In late 2014, Harry Lee, the great grandson of Judge Richard Henry Cardwell contacted the Hanover Historical Society to offer his family’s 1857 Chickering Grand Square piano. It was an extraordinary offer. He would have the piano restored and put into tip top condition. He would pay to have it shipped to the Historical Society and then have it retuned on arrival. His generosity was only matched by his desire to see the piano back in Hanover where it belongs.

The Chickering Piano in action at Hickory Hill
The Society accepted immediately but knew it had to find an interim home for the piano until suitable museum facilities can be secured. Shannon Pritchard, of Hickory Hill, agreed to let the Society place the piano there until a permanent home can be established.

Richard Henry Cardwell was born in Madison, North Carolina in 1845. He built his home at Prospect Hill in 1877. He was Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates 1887-1895, and a justice of the state Supreme Court of Appeals 1895-1916.

On Saturday, October 10, 2015, descendants of Judge Cardwell were invited to a reception at Hickory Hill for the official transfer of the piano to the Society. More than forty came to see the piano in its new home. Costumed characters from Engaging History Productions added ambience in the form of Wayne Clarke as Judge Cardwell, Brenda Clarke as Mrs. Cardwell and Sarah Rose Wilkinson as Miss Lizzie Cardwell. Dawn Burnett portrayed a neighbor from a nearby plantation. It was Miss Lizzie who played the newly restored instrument. The assembled crowd heard Beethoven, Chopin and finally a more modern piece called “Ashokan Farewell”. Swells of applause greeted the end of each piece. The musical notes wafted through the tall ceilings of Hickory Hill and had an impact on all assembled.

Dale Talley, the Curator for the Historical Society made brief remarks and then introduced Harry Lee who told the group about the history of the piano.

The piano originally graced Prospect Hill, the home of Judge Cardwell built in 1877. It remained there for his lifetime. After his death in 1931, some family members moved just down the hill to a home named "Sunbeam". The piano went with them. It remained there until 1982. During those years, decedents that lived at "Sunbeam" were daughters, Lizzie Cardwell Taylor and Lucy Crump Cardwell; grandson, Frances Taylor, and granddaughter, Lucy Crump Taylor Lee. The piano was willed from generation to generation until it was willed to Lucy Crump Taylor Lee. The piano was given to her son Harry E. Lee, the great grandson of Judge Cardwell, before her death in 1981. The piano was removed from "Sunbeam" in 1982 to his home in Carrollton, VA where it remained until June, 2015.

Hickory Hill
Wayne Clarke as Judge Cardewll
Willie D. Cardwell, the son of Judge Cardwell, wrote a note about the piano. "In August 1888 our old house at Prospect Hill was burned to the ground. The fire started in an upper hall room at 7:30 a.m. Father had gone to the station to take the train to his office in Richmond when the fire was discovered. We had a private phone to the station, and I was able to catch him and tell him of the fire. He returned immediately, and all the neighbors gathered quickly to help, but it was too late to save the house. The fire had spread to the entire attic, and only through the heroic efforts were we able to save most of the furniture, including the big piano. The fire had cut us off from the door to the front parlor where the piano was located, so I had to cut an opening in the wall so the men could remove it to a place of safety in the yard. The old house had been standing more than a hundred years. Plans for re-building were promptly made, and the family moved into the new house before Christmas."

It is said that Harry Lee’s Grandmother, Lizzie Cardwell, played the piano in the yard as the house was burning!

Terry Green of Fine Piano Services in Zuni, Virginia restored the piano for Harry Lee and the Historical Society. Mr. Green said that there is no reason that the piano should not be played and enjoyed for another 150 years.