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21 Apr 2014

Loudoun County, The Once and Future Virginia (part two)

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April 21, 2014 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  Confederate Cabins at Morven Park.


“No one was there who could bend the bow of Ulysses.” –John S. Mosby on the death of J.E.B. Stuart

By Renée S. Gordon

Leesburg, Loudoun’s county seat, is situated in Northern Virginia in close proximity to Harper’s Ferry, Washington, D.C., the Potomac River, Catoctin Mountain and the Blue Ridge Mountains. The city and the communities surrounding it have been the setting for significant events during both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars and are now at the heart of D.C.’s Wine Country and destination dining scene.

The town was originally named George Town after King George II who was the king when the city was founded in 1758. George Town had been laid out in 1757 while owned by Nicholas Minor, at the intersection of Carolina and Potomac Ridge Roads. The name was changed to Leesburg in honor of Francis Lightfoot Lee, an early settler and town trustee.

Leesburg is ideal for exploring the border conflict during the Civil War. The roads and lanes that Mosby and Stuart trod are little altered and visitors have the unique experience of touring tangible sites and immersing themselves in an authentic atmosphere. Leesburg is on the National Scenic Byway, “The Journey Through Hallowed Ground,” that travels from Gettysburg to Monticello and the county has created the “The Civil War in Loudoun County, Virginia” guide that includes a map and historic background.

Morven Park is a 1,100-acre complex that interprets the rural heritage of the region. There are three museums, a replicated southern Civil War encampment, formal gardens, woodlands, pastures, hiking trails, picnic facilities and Loudoun Therapeutic Riding at Morven Park (LTR). LTR is dedicated to enhancing the lives of individuals with cognitive, psychological and physical disabilities through guided interactions with horses.

Circa 1780 Wilson Seldon built a stone house on the grounds and 28 years later Judge Thomas Swann purchased the property. About 23 years later he added a two-story section that is now the center portion of the house and the Greek Revival portico. The manor house was remodeled again in the 1850s. In 1903 Westmoreland Davis, Virginia’s governor from 1918-22, purchased the 21 room home and established a model farm to promote progressive agricultural practices. He then purchased “Southern Planter Magazine” to serve as a platform for these ideas. 

Tours of the mansion are exceptional in that the furniture is 100 percent original and there are no ropes so that the rooms are very accessible. Highlights of the tour include six Belgian tapestries and a dining room chest adorned with intricately carved Blackamoors.

The north wing of the mansion is devoted to the Museum of Hounds and Hunting. It is filled with artworks and memorabilia that showcase the sport of foxhunting. There is much to be learned here including the fact that every aspect of the riding outfit has meaning. The gems of the collection are an early chair used to strengthen the muscles of riders and artwork featuring a local foxhunt in which, if you look closely, you can pick out Jackie Onassis riding to the hunt. The world’s largest foxhound show is held at Morven as well as numerous free equestrian events.

In 1969, work began on The Winmill Carriage Museum, built to house the 40 object collection of Viola Townsend Winmill. She was very involved in equestrian sports and collected antique horse-drawn vehicles from the 1850s to the end of the horse-drawn era. The conveyances are in pristine collection and include the stunning carriage Grace Kelly rides in in The Swan and Tom Thumb’s coach. Guided tours are regularly scheduled. 

Turkey Hill Farm is located on the property. This is where the pardoned White House Thanksgiving turkeys live out the remainder of their lives.

Four reconstructed Confederate log structures are on the grounds. They represent the 50 huts built and lived in by the 17th Mississippi for four months from 1861-1862. Skirmishes on the property provided a distraction so that Lee could advance into Maryland.

The Italian Renaissance Harrison Hall was built circa 1780 with additions in the 1840s. The mansion served as Confederate headquarters and was visited by Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. A central portion of the house is the original log cabin and it is this area that James Dickey rented to complete his novel “Deliverance.”

Winston Churchill deemed George C. Marshall the “Architect of Victory” for his role in the war and in crafting of the Economic Cooperation Act of 1948, the Marshall Plan. Europe’s economy was shattered as a result of WWII and Marshall proposed that America assist with the reconstruction to ensure political and economic stability. The United States spent $13-billion dollars assisting European recovery between 1948-51. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.

Because Marshall chose a military career he did not own a home until he was reaching mandatory retirement age. His wife was driving through the area and noticed that the house, Dodona Manor, was for sale. She immediately inspected the house, agreed upon the $16,000 cost, put $10.00 down and placed the for sale sign inside her car. They moved into the house in 1941 and Marshall lived there until his death.

The furnishings in the home are 90 percent original and a guided house and gardens tour reveals the man behind the legend. The manor house was begun in the 1780s in Federal-style and was completed in three stages. Interior architectural elements contain features of Federal, Greek Revival and Colonial Revival design and interprets the 1940s and 50s. Of particular note are paintings by Churchill and Madame Chiang Kai Shek. The den was Marshall’s favorite room and the most popular object here is the early television set, the size of an average lunchbox. Another treat is the fully furnished kitchen that is a culinary time capsule. 

On the second level Marshall’s Spartan bedroom is in stark contrast to his wife’s adjoining one. Guests can visit the accommodations provided for Madame Chiang Kai Shek when she visited. She required one room for herself and a room for dormitory-style lodging for her ladies.

The site is also the home of the George C. Marshall International Center.

Leesburg’s inhabitants were divided prior to the Civil War on the issue of slavery, as was Loudon County in general. Several incidents involving African Americans exemplify the courage of some Virginians and the sympathies of the times.

