Revisiting the (maybe) most haunted house in Loudoun County…

Around this time last year, I posted about what some believe to be the most haunted house in Loudoun County.

I wrote about it last year because I’d been reading a book of ghost stories my friend gave me , and I connected some dots and came to conclusion that the house in a story I’d read that day was very likely the same house.

Can I be certain? Well, no, but I’d like to think I’m right, because it’s a pretty cool connection. See, this house is just a few minutes away on the outskirts of our village, and Graham and I drive by it frequently. Of all the gin joints, right?

I’ve always been a fan of both ghost stories and old houses. I love walking into a space knowing that it has a history, that others have come and gone and loved it and built their lives there before me. And honestly, I think it’s just a fundamentally, very human thing to love ghost stories. Something in our primal makeup, in our DNA and our bones and the very oldest part of our brains tells us to be afraid of things that go bump in the night, and to ponder what happens to us when we die. I grew up in a town full of ghosts and legends, and I live in an area rife with them now, too. And this house is just one small piece of that larger puzzle.

Or, it was. Which is to say, it still is, but for how long is anyone’s guess. It was a ruin last year. It’s in worse shape now.

Graham stopped by yesterday and snapped this picture. Sad, isn’t it? Soon enough, the house will be gone, and the stories will be all that’s left. Then one day, they’ll be forgotten, too. But for now, the house is still here, crumbling away on the roadside, taking its secrets with it.

P.S. As I did last year, I’ll add this disclaimer:  This house is on private property, and there are no trespassing signs posted, so please don’t go poking around where you’re not welcome. It’s easy enough to take a picture from the road.

A Drive in the Sky

We had a really nice mini-vacation. We mostly stayed home – we hung out and watched movies, spent time with friends, and generally just relaxed – but we also decided to head down to Charlottesville for a couple of days. Graham had picked out some cideries for us to try, and he booked a really cute inn for a night. And then, on Monday, we took Skyline Drive home.

What is Skyline Drive? Glad you (maybe) asked! It’s part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, and of Shenandoah National Park. It snakes through some of Virginia’s beautiful mountain terrain, and it boasts some of the very best views in the state. Like this one:

And this one:

And this one, too:

We took it slow and just enjoyed driving and chatting. We don’t often get the privilege of uninterrupted, distraction-free time together.

And then, at the highest point on the route, we ran into some fog.

Some very dense fog.

But you know, it was fine. The fog actually made the fall colors pop, and it’s kind of magical, feeling like you’re up in the clouds.

All in all, Skyline Drive was a really lovely experience, and I think we’re planning to do it again in the spring. It’ll be fun to see how the vistas change with the seasons.

Let’s get back to it, then!

Okay, so, today…got away from me. I feel like the first day back after time off (even, it seems, a short staycation) is often chaotic. And, well, I should have been prepared, but I wasn’t. So, just a quick post today. But come back on Friday for a post all about one of our staycation adventures! And enjoy this photo of some beautiful Virginia scenery as a preview. 😉

September Evening, 2021

It’s been raining on and off today, and it’s nice and cool outside, and the sky is pink and purple, and the trees are starting to turn gold, and I just really think September in Virginia might be one of my very favorite things in the entire world.

A Foggy Morning Hike Through a Hidden Gem

*This post is a little shorter than I’d initially planned. I had my second COVID vaccination yesterday, and today I’m feeling a bit under the weather. (It was worth it. I’d do it again. I’m so grateful and relieved and happy and hopeful, and I can’t wait to hug my vaccinated friends and family. I’ve missed hugs.) Now, with that out of the way…*

I’d mentioned in a previous post that we want to do more hiking and get outside more this year, and I’ve featured one of our hikes already. Here’s another.

On Saturday, we pulled ourselves out of bed at 7:30 in the rainy, foggy morning, and made our way to a beautiful hidden gem.

I suppose there are lots of people in the area who’ve visited Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve before, but I honestly had no idea it existed. I’m so happy that’s changed!

It’s an amazing, quiet place with lots of native flora. I kept having to stop and take pictures. It was just so lovely.

It’s bluebell season here in Virginia, and I can’t get enough of it. They’re so vibrant – purple when they’re young, and then their signature color as they grow and bloom.

The hike itself was low-key and easy. The rolling hills weren’t difficult to manage at all, and the scenery was distracting enough that I probably wouldn’t have noticed anyway.

Next time, I think we’re going to try something a little more challenging, but for now, I’m so happy to know this place exists, and I absolutely plan to go back.

Loudoun Local: History and Preservation in the Time of COVID-19

“Too often, discussions about preserving and investing in critical places is deemed non-essential or a nice thing to do in good times. But the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that places are even more important in challenging times.” –Nicholas Redding

I came across this article a few weeks ago, and it got me thinking – what does historic preservation look like right now?  And does it even matter in such a frightening and uncertain time?

I live in a historic village, built around a gristmill that dates back to 1807 and still functions today.

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Sometimes, President James Monroe, who called this little village home in his later years, even comes to visit.

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I’ve lived here since 2016, when my husband and I decided to do the crazy thing we’d been talking about for the last five or so years and buy a 200-year-old house.  We have never regretted that decision, and I doubt we ever will.  We live in a home with a story, where generations of families have lived before us, where people watched soldiers pass by on their way to a major cavalry battle and where we find evidence every day of just how much has changed in our little corner of the globe.  Our house is part of America’s history, and we have the honor of serving as guardians of that history.

