The sailors on Columbus’ expedition were the first Europeans to report on the delights of the bizarre-looking but delicious pineapple, which was said to have been found served alongside pots of stewing human flesh. Reports of the exotic fruit were eagerly received back home in Europe, where a demand for and attempts to cultivate pineapples began almost immediately.
It took advances in both horticulture and architecture as well as nearly two centuries of effort to bring the dream to life, and so rare and difficult to grow was this fruit that Charles II of England is shown in a formal painting receiving a gift of a pineapple. The pineapple took on a life of its own, becoming a popular symbol of wealth as well as hospitality, appearing in art and architectural motifs.
John Murray, the 4th Earl of Dunmore, left his ancestral home in Scotland for the wilds of the Colony of Virginia just on the cusp of the American Revolution, where he became known primarily for his lack of diplomatic skill. He returned to Scotland in July 1776 as the last English Governor of Virginia.
The building at Dunmore, used originally as a garden hothouse and summerhouse, had its iconic giant pineapple added as something of an afterthought. The original Palladian-style lower story was built around 1761, and did not acquire the enormous fruit hat – which housed a modest pavilion inside – until 1777 after Lord Dunmore’s return. Returning sailors of the time often placed a pineapple, the exotic proof of distant travels, on a gatepost to announce their return from abroad. This, then, is Dunmore’s announcement. The architect is unknown.
As eccentric as the style is, the pineapple is actually an exceptional example of fine masonry work, full of both artistic detail and technical merits.
The property was restored by the National Trust for Scotland beginning in 1973 and, incredibly, is now open to the public as an overnight holiday rental.