The photo is Green Mont as it appeared in 1960
The early 1960’s
By the fall of 1960, Mr Payne, the Flemings farm manager, had vacated the Green Mont house. We were living in York, PA at the time and started spending weekends and holidays at the farm. I remember the very first night we actually slept in the house.
We came into The Plains from the Old Tavern direction for some reason. It was on a dark and stormy night (ho, ho). The entire town was dark. “Hatcherʼs Store”, still the tallest building in town, appeared eerily (to the eyes of a 7 year old) out of a lightning flash. I remember no other lights. Maybe power was out. Maybe there were just no streetlights.
When we got to the farm, the house was dark and locked. Having no key, I, being the smallest, was stuffed through a dining room window and directed to come around and unlock the front door, which I somehow managed to do in the total darkness; kind of spooky, but I felt proud that I was able to complete this dangerous mission.
We spent much of the summer of 1961 at Green Mont. I remember watching the 4th of July Kinloch fireworks with Clarissa and Harriot, all seated on the corner of the screened porch.
My parents made a few changes to the house right away. They tore out all the old pantry cabinets, shelves and walls and installed a new kitchen. They used all the components they had removed from the house in New Hampshire (they had removed and brought them along for some reason) which apparently they had just sold. The cabinets were white enameled steel and the appliances were all stainless; and electric. The counter tops were green “linen” formica with metal edges.There was a small yellow table (from the breakfast room in York) with 4 wooden chairs (from New Hampshire, and who knows where else before that). I’m sitting in one of them as I type this.
They replaced the wide swinging back door that had accommodated all the years of traffic from the outside kitchen. They re-wallpapered most of the first floor. The kitchen paper had “ivy” running through it. A new brass chandelier and sconces were hung in the dining room. And, when it returned from its restoration, “The Good Dinner” resumed its rightful place on the Dining Room wall. The hanger was still there.
The rather elaborate first floor stair landing was removed and the door under the stairs (to what we called the Den , or Library) was relocated to the foot of the new stair. I remember this “Library”room doubled as the farm office when the Paynes lived there. It had a direct door to the back hall. It may actually have been one of the few downstairs rooms the Paynes used. The fireplace worked exceptionally well and the room was of a cozy size. I believe it was a popular room when the Flemings lived there as well.
The kitchen and the dining room were the warmest and brightest rooms in the house. They were situated directly over the basement (where the giant boiler was located) and had all the south facing windows.
My father made a change in the living room, removing the pocket doors connecting it to the front parlor in order to gain a few inches to accommodate an unusually large carpet that had come from his mother’s living room at Yeocomico. Having a room large enough to handle that 13’8 x 20’6 rug foot has been a basic requirement of all the houses we had ever lived in.
As with most of the systems at the farm at that time, the water main was failing. It was leaking more water than it was carrying. The old cistern system was abandoned and a new automatic pressure system was installed. You didn’t have to go flip a switch anymore, and the water pressure was great, but it never tasted the same again.
Another change to the scene was the arrival of the new workshop. An entire stretch of the original farm buildings, including the Carriage House was taken out to make room for this hulking cinderblock building.
We actually only lived in Green Mont, full time, for one year. And, the decision to build another house had already been made before we moved in.
The dairy part of all this was pretty exciting to me as an eight year old. It was the real deal; everything mooing and humming, surrounded by white wash and stainless steel; the big homogenizing vat with its paddles turning; the shiny milk truck coming every morning. It was a milk “factory”. I don’t know if it was profitable or not, but it sure acted like it was. And the milk was delicious.
I only know a vague version of what happened, but a couple of years after we got there, the herd contracted tuberculosis. This is really bad news in the dairy business. It was just over. Instantly. The entire herd was slaughtered (I guess a dairy cow isn’t worth much if you can’t drink its milk). The farm was quarantined for 25 years. No more dairy, just like that.
Green Mont became a cattle fattening operation. Angus, if I remember correctly, about 40 or 50 cows at a time.
The “New Green Mont” years
My mothers had a small inheritance from her mother. She had apparently been saving it to build her “Dream House”. I think that is the money that was going to be used to build “New Green Mont”, whatever and where ever that was going to be.
