Blue Ridge Center
for environmental stewardship
preserve ~ experience ~ enjoy

History

The Blue Ridge Center is located in an area known as Between the Hills, nestled between the Blue Ridge and Short Hill Mountain. This area has witnessed over 10,000 years of human occupation. Human interactions with the land have included Native American occupation of temporary camps and hunting sites, colonial settlers clearing land for small agrarian communities, Confederate and Union troops using the area as a strategic corridor during the Civil War, and the expansion of new technology and farming methods during the Industrial Revolution.

In the early 19th century, prior to the Civil War, the Blue Ridge Center lands were heavily settled. The most visible reminders of the once thriving settlement along Piney Run are the buildings.  In all, 33 sites have been identified.  There are many stories to tell and even more to discover. The Blue Ridge Center uses all possible resources, from historic texts and documents, oral histories, to archaeological methods, to discover each story, how it relates to each of us and the land we tread each day.

Find out more about the history of the land and the structures you will find as you explore our land:

Land use

In the 18th century, English settlers, many of them tobacco farmers, arrived in Virginia's Piedmont region, having migrated north from the Tidewater region. In Loudoun county, there was a slightly later influx of Germans, Dutch, Scots, Irish, and Pennsylvania Quakers, most of whom did not own slaves. This ethnic mix had consequences later during the Civil War, as Loudoun county was split southeast to northwest, Confederate versus Union.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, Loudoun county saw a shift from corn and wheat cultivation to dairy farming, and populations in the region grew. Many new immigrants were recently-freed African-Americans, but these new land-owners may have been slowly driven from their property, through discriminatory legal practices, as lumber companies consolidated large land holdings.

In the 20th century, a variety of historical and economic pressures resulted in depopulation, exacerbated during the Depression.

In very recent times, the population has increased as "settlers" departed Washington, D.C., and surrounding suburban areas for life in the country. Today, Loudoun county is one of the fastest growing counties in the United States.

The "Between the Hills" valley has been timbered in the past for a variety of uses. For instance, the U.S. government leased timber rights on Loudoun and Maryland Heights to produce charcoal to feed the Harpers Ferry armory that supplied guns to the Union army during the Civil War.

In some cases, portions of local forests were clear-cut. Tree removal carried out on private lands by individual farmers was focused on level land suitable for plowing, as indicated by old aerial photos of the our land. In this way, local microenvironments were preserved whole or partially and could be exploited for a variety of products, including wild plants, fish, and game.

It appears likely that private lands in the valley, including the Blue Ridge Center, were last heavily logged approximately 100 years ago. Small-scale logging operations continue today in certain areas.

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Demory Wortman House

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The main house of the Blue Ridge Center property is the Demory Wortman House.  It was constructed sometime around 1848 by Mahlon Demory, who received the property after his father Philip’s death. The original house was a two-story log house that shows considerable German influence typical of the time period. Mahlon Demory occupied this original house with a household of 10 dependents, and most likely an additional one or two slaves used for domestic work.

Sometime around 1900 a major addition was added to the original log house and the logs were enclosed. Since the Wortman family purchased the property in 1919, the addition may well have been constructed by them. Excavations conducted on the property by the Millsaps College archaeological field school revealed several artifacts that indicate relatively continuous habitation since the house’s construction. Of particular interest, the field school also found several Civil War artifacts all associated with Federal troops. These artifacts will soon be on display within the house, as the Blue Ridge Center hopes to construct a small museum dedicated to the property.

After an extensive and careful restoration in 2005, the Demory Wortman House now serves as the site for many Blue Ridge Center educational programs.  The Demory-Wortman House has been nicely renovated and is outfitted with comfortable, rustic furnishings.
It is also available for rent for weekend retreats, corporate off-sites, small weddings, and educational seminars.

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Barn

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A concrete slab is all that remains of a large barn that once served the farmhouse.  The first barn on this site was probably constructed sometime around 1848, when the first part of the house was built. Excavation of the barn area by Millsaps College archaeological field school in 2002 found several artifacts from this time period, such as square headed cut and forged nails (nails made largely by hand) and 19th century lead-glazed pottery. In 1936, the barn was extensively expanded and rebuilt by the Wortman family, who bought the property in 1919. The old dirt floor was filled in and covered with concrete, and milking stalls were added. Thus the barn serves as a good example of how the regional economy changed from one of wheat to dairy farming in the years after the Civil War. In the 1940s the dairy process on the Wortman farm was fully electrified. The Wortmans built a refrigerated milk house on artificial embankment on the right side of the barn, and constructed a road to loop so that milk trucks could loop around the house and easily access the milk.

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Spring House

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In the days before refrigerators, springhouses were very important for farm families. Springhouses were used to keep all kinds of foods cool that would otherwise spoil, such as meat, fruit, and milk. Most springhouses were placed on or nearby a flowing stream. The running water kept the temperature inside the springhouse cool and relatively constant.

This particular springhouse was constructed around the time as the original barn and house in about 1848. However, the springhouse would have become very important once the Wortmans, who purchased the property in 1919, began dairy farming. Milk cans were stored here until they could be transported to market. With the construction of the refrigerated milk house near the barn some time in the 1940s, the springhouse became obsolete.

The beautiful state of the springhouse today is all thanks to the efforts of Tom Bullock and Bull’s Eye Construction and Restoration and the generous contributions of the Loudoun Restoration and Preservation Society.

