Bremo, also known as Bremo Plantation or Bremo Historic District, is a plantation estate covering 1,500 acres (610 ha) on the west side of Bremo Bluff in Fluvanna County, Virginia. The large mansion at Upper Bremo was designed by owner John Hartwell Cocke in consultation with John Neilson, the designer of Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. The estate includes two smaller residences built at Lower Bremo and Bremo Recess.
The plantation, which overlooks the James River, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969 and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971 for its significance as a well-preserved example of Jeffersonian archicture.
Starting in 1808, John Hartwell Cocke built an estate of three houses along the James River, which he named "Bremo" after his family's ancestral home of Braemore in Scotland. One of the original structures was an ancestral hunting lodge at Lower Bremo that was built of stone and dated back to 1725. Cocke inhabited this lodge close to the river as his first home on the estate.
Around 1812, Cocke completed a larger home for himself and his wife Anne Blaws Barraud at Bremo Recess, situated on higher ground farther back from the James River. This house featured dormer windows, a pointed roof, and later incorporated elements of Jacobean architecture. Anne died in December 1816 and was buried at Bremo Recess, where her ghost has reportedly been sighted wandering in the house.
During his time at Lower Bremo and Bremo Recess, Cocke began working on the design of a grand plantation mansion to be built at the Upper Bremo area. Cocke spared no expense during the construction, utilizing hand-molded brick. Even the neighboring barn was adorned with columns. The construction of the mansion took several years and was completed in 1819. At about the same time, the lodge at Lower Bremo was renovated for Cocke's son Cary.
During the American Civil War, Mary Anna Custis Lee, the wife of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, stayed at Bremo as a guest of the Cocke family. Though it was 80 miles (130 km) away from her home in Richmond, Virginia, the James River and Kanawha Canal permitted a relatively comfortable trip by boat. Bremo also did not suffer the wartime shortages that had been plaguing Richmond. However, within a few days of her arrival, Lee's health suffered a setback because of a severe fall from her crutches on the finely polished floor. Family friend Doctor Cary Charles Cocke built a special bed to accommodate her affliction from rheumatoid arthritis. She was usually accompanied by her son Rob and daughters Agnes and Mildred.
Bremo itself did not escape the effect of the war. On March 8, 1865, the estate was raided by Union forces. General Lee personally visited the plantation that year. The Lees stayed intermittently at Bremo until November 1865, after the war. The place that was occupied by Mary Anna Custis Lee is still called "Mrs. Lee’s room".
The overall design of the mansion was initiated by John Hartwell Cocke with master builder John Neilson, who had worked with Thomas Jefferson on Monticello. The architecture is believed to be based on the Palladian style utilized by Jefferson. Although the original plans were destroyed in a fire in 1894, students of Jeffersonian architecture who had seen the drawings said that they had recognized them as the work of Jefferson himself. It has been called "the most magnificent conception of a house" in America.
The mansion is one story high at its northern entrance, but has two stories on the southern side where the land slopes down towards the James River. The home is designed with distinct elements of Jeffersonian architecture, such as upper windows built at floor level to reduce the visual scale of the structure. The landscaping incorporates ha-has, which were dug out of the view from the mansion while serving to keep livestock from wandering into the yard.
A monument on the estate, named Temperance Spring, is an early example, in miniature, of the Greek Revival style. The homes at Lower Bremo and Bremo Recess were rebuilt in their present Jacobean forms in 1844.