My father used a lot of quad ruled graph paper and columnar ledger paper. Buildings and circuits were designed on graph paper. Calculations and thoughts were organized on ledger paper. The Dream House options were organized in columns on ledger paper. A column of 9 options was looked at with regard to the Dream House question.
- New House in Green Mont woods
- New House on “Difficulty”
- New house, other site
- Tear down Green Mont, build New House
- Renovate Green Mont
- Buy a New House
- Buy a vintage House, re(something) I can’t read this one
- Buy a 30 – 50 year old “good” home
- Buy a modern House
Local architects were interviewed regarding a full restoration of the old house (I wonder if they tried to contact Irwin Fleming?). All of them recommended that restoration was impractical. The termite and water damage was so extensive. They went as far as to get some estimates, but, in the end, they opted to build a new house.
They explored other sites on Green Mont as well as some on Difficulty. They even looked at some other properties. They settled on Green Mont’s highest point and chose a spot near the edge of the woods. It afforded a nice western view of the Blue Ridge and kept it out of the middle of a field.
There were x’s marked through the options of “Tear down Green Mont….” and “Renovate Green Mont”. And off they went to the top of the farm to build a new house. There was unfortunately no column for “Maintain Green Mont”.
The “New Green Mont” floor plan, a packaged “Sholtz Home”, was modified, widening the living room by 3 feet to accommodate that rug (It was a happy day for WFR when that rug was reunited with the Yeocomico living room in 1973). I’m not sure which of the features my mother wanted actually got incorporated into this dream house.
In the summer of 1965, we made the move from Rochester, NY to live year around at Green Mont. I thought my mother and I were going to be the only ones there full time at first, but then Roberta was there. She had left New York and had gotten a job with an Architect in Middleburg. Bill was in Iowa in school, Lee had just started boarding school in Delaware, and my father was working full time in either New York or Pennsylvania and only in Virginia for Saturday night. I went to a private day school in Middleburg. “New Green Mont” was under construction just up the road
New Green Mont as completed in the late spring of 1966. “Old” Green Mont became an over-flow house. It was left just as it was and furnished with family remnants. They kept all the services on, including the heat. Remember when heating oil was 20 cents a gallon? Old Green Mont would go through a thousand gallons of oil a month in really cold weather, just to keep it from freezing.
Lee and I used the front parlor as a music room during our teen age years. I’m not sure when my father started keeping a home office in the big living room, but he did at some point. When Roberta got married in 1969, Green Mont held the overflow guests. The Ushers used Green Mont as a dressing area. By the time I was 16 or 17, Green Mont was where I spent most of my time. As I got into college years in the early 1970’s I even started sleeping there when I was home from school.
In the summer of 1973, after my sophomore year of college, several of my friends from Pratt came down to spend the summer there with Lee and me at Green Mont. We’d all been reading B. F. Skinner and had visions of a great commune. Bill (WFR III and his first wife, Natalia, were also in The Plains that summer, but living at New Green Mont. Bill had an idea to fix up the “Old Kitchen” for Natalia and himself and a certain amount of interior demolition took place. We all went our separate ways in the fall.
Then, when my parents made their rather unanticipated move to Leesburg in the fall of 1973 (another long story), Green Mont got left behind. The pipes were drained and it went cold for the first time in almost 100 years.
In the summer of 1975, Dan Lazarus (a high school friend of mine), Bill, Lee and I, with frequent visitors, again took up residence at Green Mont. We were into growing a bit our own food. Bill and Dan baked bread; very weighty, yummy bread.
The plumbing was leaking everywhere, electrical circuits were blowing fuses right and left but somehow the boiler was able to be started up one last time. That winter was a nasty cold experience. Then in the spring of 1976, we all moved on and Green Mont was empty again.
Dan Lazarus and Bill Rust III in the vegetable garden, 1975. In the background (from left to right) the “Old Kitchen”, the smoke house, the wood shed, the log cabin (school house) and the privy; everything leaning slightly, but much as Betsy Rust had depicted them almost 35 years before.
After the end the dairy operation, my father attempted a small beef cattle operation. It may have met expenses, but that was probably about all, and even that was only possible when you could hire a farm hand for practically nothing if some sort of minimal housing for was included. Reuben Budd worked for my father during this period and took care of all the day to day responsibilities of the farm. In about 1970, Reuben Budd was lured away by a neighboring farm, and Green Mont was reduced to occasional haying.
