Saturday, March 14, 2020

Some Estates Around the Rapidan

This post is dedicated to Issiah.  

I remember my first visit to Maryland and Virginia from California.  It was exciting to actually visit places and discover sites I had been researching and reading about for years.  Now I live within driving distance to most of these places.  Its a kick to be able to just hop in the car and go out sightseeing.  A couple days ago my friend Brett, intrepid and unsung CW researcher extrordinare took me by Lessland, one of the estates of Jeremiah Morton.  I was unaware that it was still standing.  Its visible in the drawing artist Alfred Waud sketched of General Alexander Webb's 2nd Corps Brigade picketing Somerville Ford in October, 1863.   I didn't have a camera with me, so as the weather was nice yesterday I took another drive out there.  This is just a photo travelogue of some of the historic properties still standing, or no  longer standing in some cases, along the Rapidan River, which was the border between North & South during the winter of 1863-64.

Some Estates Along the Rapidan River. 

Here's my map.  I began my drive on the south side of Clark's Mountain in Orange County, south of the Rapidan River, and swung around to Lessland.  Jeremiah Morton owned two estates south of the river, and from what I understand, he called the smaller estate "Lessland" for less land.  Guess what he called the other?  Jeremiah invested heavily in the Confederacy and lost everything.  But I was thrilled to learn this estate still stood.


I drove from Lessland across the Rapidan to the Culpeper side of the river and turned east on Algonquin Road.  I was finally able to capture a descent photo of the entry to what was once Retreat Farm, owned by Robert II Stringfellow, who died in 1858.  I have not been able to explore the grounds, there is a family cemetery still extant, but the house I was told was torn down about 30 years ago.  That structure was supposedly a re-build of the original 18th Century farmhouse that burned during the war.  Lizzie Stringfellow left a wonderful description of the estate in her memoirs, published in 1930, "The Life and Times of Horace Stringfellow."  Robert II was Lizzie's grandfather and she with her sister and many cousins spent several summers of her youth on the property.  On October 2nd 1863, Lt. Edward Rollins of the 13th MA, spent a pleasant evening in conversation with Dr. John Stringfellow, of Kansas, who inherited the estate.  The article Lt. Rollins wrote is fascinating and will be on my website soon.

Site of Retreat Farm.

Here's part of what Lizzie wrote:

"The distance between the house and the public road was divided into three fenced-in-fields.  The first, counting the house, was for grazing purposes; the second for some low growing crop such as wheat or oats; the third was corn which grew so high that the tallest man could not be seen when the crop was a good one as it generally was in that rich ground.  As the fields were fenced in, there had to be gates to pass through before you reached the house.  The one opening on the public road was know as the "Big Gate” and to see it plainly from the house, a spy glass was kept on a table in the front porch. On fair days, it was the duty of young an old to use it and report if a carriage could be seen coming through.  If so, it meant from four to six visitors were coming to spend the day.  Then Mistress and servants got busy preparing a dinner which would reflect credit on The Retreat.  Giving and receiving visits was the order of that day and the only members of the household who did not enjoy it were the children who, having been taught that they must be seen and not heard, were generally miserable fearing that they would soil the clean clothes before they had been inspected by the visitors.  Another serious grievance with them was the knowledge that they would have to wait for the ”second table” before getting any of that extra good dinner."

I didn't stop to take a picture of historic "Lime Church" or St. Paul's, because I had already done that on an earlier visit.  In fact I have other pictures of most of these places, but on this particular day, I re-photographed some of them.   Here is the church in case you missed it on my website.

Historic Lime Church, same site, probably a different structure.

When the First Corps was picketing the river here in September & October of 1863, Col. Charles Wainwright, artillery officer, when out to explore the ground.  The pickets told him it was unsafe to ride beyond the church, as the enemy were fortified across the river and within firing distance.

Up the road a bit was Sumerduck, one of Reverend Thornton Stringfellow's two properties.   Lizzie Stringfellow, again tells a wonderful story about this estate.

Sumerduck Farm

Here is part of Lizzie Stringfellow's reminiscence of Sumerduck.  Lizzie's Aunt Ann Stringfellow was wounded in the foot during a skirmish at Retreat Farm on Sept. 15, 1863.  Fearing for her safety and that of the two nieces then visiting from Northern Virginia, the commanding officer removed the ladies and servants of the household to Sumerduck, which was acting Head-quarters of the cavalry picketing the river.  The ladies were loaded in an ambulance and taken up the road in the dark of night.

