pictured above, “Homewood” c1991
Another family home in The Plains, Va.
“Summer Hill” had been a simple summer cottage, built in 1908(?). Around that time, people would take the train west from D.C. and rent in the country for the summer to escape the malarial heat of the Potomac basin. There were several of these rental cottages perched on the hill in The Plains. My grandmother, Mary Fleming Rust, actually rented it one summer in the early 1920’s when they made an extended visit from Pittsburgh to The Plains and Green Mont. My father remembered staying there. It was simple shingle cottage, not “winterized”, with unpainted beaded board walls.
Frances Fleming and her husband, Henley Carter, had been managing and operating “Ravenscroft”* (now Archwood Farm) for Robert Downman, her mother’s beloved younger brother. They lived at Ravenscroft until Robert Downman’s death in 1928.
Henley Carter died in 1931. Frances’s 2nd husband, Tiphen Walsingham Allen had died by 1938. I’m not sure exactly when Frances acquired Summer Hill. I know that she had lived in at least one other house around the Plains after leaving Ravenscroft. Perhaps someone else can help out with this chronology?
Frances had a real talent when it came to fixing up houses and landscaping. She had undoubtedly a lot to do with the construction and development of Ravenscroft and she totally transformed Summer Hill, and in the process, renamed it “Homewood”.
In 1945, after Harriot Jane Downman’s death, Green Mont, which had been left to him by his father in 1929, was finally in the hands of Lee Fleming. Roberta Fleming stayed on to manage the house, something she had already been doing for her mother for years.
In 1929, Clarissa Fleming had inherited the nearby farm of her uncle, Robert Fleming; a story in himself. Clarissa’s farm had no suitable house on it as Uncle Rob was never married and had always lived with his brother at Green Mont, on the 3rd floor. During the 1930’s Clarissa had built a small one bedroom cabin on her farm as a get-a-way but had continued to live on the 3rd floor at Green Mont. Clarissa also managed the day to day farm operations for her mother. This was now under Lee’s competent hand. Clarissa felt it was time to move out.
In 1948, before her third marriage, to V. Ward Boswell, Frances sold Homewood to Clarissa. The same year, Lee removed the Green Mont third floor (the roof had been leaking badly for years and he no longer needed 13 bedrooms). Harriot Fleming, who, for years, had been operating her dress shop, Shands and Fleming, in Washington, D. C. , only coming out to Green Mont on the weekends, started spending those weekends with Clarissa at Homewood.
The stories from Clarissa and Harriot’s 32 years at Homewood could fill books; the Christmas parties with spiked eggnog and little “cakes”; Clarissa, in her pith helmet, marshaling the lawn and garden troops on the East side of the drive way; Harriot, on the West, transplanting delicate “found” native plants into her naturalistic shade garden with its goldfish pond and mossy stones; the extension on the garage to accommodate the prow of Clarissa’s Olds Cutlass; catching the favorable breezes on the corner of the screened porch…..
To conclude…briefly….When Clarissa died in 1983, Homewood was left to Mike Harris. Mike had a life elsewhere and leased the house out. In 1985, I was in need of a house and Mike leased to it me. I purchased Homewood from him in 1988. The house, which had last been remodeled by Frances, was remodeled again after my 2nd marriage in 1990 and it then looked as pictured above. I leased the house out for several years after I moved to LA in 1995. In 1998, I found a buyer and sold.
I had one more go-around with Homewood. In 2000, the Fenwick’s, who I had sold the house to, decided they needed to enlarge it. They contacted me in California and asked me to design the addition. I was honored. I have nothing but fond memories of Miss Clarissa’a house in The Plains.
There was a small sign with the name “Summer Hill” fashioned out of blued steel upholstery tacks hammered into a weathered white board. This sign, I believe, still hangs outside the little guest room behind the house.
*”Ravenscroft” had been the name of Harriot and Robert Downman’s childhood home outside of Warrenton, Virginia. The house had been built by their father, Robert Henry Downman. The family was forced to flee the house early in the Civil War. In 1862, this original Ravenscroft was torn down by the Union troops and the lumber used to make a marquis for a ball for General Pope. (from Clarissa’s book William Downman of Plymouth, England and Virginia October 1608 and Some of his Descendants, 1958)
Added September 5, 2017: The Carters at Homewood on July 15, 2017