In the fall of 1973 my parents had completed their move to Leesburg. Now not only was Green Mont empty, but so was New Green Mont. Farming activity had also ceased. My father leased the farm, and the new house, for 5 years to a squeaky clean young farmer named Clair Beasley. He was somehow affiliated with a politician who was backing him in a contract corn operation.
The Beasleys were leasing or under contract for thousands of acres of corn. I not sure if they ever actually planted corn on Green Mont. A good thing, too. They ran a very pesticide and herbicide intensive operation. Green Mont just didn’t have the right sort of fields for big scale corn. But it did have a barn yard, several large silos and a formidable electric service.
A major corn dryer was erected in the middle of the barnyard and it became the center of the Beasley’s trucking and storage operation. It was a nightmare. Their backer pulled out almost immediately and shortly before the end of the lease, their whole operation crashed and burned, leaving a legal mess and sizeable debt. Green Mont had suffered damage and was owed a fair amount of back rent. The Beasleys also trashed New Green Mont. We discovered after they vanished in the night that they had been keeping livestock in the house.
The Old Kitchen
In the fall of 1976, I convinced my father that there needed to be someone living on the farm and was put in charge of making that happen. The Old Kitchen was remodeled into a simple but comfortable 2 bedroom house. It had a rather awkward style that I thought was cool at the time but later regretted ( I was studying architecture). I rented this house and part of the workshop to a good and dependable friend, Mike Armstrong, and his wife. I think they lived there for about 8 years, to everyone’s advantage.
The 1976 division
In 1976, my father divided Green Mont between his four children. The original 200+ acres of Green Mont were divided into 3 parcels. Lee received the south west half, including the high fields and the woods amounting to 100+ acres. It had 1 tenant house on it. 10 acres were separated out for “New Green Mont”; this parcel notched out of the center of Lee’s tract. The residual, including the old farm yard and main house went to me. This parcel was also 100+ acres but 10 of those acres were about to fall to eminent domain for the proposed Route 66 extension.
Route 66 gashed through the Broad Run valley in 1977. It’s not like the highway ran right over the house or anything like that. Many residents got hit worse than I did. It just took away that deep quiet of the country that one would occasionally be conscious of. I honestly don’t think I would have even minded if it had been a nice rail system. My Green Mont “slice” also came along with the added headache of the Beasley’s failing corn operation and some 23 buildings, several in desperate condition. I was 23 at the time of the gift.
The Route 66 episode left one acre of Green Mont isolated on the far side of Rte. 66 with impassable right-of-way under an overpass. The Highway department wanted to just absorb it this lonely acre, but I insisted on retaining it. I asked for a passable right of way under the overpass and was lead to believe that it had been agreed, but my father, who was continuing to handle negotiations with the D.O.T., let it slip away. This lonely acre contains the stone dam (c 1912) that created a Fleming family swimming hole.
Roberta received “Difficulty”, an 87 acre parcel, not contiguous with the main farm, that was added to the family acreage in the 1930’s? by Lee Fleming. It was probably known as Difficulty due to an abundance of rock outcroppings. This property is located at the crossing of O’bannon and Mount Eccentric roads, about a mile from the main farm yard, on the other side of the Orange County Hunt property. Broad Run passes through it . There were no structures on this property.
Bill received the Carver Farm. It adjoins Difficulty on the west. I believe it is 62 acres. It had its own farm site with a small unimproved house and a few fallen down barns and an old mill site along Broad Run which runs the length along its northern boundary.
Returning to The Plains 1979
My first wife, Cindy, and I moved into New Green Mont with our two children in September of 1979. My mother made me a good deal. I could have it for free if I put it back in shape and repaired all the devastation the Beasleys had left behind. We lived there for about 5 years. I started an architectural practice in The Plains and learned that I was not a farmer and didn’t really enjoy spending much time with cows. At least I got the farm fenced.