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Wortman Pond

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Not all human effects on the environment are necessarily bad. The Wortman pond, for example, was constructed sometime before 1936, making it the oldest pond on Blue Ridge Center property. Since its construction, it has provided an important habitat for a wide variety of creatures. If you walk by Wortman Pond in the evening you are likely to hear a deafening chorus of frogs. If you approach slowly and keep a sharp eye you may even see a large eastern snapping turtle that calls the pond his home. Biologists have recently discovered that Wortman pond acts as an important breeding area for salamanders. Wood ducks and herons are also frequent visitors of the pond. The presence of so many native animals and plants testifies to the ability of humans to help create and return sustainable habitats to areas that have been harmed by industry and agriculture.

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Barney's Cabin

Barney Sikes, the only known inhabitant of this cabin, was an African-American who worked as a hired hand on the Wortman's farm.  From archaeological research, we know that the small wood-framed cabin was built around 1940. Due to its poor condition, the cabin was torn down.  The structure once stood on a square cinderblock foundation.  After years of water drainage into Wortman pond, the cabin began to collapse. Along with the visible remains of the cabin, other signs of previous occupation still appear via the recovery of numerous artifacts at this site.

Barney originally moved to the Shenandoah Valley from St. Louis, Missouri, and was employed by the Palmeroy family.  He was later hired by the Wortman family, who lived in the Demory Wortman house at the time.  Barney worked on the Wortman’s dairy farm and moved into the cabin, living there during the week and returning to his family on the weekends.

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Derry House

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Nobody knows exactly who constructed the first part of the house commonly called the “stone house.” We know that it was built sometime around the Civil War, or immediately after, based on its design. Philip Derry bought a large section of what is now the Blue Ridge Center property in 1811 from Ferdinando Fairfax, which includes the land where the house now stands. Philip had been one of the farmers leasing this property from the Fairfax family mentioned before. His son, George Washington Derry, had possession of the land from 1836 to 1903. Most likely the first phase of the house is in someway connected to him.

The property stayed in the Derry family until 1930, when William Derry sold the land to Phillip Long. Some historians believe that Long used the site as a meeting-house for local worship services even before his period of ownership. Long sold the land in 1948 to the Wortmans who were living at the Demory house. Because of its presumed long time occupation by the family, this house is sometimes called the “Derry House.”

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Old Bridge

The bridge was fairly extensive and was part of a major road that cut straight through Blue Ridge Center property. The presence of a large road system is testament to the relatively large population of this area up until recent times. Aerial photographs from 1937 reveal a house cluster of eight houses, making this area the second most populous farm cluster in the Between the Hills area. In addition, the photographs reveal that most of the forest was cleared for farming and grazing.

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Boundary Marker Tree

This tree actually has its own special history. Its larger size and odd shape give it a unique appearance when compared to the trees surrounding it. When surveyors were drawing out timber and land boundaries, they sometimes manipulated the growth of trees in order to use them as boundary markers. This process, called capping, caused the tree to grow in an odd pattern. The odd shape made the tree easy to recognize, as well as useless to loggers. Spared from logging, this tree is significantly older than its surrounding counterparts.

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Everheart Homeplace

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Very little is known about this farmstead. Its occupancy and construction remain somewhat of a mystery. Based upon architectural style and the fact that it was constructed with old growth timbers, the farmstead is believed to have been constructed sometime in the mid 1800s. At that time the property was in the possession of the Grubb family. At a later date, it appears that a William and Harriet Everhart were living on the property.  One land transaction refers to the property as the “Everheart Homeplace,” and the term has stuck to the house.

Interestingly, it appears that funds may have been an issue during the house’s construction. The roof is supported on pole rafters, which suggests a lack of money for saw-milled wood. Also, the stairs are accompanied by a very rough handmade railing, which again suggests money may have run out during construction. According to some oral histories, this house and the log house further down the trail may have been used by people who leased land from the Derrys, who bought the property in 1889. These may have also been African American workers or sharecroppers. The relatively good condition of the house is due to partial remodeling that took place in the 1970s for use as a vacation home.

One of the most interesting things about this farmstead is the survival of a number of outbuildings, including a small chicken coop, a collapsed spring house, and a partially collapsed barn. Notice the layout of these outbuildings and imagine them stripped of vegetation and surrounded by open fields in order to get an accurate picture of a 19th century farmstead.

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Log House

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This log house was probably constructed sometime in the late 1800s. Considerable erosion to the foundation has made the house extremely unstable. At this time we are unsure of who may have occupied the house. Oral histories indicate that, like its partner further down trail, it may have belonged to farmers who leased from the Derrys. Artifacts indicate that both houses were occupied from the mid to late 19th century until at least the mid 20th Century. Ongoing research will hopefully yield more information.

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Stone Wall

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Nearly a half mile north of Gordon Pond, near the northwestern tip of the Legacy Loop, lies a long stone wall.  During the summer of 2008, archaeologists conducted investigations here, which involved systematic mapping of the site and the excavation of shovel test pits to determine site boundaries and to obtain a sample of artifacts.

Originally believed to be a Civil War fort, the results of the investigation suggest that it represents remains from a farmstead or homestead.  Over the course of a week, 66 artifacts including glass, mortar, metal, coal, and a variety of pottery dating to the early 19th century were recovered from the shovel test.  No artifacts were recovered that suggest military activity.  Numerous rock piles, possibly created to clear land for farming and building construction, stand inside the wall and a few outside the north section of the wall.  The Blue Ridge Center plans to investigate these walls further in the future.

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Blue Ridge Center for Environmental Stewardship

11661 Harpers Ferry Rd.

Purcellville, VA  20132

540-668-7640

info@blueridgecenter.org 

 

The Blue Ridge Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supported by donations

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