The "Elmwood-On-The-Opequon" Series
Ancient White Oak From An Historic, Creekside Plantation.
Historic Elmwood-on-theOpequon is a farmstead complex situated on a 70-acre tract at the western edge of Jefferson County, approximately six miles northwest of Charles Town, boundaried to the west by Opequon Creek, the dividing line between Berkeley and Jefferson Counties. This property was originally part of the extensive land holdings of Thomas, Lord Fairfax, the Proprietor of the Northern Neck of Virginia. In 1754, Lord Fairfax sold the tract now containing “Elmwood-on-theOpequon” to Col. Benjamin Grayson, who in turn sold the land to Edward Conner. In 1762, Conner sold the property to Revolutionary War hero General Adam Stephen, the founder of Martinsburg. Stephen’s plantation was anchored by “The Bower” (NR 1982), which is located near Elmwood. The property then passed by will to the Dandridge Family, and was thus owned by Adam Stephen's descendants until 1905, when a 318-acre tract, including “Elmwood,” was acquired by George H. Bowers (1872-1914). In 1912, Robert Everhart acquired 153 acres of the Bowers tract, leaving 165 acres associated with “Elmwood.” When George Bowers died at the age of 42, he left the property to his son George H. Bowers, Jr. (1902-1988) and his daughter, Sarah Leone Bowers, who in 1955 acquired her brother’s interest in the property. Since1981, the property has been owned by George Bowers’ grand-daughter. A 2005 sale of acreage north of Sulpher Springs Road left the Elmwood tract at the 70 acres it occupies today. It was the Bowers Family that gave Elmwood-on-the-Opequon the name it bears today. The tract consists of several historic resources and a modern house - built in 1997 - that in no way detracts from the historic character of the property (see below). The 1830 stuccoed log building, built and lived in by the descendants of Gen. Stephen, is known as "Elmwood-the-Opequon I," and began as a single-story gable-roofed house with an outside chimney. It contained an earlier log structure that may have existed during the Gen. Stephens era of ownership. The original house was expanded with the addition of a room, but it was George Bowers who completed the most significant changes to the property, adding an addition (known to the family as "Elmwood II") and two substantial dependencies - a barn and corn crib - in1906 (see below). A stock farm converted to dairying in the 1950s, “Elmwood-on-the-Opequon” represents both a well-preserved example of domestic and agricultural design and an example 19th and early 20th century patterns of agricultural activity in Jefferson County. It was listed on the National Historic Register (see link) in 2006.
A Fascinating Tour Of Elmwood-On-The-Opequon
On a crisp, fine October day, featuring the kind of dramatic clouds that seem to threaten a storm that never materializes, I toured Elmwood-on-the-Opequon with Jim Leathers, husband of Sarah Hamilton Leathers, the grand daughter of George Bowers, Sr, and their son Jamey. Upon my arrival I experienced a momentary confusion; one approaches two magnificent houses and wonders, "which one is the historic "Elmwood-on-the-Opequon" farmhouse? The reason: the 1997 house Jim and Sarah built, closest to the driveway and named by them "Elmwood III," is a stunning building that while not a "contributing resource" in Historic Register-speak, is noted by the nominating document with this bit of understatement: "The property as a whole retains integrity." Boy, does it ever! Jim and Sarah are the type of people whose pride in history and place shows in every little detail, from the lovingly prepared history-rich document available to descendants who attended a 2005 gathering of Bowers Family descendants, the original furnishings of their home, and the white oak flooring of one of the bedrooms - milled from one of the stately White Oaks that dot the property and from which Jim generously allowed me to harvest some pieces for turnings. The tour itself was both breathtaking and informative, beginning with surrounding pasture land, the 1906 corn crib added by George Bowers, and the incredible 2-storey barn pictured above, which is the only barn I've ever seen or heard of in which every single interior surface is covered by the type of bead board typically used as wainscott. Jim told of square dances held in the upstairs back in the day, often following jousting tournaments in the field, and in my mind's eye were dozens of Bowers Family members and their friends having big fun at Elmwood-on-the-Opequon. The tour included discussions of various other out buildings, including the cistern and old well, an outhouse, and a springhouse that was used for milk storage when dairy operations began in the 1950s. All in all, it was a great visit, and I look forward to presenting Jim and Sarah with #001 of the series of turnings I intend to produce from the white oak.
Back among the mighty White Oaks of this, one of my favorite spots in the County, on a cool September day, I wrestled some mighty darn big pieces of a fallen giant onto/into the back of my new Two Rivers Turnings ride, itself courtesy of the proprietor of this special place. Couldn't help myself; had to post some pictures.