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Scenic beauty and a bit of history brought Fairfax couple to Amherst
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Scenic beauty and a bit of history brought Fairfax couple to Amherst

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Tucked against Tobacco Row Mountain in Amherst sits the one of the first houses in the county completed after the close of the Civil War.

The circa-1868 Greek Revival-style farmhouse on Puppy Creek Road in Amherst now is owned by Don and Jill Clark, history buffs from the Fairfax area who came to the county more than 20 years ago in search of an historic property in a picturesque location.

Jill admits the estate, known as Edgewood, didn’t check all her boxes for their new home — it lacked second-floor bathrooms and a modern kitchen.

For Don, it was missing the lake he wanted, but it was a beautiful property with 11 natural springs and ample land for hunting.

“I think we had half the Realtors in the state of Virginia looking for the place. I’ve seen a lot of cow piles, let me tell you,” Jill joked of the search for their home, adding it came down to being “in the right place at the right time.”

So once a feasibility study confirmed a lake could be made on the land, Don knew it was the perfect property for the couple — after a contractor added Jill’s bathrooms.

“I definitely needed some kind of water on the property, so I had a couple of guys that had built spring-fed ponds come out and look at it,” Don said. “They really thought this was one of the best sites.”

“I don’t think he cared about a bathroom,” Jill added with a chuckle.

For Don, it’s not just about the picturesque land.

“I’m a history buff and with the history of this place — a Confederate soldier built this house,” Don said. He loves collecting old Civil War relics.

Houses existed there at the base of the mountain before Edgewood, possibly as early as 1780 when Edward Ware received a land grant of 250 acres, according to the U.S. Department of Interior documentation for the property’s historic register status.

Ware came from Caroline County to escape religious persecution for rejecting the Anglican religion, the documentation states. He served as county sheriff.

Ware’s son, James Powell, inherited the 400-acre property but sold it to John Clarkson in 1793.

Clarkson sold the property seven years later to the Rev. John Young, who came from Caroline County, where he had been imprisoned for preaching and not conforming to the state religion, according to the documentation.

Young became second minister of Mount Moriah Church, established under the name of Buffalo Baptist. Mount Moriah is the oldest Baptist congregation in the county. Young died in 1817 and was buried at his request in an unmarked grave on his property, believed to be near the Massie family cemetery.

Charles Massie purchased the land from Young’s estate in two tracts in 1829 and 1830. Massie was an active member of the Mount Moriah church, the documentation states.

The property remained in the Massie family for six generations, five of whom lived in the Edgewood home.

Charles Massie called his home Upper Place due to its perch on the upward slope of the mountain, according to documents. That was the childhood home of Edgewood’s builder, Joseph Hardin Massie.

Joseph Massie began building Edgewood in 1858, but about three years into its construction, the Civil War began and he began serving as a Confederate soldier, ending his service in the Company I, 19th Va. Infantry. When the war ended in 1865, Joseph Massie returned home and finished his house in 1868. The original Massie home, Upper Place, was destroyed by fire before Edgewood was completed. Joseph Massie inherited the estate in 1871.

Edgewood became one of the first homes completed in Amherst County following the close of the Civil War.

Joseph Massie settled into running a farm at the base of the mountain. He still served, but as a member of the Virginia General Assembly, a school trustee in the Pedlar district and an active church member.

Walter Price Massie bought the farm from his father’s estate in 1916. He helped to establish Emmanuel Baptist Church and served in the House of Delegates, where he worked to improve the roads in the county.

A two-story addition to the back of the house was built under Walter Massie’s ownership to accommodate extended family, who visited the farm often. A regular lodger was Dr. Joseph Page Massie, who lived with the family until he died in the 1918 flu epidemic, according to the documents.

Their youngest son, Samuel Massie, and his wife inherited the farm, which moved to his son, Sam Massie Jr., and his wife, Sharon, in 1993. The Massies sold the estate to the Clarks, albeit in a smaller parcel. The Clarks added more land to their holdings, which now consists of about 1,000 acres.

The bricks that comprise the house are handmade from clay gathered on site and laid in four-course American bond on three sides, with the fourth being a six-course pattern of stretchers separated by a single course of Flemish bond on the facade.

“It is of brick construction with a T-shaped plan and the bond found on the front facade is an excellent example of the local mason’s craft,” the historic register application reads. “This type of bond, sometimes referred to as ‘American bond with Flemish variant,’ is used in only one other known house in the county, Fairview, c. 1867, but more examples likely exist as it became a popular type of bond beginning in 1840 and lasting through the 1870s, and and several other examples are documented in neighboring counties.”

The typical Greek Revival style design uses a symmetrical arrangement of the bays with double hung sash windows, but Edgewood’s facade is subtly asymmetrical.

The reason has to do with the staircase.

“According to family tradition, this staircase was ordered from Britain and when it arrived, it was larger than the space allowed but was installed,” the application reads. “As a result of this larger staircase, a corner of the doorway into the east parlor is partially obscured.”

