit us frequently.”1

The public has since come to share Aykroyd’s fascination with all things supernatural. Horror is no longer a niche curiosity, reserved for weirdos and nerds; as David Briggs put it in 2011, “paranormal is the new normal in America.”2 And nowadays, people find truth scarier than fiction – as a result, modern day “ghostbusters” (those who can separate the real from mere urban legend) are in high demand.

So when a whole slew of such experts and paranormal researchers confirm that a place is haunted, then you know it really must be. Historic Avenel in Colonial Williamsburg is one of these places.

Historic Avenel, before restoration.
Historic Avenel, before restoration.

Image Source: Historic Avenel

Historic Avenel, or the Avenel Plantation, is located in Bedford County; besides an impressive mansion, known as the William M. Burrell House, the property includes two large frame outbuildings, as well as two smaller ones, which most likely served as a henhouse and barn. The main house is of course where the most paranormal activity has been documented.

William M. Burwell’s father, William A. Burwell, was a notable congressman from Franklin County, most famous for his stint as President Thomas Jefferson’s private secretary. Besides his father’s name, William M. Burwell would also inherit his political prowess. In 1838, he was elected to represent Bedford County at the Virginia House of Delegates; during the forties and fifties, he worked as a journalist, pitching ideas on how to improve Virginia’s economy. The birth of his beloved home, the Avenel Plantation, though, would precede all this.

William A. Burwell, President Thomas Jefferson's private secretary.
William A. Burwell, President Thomas Jefferson’s private secretary.

Image Source: Wikipedia

When Burwell married Frances Steptoe in 1831, his father-in-law, James C. Steptoe, had a gift for the newlyweds: a substantial tract of land that fell within what was then a quiet suburban community called Liberty. As the small, rural town commercialized over the years, so did Historic Avenel transform; the property, once reserved for just the Burwell family, became more of a residential neighborhood, after Letitia Burwell died in 1905.

No longer a family plantation, Avenel was purchased in 1906 by the J.W. Ballard family, which owned the property until 1985. The current owner, the non-profit Avenel Foundation, is stabilizing the house and dependencies in preparation for preserving Avenel for public use.”3

The plantation’s haunted past is one of the things the Foundation is keen to preserve. “There is enough hauntings in the house to fill five books,”4 claims George Willis, a ghost hunter from Bedford Ghost Investigation Group. No wonder the team has made not one, but several trips to the plantation. Ghosts were particularly chatty during one investigation5; the team left with seven EVP recordings, as well as a photo of an orb that looks suspiciously like an eye. A later visit6 was just as memorable – this time, the ghost hunters were able to make out what some of the spirits were saying (“The secret is in the wall,” and “Hi Kitty, Kitty, Kitty.“) More images of the “eye” were also captured, many in what is known as the Yellow Room. This was also where the rosary of one investigator, Alissa, fell apart; where a few group members experienced dizziness, and everyone heard strange sounds.

Another room in the house which is especially paranormally active is the Lee Room. General Robert E. Lee, a friend of the Burwell family, would often spend the night at Historic Avenel, and this bedroom was his favorite place to catch some Zs.

One of Avenel's haunted bedrooms.
One of Avenel’s haunted bedrooms.

Image Source: Bedford Paranormal

Ghostly reports are that the bed covers sometimes appear as though a body has lain there, with indented pillows from time to time as if someone had slept on them, when no one has been in the room. Often, the light will come on in the Lee room as visitors prepare to leave.”7

Besides hosting paranormal teams at the plantation, Avenel Foundation also opens the site up to the public for Paranormal Nights and Halloween Parties in October. Taffney Mays, one of the organization’s directors, wants to share the eeriness she’s experienced at Avenel:

I was in a room on the computer, and in a room behind me, I heard a very loud crash,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘Great, what broke now?’ And when I went into the room, nothing was out of place.”8

Perhaps what had caused the “loud crash” was the house’s most famous spirit, known as The Lady in White. There have been various sightings of this veiled female apparition – if she’s not drifting through the mansion’s halls, she’s seen wandering around the estate’s gardens, often with a parasol in hand. Some say that she is the ghost of Letitia Burwell, too fond of her home to leave.

Or maybe what Taffney had heard was the property’s rumored phantom cat, the source of all the electronic “meow” phenomena captured at Avenel (Ghostec9, for instance, got a recording during one of their many investigations of the plantation.)

Evidence of some supernatural presence has also been smelled. Some have caught the strong scent of tobacco in the house, with no smoker in sight; others catch whiffs of perfume, though no living person is wearing any. Few haunted locations can boast such a full sensory experience!

Inside the Avenel house.
Inside the Avenel house.

 Image Source: Black Raven Paranormal

The Avenel Plantation is a supernatural hotspot that has fascinated numerous paranormal organizations; teams may go in on different dates, with different ghost hunting styles, but all leave with the same thing: proof that the site is really haunted. So what are you waiting for? The “ghostbusting” has been done for you – experience Historic Avenel today!

Works Cited

  1. O’Hagan, Sean. “I’m still haunted by Belushi.” The Guardian. 27 September 2003. Web. 23 August 2015. Para. 21.
  2. Briggs, David. “Paranormal is the new normal in America.” The Association of Religion Data Archives. 31 January 2011. Web. 25 August 2015.
  3. “Avenel.” National Register of Historic Places – Registration Form. United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service. 30 January 1992. Web. 25 August 2015. Page 12.
  4. The Edge Staff. “Hunting for haunted.” The Roanoke Times. 16 October 2007. Web. 25 August 2015. Para. 10.
  5. “Avenel Investigation.” Bedford Paranormal. Alan, 2015. Web. 26 August 2015.
  6. “Avenel Revisited 3-29.” Bedford Paranormal. Alan, 2015. Web. 26 August 2015.
  7. Marin, Patricia. “Haunted Avenel in Bedford, VA, proves active for Ghostec paranormal group.” Examiner.com. 1 May 2011. Web. 26 August 2015. Para. 5.
  8. The Edge Staff. “Hunting for haunted.” The Roanoke Times. 16 October 2007. Web. 25 August 2015. Para. 18.
  9. Marin, Patricia. “Haunted Avenel in Bedford, VA, proves active for Ghostec paranormal group.” Examiner.com. 1 May 2011. Web. 26 August 2015.