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Captain William Willoughby built this house in 1794, which is now used for special programs and exhibits by the Chrysler Museum of Art. William Willoughby was a descendant of early colonial settler Thomas Willoughby who in 1636 received a grant of 200 acres from the King of England. The house stayed in the family through the 19th century. As fewer families lived in the downtown area, the home fell into disrepair and would have been demolished had it not been for the efforts of preservationists and the Norfolk Historical Foundation. The Foundation restored the home, which now offers a variety of art exhibits, cultural programs, and occasional lectures related to the history of Norfolk. A highlight of the home, the land around the home is maintained in the manner common to colonial gardens.


  • This historic house once served as the home of the Norfolk History Museum and is now administered by the Chrysler Museum of Art.
  • Benjamin Adworth Richardson, "Virginia Sinking the Cumberland March 8th, 1862," oil on canvas, 1907. On display on the second floor gallery.

The Willoughby-Baylor House (now the Norfolk History Museum) is a historic home built ca. 1794 by Captain William Willoughby, a local merchant, building contractor, and sixth-generation descendant of English immigrant Captain Thomas Willoughby. Thomas Willoughby received two-hundred acres of land from a 1636 Royal grant, fifty of which became the town of Norfolk, Virginia in 1682.

This structure is three-bay, brick detached townhouse with a gabled roof. The home also features a Greek Revival doorway and porch, which is supported on two pairs of Doric order columnns; these architectural elements were added in the mid-1820s. The street name on which this structure is located, Freemason Street, is derived from the Masonic Lodge which occupied this lot prior to the home's construction.

When William Willoughby died in 1800, his estate included 14 slaves, 10 lots, and six residences. Eliza Francis Sharp, the third of his four children, inherited the house. It was owned by the Baylor family until its sale in 1890. The new owners converted the home into a boarding house and the original furnishings were lost during the transition. The historic home ultimately fell into decline and was slated for demolition. However, in the early 1960s, the Norfolk Historical Foundation purchased and restored the property. Since 1969, the home has been administered by the Chrysler Museum of Art. It reopened as the Norfolk History Museum in 2005 and served as a satellite gallery of American Art during 2013 to 2014.

Today, the Norfolk History Museum showcases both historical exhibits and artwork. Visitors to the museum can see artifacts that include such items as a cannon dating back to the War of 1812, as well as special rotating exhibits. The ground floor serves as exhibition space, while the second floor houses the Norfolk Rooms. Highlights of the second-floor gallery include silver pieces and paintings that were created by Tidewater artisans from the colonial period to the 19th century. The garden, designed by Siska Aurand Landscape Architects, was installed in 1991 and is based upon the current understanding of colonial landscaping practices.

"Exhibition: The Norfolk Rooms." Chrysler Museum of Art. Accessed January 22, 2017. http://www.chrysler.org/about-the-museum/historic-houses/willoughby-baylor-house/exhibition-the-norf....

"History of the House." Chrysler Museum of Art. Accessed January 22, 2017. http://www.chrysler.org/about-the-museum/historic-houses/willoughby-baylor-house/history-of-the-hous....  

"Willoughby-Baylor House." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed January 22, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Willoughby-Baylor_House.