An Expedition of Discovery in the Shenandoah Valley

EVENTS > SYMPOSIA

In Review: The Decorative Arts Trust Fall Symposium, 2016

During the Trust’s Fall Symposium in Winchester and the surrounding counties, our tours introduced historic properties ranging from those recently opened to the public, to well-established museums, to homes that have remained in private ownership for generations. We discovered a plethora of wonderful sites, largely unfamiliar even to seasoned travelers, whose custodians have dutifully stewarded the Shenandoah Valley’s cultural heritage. Our hosts echoed a recurring theme: the challenges of preparing these important places for the future. Their decisions are reflected in their approach to restoration, preservation, and adaptation.

For those not in attendance, a dash of historical context will be helpful. When George Washington was a young man, the Valley was the Wild West—largely unknown and unexplored by European colonists. Washington’s survey of the region for the Ohio Company introduced the area to British interests and elevated him to a position of importance and influence that served as the foundation for his military and public service to come.

Trust Governor Carol Cadou, Senior Vice President for Historic Preservation and Collections at Mount Vernon, introduced Washington’s exploration of the Valley and explained how the landscape was crucial to the area’s development and settlement. Although the Valley was new territory in the years leading up to the Revolution and into the first decade of the Early Republic, the leading families who settled here were often well-connected branches of Tidewater dynasties such as the Wash­ingtons or Carters, who sought to establish themselves at new family seats. They were joined by settlers traveling from across the Atlantic, west out the Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia, and up the Potomac River.

Cherry Hill was built in 1794 by Pennsylvania Quakers David and Mary Lupton. One of the earliest examples of Federal architec­ture in Frederick County, the house was also among the most expensive constructed in the area, costing upwards of $5,000 to build. David and Jenny Powers purchased the home in 2001 and have painstakingly brought the house back to its original appearance, raising their son, Nick, onsite and, thereby, setting him on a clear path to his current position as Curator of Collections at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley.

During the restoration process, Dr. and Mrs. Powers discovered much about the house’s history and the sophisti­cated tastes of the original owners. While repairing the roof, they uncovered a locust date board inscribed 1794 that confirmed the house’s age. A Victorian-era porch was removed, revealing the Flemish bond brick work on the front façade in contrast to the more economi­cal English bond used on the back and sides. Inside, the woodwork of the best rooms looked to popular architectural style guides of the 18th century: the grandest corner cupboard in the parlor copies details from William Pain’s The Practical Builder, published in London twenty years before the house’s construction. Although the Powers’ work continues on the house and outbuildings, Cherry Row serves as a perfect backdrop for their stunning collection of Shenan­doah Valley objects, including furniture, paintings, textiles, and pottery.

Other homeowners have chosen to treat their properties as living records of the passage of time. Piedmont, a 1790 home in Jefferson County, WV, was a favorite site of participants, thanks to its significant architectural value. Although the exterior shows some influences of nascent Federal details, the original owners, John and Eleanor Briscoe, clearly preferred more tradition­ally Georgian plans. Briscoe descendants kept the property and much of its contents intact until well into the 20th century. While portraits by John Drinker and Frederick Kemmelmeyer formerly on view at Piedmont are now in museum collections, important fixtures remain, including the Dufour wallpaper of 1818 installed by the Briscoes in the front parlor.

When the current owners purchased the property in the 1990s, they chose to preserve as many original features and finishes as possible, rather than restore them to like new condition. The Dufour wallpa­per panels were painstakingly preserved by conservators to ensure their survival. The resulting appearance, though worn and imperfect-looking, constitutes an intact record of the house’s life.

Other properties in the Valley have found new lives through adaptive reuse, such as Glen Burnie, the property on which the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley (MSV) was built. Dating in part to 1794, the house was built by Robert Wood, son of Winchester founder James Wood. In the 1950s, it came into the ownership of Julian Wood Glass, Jr., a collateral descendant. As one of his country retreats, Glen Burnie served as the display space for Glass’s remarkable collection of decorative and fine arts, with his then-partner R. Lee Taylor as de-facto curator. From 1997 until 2005, Glen Burnie operated as a house museum, showcasing the collection in a domestic format. Once construction of the MSV was complete, many of the highlights were moved into galleries to increase visitor access in a climate-controlled environment.

Between 2012 and 2014, Glen Burnie underwent an extensive renovation that gave the building a new purpose. Interiors are partially presented as a historic house museum, but the site also serves as an event venue and auxiliary exhibit space. While preserving the heritage and architectural legacy of Winchester’s early history and founding family, Glen Burnie now also serves a dynamic function for a young museum with an ambitious exhibition program.

Whether private homes or public institutions, the spaces we visited during the symposium are lovingly cared for and ready for another century of history and stewardship. For our part, we were grateful for the opportunity to explore this culturally significant region and look forward to bringing the Trust to more noteworthy destinations with upcoming programming!

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