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Couple selling historic Lovingston B&B passed down through generations of one Nelson family

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From just talking with Orchard House Bed & Breakfast co-owner Deb Verplank, you probably wouldn’t guess she and her husband are selling the Lovingston historic property.

Verplank speaks with energy and obvious enthusiasm about the business and didn’t seem the slightest worn-out or stressed during a recent interview — from round-the-clock housekeeping, scheduling, baking and customer service. She has had seven years of practice.

Deb and Mike Verplank bought the Victorian home in 2016 from owners who had also operated it as a bed-and-breakfast, and now are selling it with plans to retire. The 14-acre property, with main house, farmhouse, converted barn, pool and vineyard, is listed on Zillow for $2.5 million. Verplank explained why the timing is right: “I want to make sure that we are leaving this while we still love it.”

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In autumn when the leaves have fallen, Lovingston is visible from the 19th century Orchard House.

Walking from the main house’s front porch down a gravel drive to the farmhouse and barn — with a view of autumn mountains across U.S. 29 — she said she still has to pinch herself sometimes.

“I try to make a point of every day just taking a second to just take it in and appreciate it because otherwise you get so focused on ‘I’ve got three rooms to flip, I’ve got a charcuterie board to make,’” she said.

In the spring and summer, the house is cocooned in lush greenery, and when leaves fall in the winter Lovingston is visible from the front porch, which Verplank explained is why the 19th century house originally was named “Village View.”

The farmhouse down the drive was built later for the farm manager’s family, back when Village View was the centerpiece of an expansive apple and peach farm. That’s why the previous owner’s renamed the white two-story “Orchard House,” and why each of the six guest rooms in the house are named after a different apple variety.

The farmhouse has three guestrooms, a roomy kitchen and living room, and often is rented entirely. The main house has six uniquely decorated guest rooms, each with private bathrooms.

Guests might not even have to drive during their stay, with a saltwater pool behind the house, a fire pit above the mountain and village view, and the Verplanks offering area wine tours with the big red van parked behind the house.

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The view outside an upstairs bedroom window overlooking the property at the historic home.

The couple also grow petit-manseng grapes on a one-acre vineyard near the house that are sold to Wisdom Oak Winery and Brent Manor Vineyards, to make wine that’s both sold at the bed-and-breakfast and served in restaurants in Charlottesville.

Both wine lovers, Deb and Mike were inspired after frequent bed-and-breakfast stays in Napa Valley: “We would always walk out and say, ‘that would be so much fun and we might actually be kind of good at that,’” Verplank said. Not wanting to land on the other side of the country from their son and daughter, the two found Orchard House after Mike’s search for “East Coast wine country” kept turning up Nelson County.

Besides an occasional housekeeper who comes and cleans if the Verplanks have more than three rooms to get ready for new guests, the couple does it all. Deb does meal planning and makes the first course of breakfast, usually a baked good and fresh fruit, and Mike makes the gourmet main course, that Deb says has made guests ask where he got his culinary degree.

“Mike will tease because he’ll say ‘I’m the head chef, the pool boy, the vineyard manager.’ And people will say ‘well, who does the lawn?’ Mike. ‘Who does the shopping?’ Deb. So it’s a two-man team and it keeps us out of trouble,” she said.

“It’s been a labor of love but it’s been amazing. It’s been fun to work together. And I remember the very first innkeeper that we interviewed, she looked right at me and she said, ‘Have you two ever worked together?’ And I said, ‘Well, we’ve raised two kids’ and at that point we’d been married 30 years, ‘so yeah, I’d say,’” and Deb imitated the innkeeper shaking her head: still not running a business together.

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Visitors leave names and special messages in the guestbook.

But over the course of seven years the couple has ironed out the kinks, each bringing their strengths to the table.

Late last month the Verplanks had a group of sisters — repeat guests — staying in the farmhouse and four more guests checking in later that day. Mike was cleaning rooms upstairs in the farmhouse while Deb gave the tour. The week also was bookended by two weddings, one the weekend before and another the next weekend.