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You don’t just live in a building this old.  You experience it.  And that applies to historic preservation, generally.  It’s all about the experience, because there’s nothing quite like firsthand knowledge to help you appreciate exactly what you’re protecting.  So, how do we approach historic preservation in this historic moment?  And more specifically, how should we approach it where I live in Loudoun County?

Presence, engagement, and experiencing history online.

Take a look at some of our most well-preserved historic sites in America, and you’ll see people.  Lots of people, physically present – walking on the battlefields of Bull Run and Gettysburg, watching reenactments at Williamsburg and Jamestown, exploring the homes of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Emily Dickinson, and Frederick Douglass (one of my favorites, that one).  It is interesting, memorable, and valuable to immerse yourself in history.

But what do you do when you can’t?

In Loudoun, we’ve gone virtual.  Loudoun’s Heritage Farm Museum has created a collection of online resources, their “Virtual Museum.”  They’ve also become a pickup location for the Loudoun Made Loudoun Grown Marketplace, which itself has gone digital.  The Mosby Heritage Area Association, a non-profit devoted to preservation through education, has created extensive online programming and hosts almost nightly events on their Facebook page (my favorite is “History on Tap,” and you should check it out).  And Oatlands Historic House and Gardens has started a blog, “Oatlands Originals,” to share a virtual collection from their archives, and has begun hosting a video series for tours of the property, including the idyllic gardens and grounds managed by Mark Schroeter, a respected horticulturalist with extensive experience maintaining and curating historic gardens.

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So many of our museums and non-profits in Loudoun have worked hard over the last several weeks to move their programming online, and to offer tours and education virtually.  It’s not the same, sure, but it’s what we can do, right now.

Funding in the middle of a pandemic.

At the best of times, preservationists often have to fight tooth and nail for the funding they need.  Unfortunately, desperate times often see that funding diminished, reallocated, or revoked altogether.  Just recently, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted to cancel funding for the Loudoun Museum, a move made more devastating by the fact that they’d previously approved that funding.

I’m not going to argue politics here.  We are living through extraordinary times, and difficult decisions are being made at all levels of both civilian life and government.  That being said, many museums, historic sites, and non-profits that promote preservation survive on donations from their communities.  These are scary and turbulent times, though, and if you can’t offer financial support, you can still spread the word and be vocal about what you love.  Word of mouth will never NOT be powerful.

Preservation requires passion.

And your voice is a resource, just like your dollar.  Preserving historic sites often feels more like a battle than a project.  No matter the issue – funding, recognition, apathy – preservation is tiring and sometimes thankless work.

In my village, we worked for the better part of three years to preserve several of our historic structures when our own elected representatives moved to demolish them.  It took a petition with over 5,000 signatures, hours of phone calls and knocking on doors and answering questions and making statements at public hearings before we were finally heard.  But we were, and the historic fabric of our village should hopefully remain intact for future generations of Loudouners to explore and experience.

Now, not even a year later, there’s a brand new issue, and a brand new petition, as the community works to protect a battlefield and the rural viewshed of a historically significant church and cemetery.

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Loudoun’s elected representatives continue to look for quick and easy ways to solve problems, even if they directly conflict with public sentiment, and even though we’re in the middle of a pandemic that stifles public input and engagement.  And no matter how this one ends, in another year, there will be another fight, and another after that.

The sad and difficult truth is that in a world always looking out for the next big thing, on the hunt for instant gratification, the long and labor-intense process of preserving historic structures and protecting historic areas is, for many, not a priority.

It takes energy and passion to make an impact in a world that too often just doesn’t care, and Loudoun County sits squarely in ground zero between the vital need for historic preservation and the rising tide of new suburbia.

Connecting through history and preservation.

Click on almost any piece of journalism about Loudoun County, and you’ll read about the stark divide between its suburban, technology-infused east and its rural, farm-economy west.  Here’s one, for reference, aptly titled “A Tale of Two Counties.”  It’s such a classic divide in America, and here in Loudoun, one of the richest counties in the country where eastern residents regularly enjoy winery weekends and polo matches in the west, it would be funny if it weren’t so damaging.

A few years ago, the Chair of the Board of Supervisors caused a minor kerfuffle when she remarked that she regularly hears people say “idiotic things” about the county’s rural west.  She apologized, but the wound she prodded was open long before her election, and it has never really closed.

In the early 2000s, a group proposed secession of Loudoun’s rural west, and that sentiment lingers today, newly invigored by discussions around an updated comprehensive plan.  Residents in the east complain when schools close for snow-covered dirt roads in the west, and in the west, long-time property owners worry about encroaching new development.  And just today, a group of three supervisors sent a letter to Virginia governor Ralph Northam requesting that, unlike the rest of Loudoun County, the rural west be allowed to begin Phase 1 of reopening after a month-long stay at home order.  Residents are divided on this, too, with many in support of loosening restrictions, and others concerned about the potential impacts of reopening too quickly.

In this climate of divided politics, opposing values, and different priorities, it’s hard to imagine anything might bring us together here in Loudoun, but we share a rich heritage and a unique history.  They belong to all of us.  Loudoun’s story is America’s story, from battlefields and farmhouses to office buildings and suburbs.  When we invest our time, our energy, and our resources in preserving our historic spaces for future Loudoun residents, we reconfirm our connection to this shared experience.  When we agree that historic places matter and deserve to be protected, we recommit to moving forward together.  Perhaps now, more than any other time in recent memory, Loudoun County needs its preservationists.

“We remember the tremendous power that physical, authentic places hold in our lives. Places provide the setting to embrace our desire to connect and engage. We must remember that feeling as we rebuild.” –Nicholas Redding