It is not easy for me to write about this period of Green Mont’s history. Here goes.
When I moved to California in the summer 1995, I didn’t really have a plan for myself, let alone a plan for Green Mont. The 1986-1988 house reconstruction effort had been sidelined and bundled under tarps for seven years. A huge “tooling up” that had taken place during those rebuilding years had all been auctioned off, along with the farm equipment, in 1994. The buildings were empty except for some salvaged components of the Green Mont house (i.e. doors, windows, mantles, etc.) that were stored in the Barn and the Shop.
A month before our scheduled departure for California, I was approached by an acquaintance who needed a place to store some classic cars, as he described them. He was having to vacate his shop in Centreville, VA. I agreed to lease him the empty equipment shed, limiting it to 24 vehicles, and insisting that they all be “rollers” (on their own 4 wheels….with inflated tires). I arranged for a representative to keep an eye on things and collect the rent. After a month or two, the tenant requested more space. The Dairy barn was added to the lease. All vehicles were to be kept under roof, and on wheels.
From the very start, the rent was payed in fits and starts. There might have been a lapse of a month or two and then a single payment to catch things up. Gradually these lapses got longer and longer. By the end of the second year, not only was I getting sick of “the dog ate my homework” excuses but the rent was several months behind, the barns were spilling over, and the contents were no longer “wheeled”.
The agreement was ultimately terminated but as I was 3000 miles away (and my local representative did not seem able to manage confrontation) the situation continued, and worsened. Attempts to secure the property with padlocks were met with bolt cutters and midnight deliveries. The farmer who was renting the fields resorted to felling trees across the driveways to stem the tide of junk being carted onto the property.
I had a bigger battle brewing in California and couldn’t deal with an eviction across country and so turned a blind eye. By the time I was able to focus my attention on it, the farm was buried under a pile of scrap and junk the likes of which I had never seen.
To tackle it seemed overwhelming, and I could swear that the pile kept growing, even though all the ways in were blocked. This unattended junk pile was also attracting scavengers and other curious folk who determined that it was all fair game. They had rooted through everything, including all the house parts stored in the barn and shop. Unfortunately, many of those items were stolen or damaged.
The buildings were surrounded by this sea of junk. The power company could no longer get in to read the electric meter and finally cut of the power at the road (even though they continued to send me a bill for the monthly minimum service). The “Shop” had lost its roof and, with no easy way to get in there to effect repairs, it started taking in more and more water and the roof finally collapsed. The main house was also open to the weather. The few times that I did manage to get back to Virginia, I just couldn’t face it. I don’t really know what the rest of my family thought about it. They didn’t say much. Neither did I.
In 2011, finding myself in Virginia with increasing frequency, the situation was no longer “out of sight, out of mind”. I started consulting an attorney about what I would have to do to address the issue legally. Several friends who were familiar with metals and salvage operations offered to give me a hand with the physical aspects of a removal, but they were amateurs. They had never dealt with something of this magnitude. No one I attempted to describe the situation to ever claimed that I had overstated it. It was the worst mess I, or any of the others, had ever seen. Pictures can not really do it justice, but I have included some that give an idea of the scale of the clean-up. Keep in mind that the barnyard itself had been full of cars that were already hauled off by the time these pictures were taken.
About this time progress had stalled. It was either too wet and muddy, or there were bees and snakes. The guys who had taken this on stopped showing up. Fortunately, over the ensuing winter, I came across a local demolition company who said that they could handle it. They commenced in April 2015 and had pretty much hauled everything away by that September.
Pretty much all that remained were hubcaps (which I asked them to leave), some piles of old paint cans (which have to be handled as toxic waste), and broken glass fragments, everywhere. The ground is very sparkly. I’ll be picking up glass for the rest of my life.
As the buildings re-emerged from under the piles, it became apparent how desperately “in need” they were. The 1960’s cinder block “Shop”, which had never been my favorite building, either in its nature or its siting, was in pretty bad shape. Considering the extensive rebuilding that would have been required to resurrect it, I decided to just remove it.
The 1937 Dairy Barn had been missing a large section of its roof for years and had suffered major damage as a result, but repair was still feasible.
The 1910 wooden Bank barn had, at first, appeared to have weathered the indignities, but, as we dug into it, the critical nature of it’s condition became apparent. If the Barn had been let go any longer, it would likely have been too late to turn it around. The roof, which I thought was OK had actually been leaking badly for years. Large areas of the floor as well as some of the structural framing were completely rotted away and the metal in general was in danger of blowing off in the next strong gust. A lean-to shed on the south wall of the Barn was also in very bad condition and I opted to remove it. This side of the Barn was now exposed for the first time in a century. (Some of the materials from this shed were incorporated into rebuild of the house.)
The 1850 log cabin schoolhouse had pancaked to the ground years before after its chimney collapsed onto the roof. I salvaged what I could, which wasn’t much.
The Ice house and its neighbor, the Gas house, are still standing but just barely.
Last, but not least was the House. It had, by then, been open to the weather for many years. The roof had collapsed into the interior and the floors and floor framing were also completely gone.
Since the house had been so extensively re-framed during my attempt to “save” it in the 1980’s, little of what remained was older than 1988. Still, it was a shame. There was nothing to do but take it down.
It wasn’t safe to even walk into the structure, let alone try to dismantle it piece by piece. So, using an excavator, we gently pulled the walls outward. By doing so, the foundation and the one remaining original chimney were preserved. This chimney is in the oldest portion of the house, (built circa.1815);
I spent days sifting through the debris for anything salvageable and managed to recover window sash and casings, the front door and sidelights, and various pieces of original chestnut and pine framing. Everything else, as well as the jungle that had overtaken the yard and barn area, was cleared and hauled to the burn pile.
I had spent the previous year trying to document all the family oral history that I could recall. There had been no real purpose to this exercise other than to preserve it for my children, for a time when they might find it more interesting. With regard to Green Mont itself, I just wanted to clean up the mess and leave it to them in a better condition.
There I found myself. After so many years of trying NOT to think about Green Mont, it was now front and center. This is when the whole idea of a Fleming reunion came up….at Green Mont….with photos taken on the porch (that no longer existed)…at the house (that no longer existed)…on the 140th anniversary of the farm….. July 12, 2017……less than two years away.