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The History of the Willoughby-Baylor House

Norfolk History Museum

The Willoughby-Baylor House is within leisurely strolling distance of MacArthur Center in downtown Norfolk. Click image to enlarge.

This home was built by Captain William Willoughby, a sixth-generation descendant of English immigrant Captain Thomas Willoughby.

Thomas Willoughby was the recipient of a 1636 Royal grant of 200 acres—50 of which would become the town of Norfolk in 1682. Before William Willoughby built this townhouse in 1794, the site was occupied by a Masonic Lodge that gave Freemason Street its name. The lot on which the home was built was part of Norfolk's original 50 acres.

When William Willoughby died in 1800, at the age of 42, his estate included 14 slaves, 10 lots and six dwellings. He was survived by his wife and two daughters, and his eldest daughter Mary married the town clerk, William Sharp, in 1811.

The third of their four children, Eliza Francis Sharp, later married Dr. Baynham Baylor, and the house remained under the Baylor family name until it was sold in 1890.

Unlike the nearby Moses Myers House, which was occupied by five generations of the Myers family, the Willoughby-Baylor House does not tell the story of its first occupants. When the house changed hands, newer owners converted it into a boarding house, and its original furnishings were lost. 

Over time the house fell into decline and was slated for demolition until it was bought and restored by the Norfolk Historical Foundation in the early 1960s. It has been under the care of the Chrysler Museum of Art since 1969 and officially opened as the Norfolk History Museum on September, 2005. During the Chrysler's 2013-14 renovation, the home served as a satellite gallery of American Art, and in its new iteration is a combination of history and art.

The garden, designed by Siska Aurand Landscape Architects, was installed in 1991 and represents the most current understanding of colonial landscaping practices.

This home, at 601 E. Freemason St., is open noon to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is free.