So instead of altering the staircase, the facade changed.

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“It was too wide,” Don said. “Usually if you have three windows across the front, they are evenly spaced but because this bannister is so wide … the windows are not evenly spaced.”

The front porch dates to about 1927 and spans the entire front of the house. The front door is flanked by glass sidelights and a transom.

“Facing this entry, on the left, in one of the sidelights is an etching reading ‘Dec. 28;’ additional etchings on the same light can be read from the interior and reads, ‘Sandidges,’ ‘WPM,’ ‘AFM,’ ‘Dec. 28, 1889,’ ‘CW Massie June 22nd 1890,’ ‘Sallie Feb. 22, 1890,’ and other indecipherable initials,” the application reads.

The house is set up on a central hall plan with parlors on the east and west sides of the hall. Beyond the hall is a dining room with a kitchen.

In 1918, a one-story addition was built onto the east side of the house, which now is Don’s office. Three years later, the house was plumbed and a bathroom installed in that addition; electricity also was installed at that time, provided by a gas-powered machine with batteries.

The original two-story rear portion projects from the back; windows flank one side of the projection while the other features a two-story porch that runs its full length. That space is enclosed into a screened in porch.

Many of the furniture of early generations remains in use in the house today, including the massive dining room table situated on the original wide-plank heart pine floor. Don likes to think about the thousands of family meals held around that table. Old blue china hangs on one wall, part of the Massie estate that one of Jill’s friends picked up at auction.

The dining room didn’t feature crown molding, although it since has been installed, and trim work was used to hide the new wiring the couple installed.

Eight fireplaces originally warmed the house, but one was removed in crafting Jill’s modern kitchen.

The Clarks lived in the house for more than a year before conducting the kitchen renovation and now the space features two stoves, a large refrigerator and an island counter. New cabinets are topped with stone countertops. The old kitchen had antiquated appliances, lacked upper cabinets and had an odd butcher’s block added for more work surface.

Jill wanted a small table for the couple to dine at when it’s just the two of them, but she also wanted more work space.

“I know how this man works,” Jill jokes about her husband. “Do I want a kitchen table or do I want my island?”

Jill chose the island — at first. Then the couple built a breakfast nook on the back of the house. In that space is a metal sign etched with “Clark House, est. 2010” that a friend had crafted for them. Don didn’t feel right about hanging it in a house with such history, but this breakfast nook has no history beyond the Clarks.

The couple described the house as very livable when they purchased it, just noting it needed just a little updating — and the bathrooms Jill wanted. Those two second-floor bathrooms were made by carving up storage space and the smallest of the second-story rooms.

“How this contractor came in here and put this all together — it took him just minutes,” Don said. “I don’t know if I would ever come up with this arrangement.”

“That was a treat,” Jill added, noting the exposed brick in one bathroom. “We pretty much said, ‘Have at it. You do what you think we would like,’ and my gosh, that’s so nice.”

The rooms all were repainted using an historically appropriate color palette.

One of the second-floor bedrooms is a space the Clarks kept pretty original to the way it was when they purchased the house. It contains more furniture that belongs with the Massie estate — an ornately carved bedroom set with a headboard featuring a relief of Pocahontas and a dresser with the face of John Smith.

A number of other buildings sit on the property, including a 1920 bank barn, a 19th Century corn crib, a 1920 cattle corral, a 19th-century log house, and ruins of other dwellings. A bridge crossing the creek was constructed in 2000, built with four brick piers topped by a small model of a cannon.

A few years after the couple moved in, they planned an open house and invited back members of the Massie family for a visit.

“I think we invited about 60 people and they all agreed,” Jill said. “They were just so curious.”

One guest recalled coming to the house frequently for cookies.

“You thought nothing of being out this far,” Jill said. “That’s how people lived. The town wasn’t anything or maybe they didn’t live in town. … Somebody was always baking in the oven and the coffeepot was always going.”

Being at the base of a mountain, though, sometimes comes with some interesting interactions one typically wouldn’t get in Fairfax.

A bear has tried to break into their enclosed side porch, carted off the couple’s trash, and climbed into Jill’s car and caused about $1,400 in damage after she forgot to roll up the windows one night.

“That bear helped himself to my red Twizzlers, which I think was in my center console,” Jill said, adding she now is known for the bear damage at the garage the Clarks use. The couple consulted with conservation police to discourage the bear from coming around their home.

The Clarks and their two dogs have found a home in the Amherst community, noting the kindness and helpfulness of area residents.

“We have enjoyed every minute of it here,” Jill said.

PHOTOS: Scenic beauty and a bit of history brought Fairfax couple to Amherst

Tucked against Tobacco Row Mountain in Amherst sits the one of the first houses in the county completed after the close of the Civil War.

The circa-1868 Greek Revival-style farmhouse on Puppy Creek Road in Amherst now is owned by Don and Jill Clark, history buffs from the Fairfax area who came to the county more than 20 years ago in search of an historic property in a picturesque location.

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