Constructed in 1939, Nesselrod on the New was built by the former Grace Nesselrod and her husband, Dr. Minor Wise Thomas. Noted architect Everette Fauber designed the estate. He was considered a restoration expert because of his work on renovating the Library of Congress and the Governor's Palace in Williamsburg. He also was instrumental in the layout of the grounds and both major gardens: the formal boxwood garden and the sunken garden. The result: a T-shaped, 2700-square-foot structure surrounded by a graceful curved drive delineated with tree "columns" and the three unique gardens running to the river.
Grace Thomas brought her passion for gardening and much of the original stock for the gardens with her to the cliff banks of the New River. Mrs. Thomas also discovered a talent for award-winning baking as a girl at a state fair. She became celebrated as the area's master cake creator, providing not only the garden site for weddings, but also the wedding cakes. She died in 1995 at age ninety-nine, and was an active gardener well into her nineties.
The original owners, it seems, were as unique as their home. Dr. Thomas had, early in life, been a conscientious objector who worked with American Indians and taught Geronimo's son. He died in 1966.
Restoration of the formal boxwood and hemlock gardens is now complete, following the construction of an outdoor gazebo, chapel-like in its appearance with ten gothic arches. Containing the estate's original American and English box-woods, roses, day lilies and herbs, this garden runs 232 feet with seating for two hundred guests for weddings or outdoor concerts. The central aisle, is over one hundred feet in length and is lined with Provence Lavendar, Korean Boxwood, Shasta Daisies and many white annuals. The focal point for both nuptials and night concerts is the arched gazebo, installed in 1997, outfitted with music and lights, and topped by an arrow-less bronze Cupid.
For sheer drama, however, nothing here touches the vast sunken garden, built in the grounds' natural depression on its east border. The four semicircle retaining rock walls were constructed from stone out of the old Radford train depot. Surviving plants and shrubs include English boxwood, Lilies of the Valley, Dogwoods, Daffodils, Trillium, Oriental Iris and Tiger Lilies. This historic terraced garden was the original site for weddings, including the Thomas' daughter in 1954. The white pine columns wrapped with ivy transform the sunken garden into a "cathedral".
The gardens are open for special occasions as well as public tours. A list of seasonal flowers and blooming times are available. Nesselrod is at its best in the spring with the blooming in late April of bulbs, notably Scilla nonscripta or the traditional English bluebell, and Lily of the Valley followed by hybrid lilacs and peonies. The gardens were also the planting site of a famous iris breeder, some of which still make their debut in late spring. Due to its location, Nesselrod is a microclimate protected by the warmth of the river. Crepe myrtle blooms well and spring arrives two weeks earlier than other gardens merely blocks away, thus inviting the guest to "come into the garden".