I moved out in 1984 when my marriage fell apart. My ex-wife continued to live in the house for another year. I tried to buy New Green Mont from my mother so that my family could continue to live there, but my mother did not want to sell it to me, and Cindy decided she didn’t want to stay in Virginia. In 1985, Cindy and children left for points north. After a few short term “separated husband” moves, I ended up at “Homewood” which I had managed to lease from Mike Harris
In 1986 or 87, my mother decided to sell “New Green Mont” to Lee. He took her up on the offer. This consolidated Lee’s end of the farm. They painted and patched and rented it out to a couple of “antique” dealers who had set up shop in the The Plains. Sometime after I had moved to California, in the later 1990’s (Apr. 2002 per RBLR), the house burned to the ground under suspicious circumstances with the tenants’ contents insured for a very high value. It was not rebuilt. I am surprised to find that I don’t have a good photograph of that house.
The last occupants
Lee and Wendy were married in 1980 and had decided to move from Richmond to the farm and remodel the one existing house on their part of the farm. They hired me to do the design work. They started out living in the Green Mont driveway in Lee’s Airstream trailer. This got old pretty quickly. To give them some relief, I offered them Green Mont.
No one had lived in the house for 5 years. It was completely shut down. The plumbing and heating were hopelessly shot. All it had was electricity, and not much of that. You had to be careful not to fall through the floor in parts of the first floor, particularly near the old bathroom. Wendy and Lee carved out an “apartment” on the second floor using one or two of the larger rooms and setting up a little kitchen in one of the smaller bedrooms. We ran some new lines in to supply the upstairs bathroom and the little kitchen. I think the old cast iron drain lines were the only thing holding up that corner of the house. They heated with two small wood stoves and a few portable space heaters
They lived there for two summers and the intervening winter. Wendy was pregnant with Ian by that time and in order to keep the pressure on getting their house finished before Ian popped out, Wendy parked the Airstream over in the driveway of their unfinished house and moved in there. This was in the fall of 1982. That was the last time anyone lived in Green Mont. The house sat as they left it until 1986 when I started to dig into the place and see what was left.
I’m not sure how much I need to go on about my fumbled efforts to save Green Mont, but I will say a little.
In 1984, I started to try and figure out just what I was going to do with this great rotting hulk of a house. I felt a certain “need” to save it; a sense of obligation; a duty. But, I also felt there was a bit of discontent and muttering among members of my family with regard to what I might do, or should do, or not do, with the house.
It felt like everybody was watching. The only person who didn’t seem to care about it was my father, and, ironically he was the one whose opinion I most cared about. Particularly since he seemed to have singled me out as one to deal with all of this.
I looked for direction anywhere I could think of. I even engaged my brother Bill’s historical archeology firm, the Loudoun Archaeology Center, to help search for clues of any older structures on the property, and to help with discovery regarding the existing ones. We didn’t uncover anything too much with the excavations, although the archival research was quite interesting, I thought.
I could offer up a long list of all the structural damage I found, but let it suffice to say that there was little left that was sound. Also, I, myself, had some fairly serious issues with the house, architecturally, that would be difficult to resolve. On top of that, my personal life was starting to veer out of control. For some reason, in spite of all that, I decided to go ahead and rebuild.
The work went on for years. I spent a small fortune but I was just spinning my wheels with no end in sight. I guess I was just too wrapped up in it to be able to see the right choices to make, and, with all the other things going on in my life at that time, I was in over my head.
in 1988, I decided to walk away from it for a while and get a little perspective on it. The problem with that plan was, that I never managed to get back to it, and the whole effort just slowly settled into the ground. Ah, the mistakes we make.
I wrote this in late 2014…
I now find myself, increasingly, back in The Plains. It has been more than 25 years since I stopped work on the house. It is in total ruin and has nearly fallen in on itself. The shop roof has collapsed. The roof is peeling back on the dairy barn, and a tenant run amok has turned the barnyard into the worst sort of automotive junkyard imaginable. Fences are totally overgrown. The dam has washed out on the pond. etc. etc. Strangely enough, I actually feel ready to take this all on.
Roberta gets tipsy at family gatherings and backs us against the wall, demanding that we come up with a plan for this fantastic family thing that we all are attached to. She’s right. It’s time to do that. I have absolutely no plan, or even a concept in mind. But, with Andrea, my Green Mont neighbor, cheering me on from the bench, I’m going to clean it up, and put it back on the table.
Spending the summer and fall of 2016 working on the house, I reconnected with how beautiful and special a place Green Mont is.