Described by one architectural historian as "the most intact 18th-century estate in Virginia," Shirley was founded beside the James River in 1613, making it Virginia's oldest plantation. It's also America's oldest family-owned business, begun in 1638. The plantation manse was built between 1723 and 1738 by Shirley heiress Elizabeth Hill and her husband, John Carter, eldest son of Robert "King" Carter, the richest man in the colonies (it was King Carter who financed Historic Christ Church in Irvington on the Northern Neck). Their granddaughter, Anne Hill Carter, was born, grew up, and married Virginia governor and Revolutionary War hero Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee here. Their son, Robert E. Lee, made his own place in history. The extraordinarily well-preserved mansion is noted for its carved "flying staircase" -- it rises three stories with no visible means of support -- and Queen Anne forecourt flanked by the kitchen and other dependent buildings, both the only remaining examples of this architectural style in America. Now in its 11th generation, the Carter family continues to operate Shirley as a working plantation. After the 30-minute tour, allow at least another 30 minutes to explore the grounds and dependencies of this National Historic Landmark.