"It took Aunt Ann to find out from the driver where they were going.  When she heard that the Headquarters was none other than your Cousin Lawrence Stringfellow’s attractive home, she passed the word to the others.  There was general rejoicing for he was as clannish as the rest of the family so they knew they would be made welcome.  The house had been planned along Tidewater Virginia lines.  A broad portico ran the length of the house, the roof of which was supported by large pillars.  The upstairs front windows looked out from beneath the portico roof.  Those windows were low and the sills formed most comfortable seats from which one could see and hear all that went below.  The house was large and roomy and could have accommodated many more refugees than were coming to it then.

It was long after midnight before Aunt Ann was laid in a bed at Summer Duck House, the home of Cousin Lawrence, son of Uncle Thornton.  Two United States surgeons examined her and decided that the only thing to be done was to amputate the foot.  But before they could make the necessary preparations, she fainted so dead away that, hearing how much blood she had lost they concluded it was too great a risk.  So she was left to get along as best she could.

"The next morning, the girls, being young, had to agree upon a suitable course of action.  Until then, they had never met an enemy face to face.  That there must be a certain degree of aloofness on the part of Southern girls who had four brothers in the Confederate army, they fully realized but, “To speak or not to speak” was the question which they finally decided to lead to circumstance.  But, when Cousin Harriet, wife of Lawrence, came in to welcome them to her home and informed them that no inmate of the house was to be allowed to put foot to ground, such being the order from Headquarters, they immediately decided, “not to speak.”

"For, to girls who had been riding the country over to hear that they were now to be confined to a few rooms seemed tyranny of the worst sort.  Soldiers in front of the house and soldiers at the back kept the house encircled night and day for the six weeks that they were there."
The story continues with much excitement when Aunt Ann's son, Confederate Spy, Frank Stringfellow, sneaks into the home to visit his mother, but that's for another time.

On the other side of the river, not too far away is historic Greenville, a place whose name I can never recall correctly.  I've called it Glenview, Glenville and other things but Greenville is correct.  It sits far back from the road, so until I get an invite to visit, I had to settle for a very long shot of the manor house.  Its quite impressive nontheless.

Historic Greenville.

Here is a better view, although I didn't take it.
Historic Greenville, close up.

Continuing east, Struan is easily visible from the road.  This is the home in front of historic Morton's Ford.  General Alexander Hays had a crazy battle here in early February 1864, but there is no time to go into that now.  This is just about the picturesque views and historic houses. 


I'll close this portion of the river tour with the site of what once was Reverend Thornton Stringfellow's beloved Farm, Bel Air.  When the current owners acquired the house many years ago, the original home, which had gone through a victorian remodel, was in a derelict condition. It had to be raised and a new home constructed in its place.  The farm however is still beautiful, and bears the name Bel Air Farm to this day.

Bel Air Farm.  Once the beloved home of Rev. Thornton Stringfellow.

I ended my drive this day at the Stevensburg Baptist Church, which was founded by Rev. Thornton.  He is buried there.  Its not on my map above, but if you drove directly north a few miles from Bel Air Farm, you would arrive at Stevensburg.  Some new interpretive markers were installed recently to pay homage to historic Stevensburg.  I was unaware of this, until my friend Brett took me there.  He really doesn't get enough credit.

Stevensburg Baptist Church,

Stone marking the burial plot of Thornton Stringfellow's family.

"Thornton Stringfellow was ordained in 1814.  He continued to minister in Fauquier and Clupeper Counties throughout his career and advocated for domestic missions, the temperance movement, and Sunday School programs.

On October 23, 1833, Pastors Thornton Stringfellow and John Churchill Gordon organized Stevensburg Baptist Church.  The congregation elected Stringfellow as the pastor for the new church and split from Mount Pony Baptist Church, which had relocated from the base of Mount Pony to Culpeper Courthouse.  At that time, new churches often developed from the division of some older local congregations.  …By 1847, [the church]  listed 97 black and 88 white members in its congregation.  The first church was a 40-foot by 50-foot brick building constructed in 1856.  The congregation continued to grow with 124 black members and 67 white members by 1860.  Blacks were the majority in the congregation, as well as in Culpeper County’s population at that time.”  ...From the Historical marker.
Is this a reason why Rev. Stringfellow was such an adamant defender of the institution of slavery?  He truly believed bringing the word of God to the people, of all communities, was the most important mission of his life.   He was not opposed to ending slavery, he just thought it would happen in God’s time, and like many of his era, he thought the abolitionists were the ones stirring up all the trouble.  Prominent members of his family thought much the same way.  Thornton lost everything in the war, which came right to his front doorstep in 1863; including his slaves.

The original church burned too.  The building was rebuilt in 1874, remodeled in 1961, and veneered with brick in 1978.

In closing, it is truly satisfying to be able to spend a day like this driving from one historic site to the next.  Each of these places is filled with stories and they are right here, for those willing to notice.