Leonard Grimes was born in Leesburg in the early 1800s and by the 1830s he operated a commercial carriage business in D.C. and assisted fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad. In 1839, he transported Patty, an escapee, and her six children and was caught, charged and tried in the Leesburg courthouse in 1840.  The seven slaves did reach Canada but Grimes was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison. Upon release, he and his family relocated to Boston to become pastor of the Twelfth Baptist Church. It was known as the Fugitive Church because of its support of freedom seekers. He met with Lincoln in support of recruitment of black troops.

John W. Jones fled servitude in Leesburg and moved to Elmira, NY. He established an UGRR station there and was instrumental in fugitives moving on to Canada.

Peyton Lucas, a Leesburg blacksmith, accomplished the feat of swimming across the Potomac River as part of his journey to Pennsylvania and freedom. He lived in Pennsylvania, moved to New York and ultimately to Canada.

Nelson Gant’s story is unique. Gant was freed by his owner’s will in 1845 and, because it was illegal for him to remain in the state, he was compelled to leave. Prior to his departure he attempted to purchase his wife Maria, but her owner refused. He moved to Ohio where he and a group of abolitionists raised additional funds to purchase her. He returned to Virginia, but Jane Russell continued to refuse the sale. At that point Nelson and Maria fled. After being turned in by a black man they were arrested and tried in Leesburg. They were released and area Quakers assisted in her purchase. After working off their debt they moved to Ohio where Nelson functioned as a conductor on the UGRR.

Tuscarora Mill Restaurant, locally known as “Tuskies,” is a destination restaurant housed inside a historic 19th century grain mill. It opened in 1985 and features regional favorites created from fresh local products. The décor and food are outstanding.

Lincoln was originally known as Goose Creek. Quakers from Bucks County, PA settled it in the 1730s and it remains an intact Quaker Village with an active 1765 meetinghouse still in use. The nine votes here were the only regional votes Abraham Lincoln received, in spite of the fact that he was not listed on the ballot! In 1861 they renamed the village Lincoln, the first southern post-Civil War town to do so.

Route 50 is one of the most storied roads in the state. It began as an Indian trail and is now known as John S. Mosby Highway and an important feature of the Mosby Heritage Corridor. Mosby and his rangers, Mosby’s Confederacy, dominated the region during the Civil War. The corridor defines the limits of his guerilla activities and allows travelers to trace the hoof prints of the “Grey Ghost” on authentic trails.

Aldie dates from Charles Mercer’s 1810 use of 30 acres to establish a mill and surrounding town. He chose the name Aldie to honor his family’s Scottish castle home. Aldie Mill and Mt. Zion Church stand today in the tiny village as testaments to the Battle of Aldie, a significant precursor to Gettysburg.

The rural Mt. Zion Old School Baptist Church was constructed in 1851 and held services until 1980. The church has changed very little and the balcony in which free blacks were seated remains intact. During the Civil War the church was used as a barracks, a prison and a rendezvous point for Mosby’s Rangers. The adjacent cemetery contains war casualties and outside of the fence, on the south side, at least 64 blacks were buried. The site is now Mt. Zion Historic Park.

Aldie is also home to the Little Apple Pastry Shop home of the “Thanksgiving in your mouth” sandwich. This place is an absolute must stop for handmade sandwiches, pies and pastries using the freshest ingredients.

 Purcellville is situated on Route 7, once known as the “Great Road.” PA Quakers,  James and Rebekah Dillon, purchased more than 1,000-acres from John Mead to establish a community in 1764. The village of Purcellville grew up around a tavern on the Great Road and Valentine Purcell’s general store that functioned as the town center. In 1852 the name Purcellville became official.

Award-winning Sunset Hills Vineyard is situated on a restored 1870, 250-acre, farm with a tasting room that is inside a meticulously restored barn. The restoration wasperformed by six Amish brothers from Lancaster. The vineyard is committed to sustainabilityand recycles waste, is 100 percent solar, uses a minimal amount of pesticides and herbicides and employs limited usage of large machine-based labor. Sunset Hills has won both the Virginia Green and Loudoun County Green certificates.

The vineyard produces 10,000 cases of boutique vintages annually and has been the recipient of the Virginia Governor’s Medal. It is open for tastings daily, there is live music on the weekends and the panoramic view of the Short Hill and Blue Ridge Mountains is showcased all the time.

Catoctin Creek Distilling Company is in the heart of Purcellville and is the first legal distillery in Loudoun County since before Prohibition. Owners Becky and Scott Harris create small batch liquors that are entirely handcrafted. They make 40,000 bottles annually including their version of moonshine. Distillery tours and guest bartender events are offered. 

Catoctin Creek is another of my “amazing females” sites. Becky Harris, a chemical engineer, is the distiller. She is one of the few in the country and the sole female distiller on the East Coast.

Loudoun County has something for everyone from family fun to solitary hikes on backwoods trails. Just remember to stop and savor the moment. Planning tools are available online.

I wish you smooth travels!


You know it is spring when the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden open for the season. Located in West Fairmount Park this traditional-style Japanese house and garden provide a serene sanctuary and offer a series of unique events and workshops through mid-October. This is one of Philadelphia’s outstanding sites.

Brides Against Breast Cancer’s  “Nationwide Tour of Gowns” will be visiting Philadelphia May 9-10, 2014. This nonprofit organization sells donated wedding gowns to benefit cancer victims. Complete information is located online.

St Augustine, Florida will be presenting “Journey: 450 Years of the African-American Experience”, as part of a commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, at the Visitor Information Center. African American history began here with Fort Mose, the first freed black settlement on the continent.

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