For years, trash was piled high around six of the shuttered soapstone quarries in Schuyler. More than two decades after Bernice and Armand Thieblot purchased the property, though, the rubble has been cleared and the quarries have been brought to life as the centerpiece for the recently opened Quarry Gardens at Schuyler.
The Thieblots’ vision for the gardens, which are nestled into a 600-acre property in Schuyler around the six quarries, came to fruition this year following 23 years of casual site cleanup and three years of more intense development.
According to Bernice Thieblot, she and her husband bought the property as a retirement site following years of work at their marketing business in Baltimore.
“We just were kind of steadily improving the property just to have something to do,” Bernice Thieblot said. “We just thought we’d do it and do it for the fun of it.”
Schuyler, she explained, offered an escape from city life. And it wasn’t long before she and Armand noticed life worked a little differently in the tiny Nelson community.
When they purchased the property, the quarries were somewhat of an afterthought. But they soon realized the quarries and final gardens could become an area to celebrate the rich history of the Alberene Soapstone Company, which was America’s largest soapstone quarry at its peak in the 1920s. Schuyler remains the only active soapstone quarrying area in the U.S.
The gardens also showcase native plants. More than 30 galleries were meticulously planted and are documented in databases so visitors can see exactly where different species are located in the gardens.
One of the exhibition areas, Bernice Thieblot said, shows plants native to within 15 miles of the quarry gardens.
In the future, the Thieblots hope to establish a designated plant propagation area as well as sites for plant research.
The gardens, which include more than 2 miles of hiking trails, encompass about 40 acres.
“Nelson County has another unique experience for our visitors and residents,” Nelson County Economic Development Director Maureen Kelley said of the gardens.
Guests who traverse the trails, which can be uneven, narrow and steep in places, can make their way all the way down to the quarries. Elsewhere in the gardens, soapstone deposited during the days the quarries were used still show the marks of large equipment used to remove the stone.
Around the gardens, 400 acres of the Thieblots’ 600-acre property are placed in a Virginia Outdoors conservation easement.
Bernice Thieblot said the gardens have been open on a limited basis for certain groups to visit. Some groups, for example, come to look at the soapstone, while others are more fascinated by the native plants.
No matter who visits, though, Bernice Thieblot said guests all have enjoyed their time on the isolated, quiet property beautifully placed against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“People come and are just kind of enchanted by the feeling around the quarries,” she said.
Some of those people include ladies who are part of the Nelson County Garden Club, who visited the gardens in April.
Now, the gardens are open on weekends for guided tours, free of charge. Additionally, a visitors center that recently has been finished includes a classroom area where visitors can learn about the gardens, or groups can use the room for educational gatherings.
The center also houses a gift shop and history of the quarries.
A few weeks before the gardens opened to the public, Bernice Thieblot said, “it’s kind of a treat every day to see a little progress,” and now, she and her husband get to share the property they’ve sunk hours into with Nelson guests and others.
“We didn’t do it to make [money],” Bernice Thieblot said. “… As much as anything, I’m curious to see what the public reaction will be.”