The renovated barn and the entire property is such a popular wedding venue Verplank is even licensed to officiate ceremonies: “it’s just such a magical way to be a part of somebody’s very special time.”

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A converted barn is included on the 14-acre property.

Verplank said by far the couple’s favorite part is the people they get to meet. Their guests come from everywhere — even France and Germany — for local history, hiking, breweries and wineries, to visit the Walton’s Mountain Museum and the childhood home of the Waltons creator Earl Hamner Jr., and “to get their mountain fix.”

“We’ve been very blessed with repeat guests,” Verplank said, adding they have a couple coming for their anniversary in late November, for their 16th visit in three years. She thinks it helps that guests always have something new to do when they visit, and showed off the “Nelson County VIP card” she and Mike created when they first took over, listing local businesses who have partnered with Orchard House to offer special discounts to their guests.

It’s part of what Deb thinks has kept their B&B from experiencing competition from the wealth of independent short-term rentals in the county, available through sites such as Airbnb and Vrbo.

“We try to provide an experience unlike any other,” she said.

The Verplanks made it through COVID with the support of those loyal guests, while they watched other area B&Bs going out of business. Guests asked to have their deposits made into gift cards for the next time they could stay. Then, Orchard House became many guest’s “Plan B” after cruises and trips to Italy were canceled. To make them feel safe, Deb said she seated groups all over the property for breakfasts: “I felt like I needed roller skates.”

Descendants of the house’s original owners also are repeat guests, and have shared with Deb stories of growing up in the house — sliding down the grand wooden bannister onto a pile of pillows, or rushing outside to listen to the rain on the metal roof.

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The entrance room at the historic Orchard House Bed & Breakfast in Lovingston features a chandelier, hardwood floors and stairs leading to the second floor.

Verplank and Nelson County’s Geographic Information System say the house was built in 1885. But records on file at Nelson Memorial Library show Judge John Dunscombe Horsley bought the property as early as 1873 and built the main house on a knoll overlooking the village in 1874. The initial purchase was 150 acres and an additional 37 acres on the east side of U.S. 29 was later added in 1920.

A photo of the house taken in 1900 has a notation written by one of Judge Horsley’s sisters in 1939: “Village View — Brother’s country home looks down on the village of Lovingston. His grandchildren, 2 girls, 2 boys, live there now.” Verplank said the house was built as a summer home for the Lynchburg judge, and an obituary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, dated Nov. 21, 1909, says Horsley served as judge of the court circuit that then included Nelson, Lynchburg, Bedford and Appomattox. He was born and practiced law near Norwood, and was mourned by six sisters, five of whom were residents of his county, upon his death.

Village View

This copy of a photograph, courtesy of the Nelson Memorial Library archives, shows Orchard House, then Village View, around 1887.

Thomas Martin Horsley inherited a portion of the property after his father’s death, and acquired the remaining parcels from his sisters in 1911. He graduated from the University of Virginia Law School, like his father, in 1908. He worked as an attorney, represented Nelson in the Virginia House of Delegates and is reported to have owned the first car in the county.

Thomas Horsley met Ruby Temple Harris while she was boarding in Lovingston and attending Lovingston High School (now the Nelson Center). Because Virginia Law didn’t permit marriage under the age of 21 without parental consent, and Harris’ father wouldn’t consent to their marriage, the two eloped to Hagerstown, Maryland. They had four children between 1919 and 1928.

Judge John Dunscombe Horsley started orchard production of peaches and apples, which Ruby continued after Thomas Horsely’s death in 1929. When she died, the property was inherited by her four children and orchard operations continued until 1960.

Verplank said a medium had been a guest at Orchard House about a month prior. The medium asked her ‘Who’s Ruby?’ and went on to describe a woman who matched the picture of Ruby Horsley which Verplank had seen, and said Ruby had visited her in her guestroom the night before.

“And she [the medium] said, ‘she wants you to know she’s so happy with what you’ve done here,’” Verplank said.

The medium told her Ruby and Thomas Martin Horsley sit in the Adirondack chairs by the pond every night, and that the entire property is populated with spirits: “She said that they all love it here and they’re all so happy.”

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