Auction grosses $650K for trust at Long Branch
Millwood — Out with the old and in with the older is what is taking place at Historic Long Branch.
After starting a reorganization and repurposing of the Clarke County property, plans are moving along, according to Nicholas Redding, executive director.
The former wheat plantation will re-open its doors to the public Oct. 25 after closing for an overhaul of the mansion.
In order to prepare the 7,000-square-foot house for the changes, it was closed for tours during the spring and summer.
One of the changes is a return to the 1840s time period, which is closer to when the house was built and inhabited by the Nelson family. Furniture from original family members has been coming back to the plantation for display, Redding said.
A recent acquisition is a tall case mahogany clock in perfect working condition, he said. It was acquired from a cousin of the Nelsons.
Records show that Robert Carter Burwell inherited the land in 1788 and began constructing a house about 20 years later.
Long Branch, which was built circa 1811 and sits on aboutr 400 acres, was designed in part by Benjamin Latrobe, the architect of the U.S. Capitol. A Burwell descendant, Hugh Mortimer Nelson, purchased the mansion in 1842.
The late Harry Z. Isaacs, a Baltimore textile executive, bought the house at an auction in the 1980s. Isaacs had furnished the house with antiques from the 18th and 19th centuries, not in keeping with the house’s history, Redding said.
Most of those items were offered Oct. 5 and 6 at an auction by Potomack Company’s Fine Collections Auctions in Alexandria.
Two hundred items were sold to a standing-room-only crowd, according to company owner Elizabeth Wainstein.
Some traveled across the U.S. and competed with bidders from Ireland, China and Great Britain for the collection that was assembled by Isaacs, a businessman and philanthropist, Wainstein said. “Many of the items are returning to the countries of origin.”
The pre-sale estimate was $284,000 to $453,000, and the actual sale totaled $650,000, she said. Her company offered a lower commission than the usual 10 percent charged, Wainstein said, but she would not give an exact total of Long Branch’s share.
“Prices were so strong — more like prior to 2007,” she said.
In addition to the overseas sales, she said there were local people who also supported the sale. “The equestrian art appealed to buyers.”
The sale exceeded expectations, Redding said. “That speaks to the collection.”
This sale was important for what organizers hope to accomplish at Long Branch, Redding said.
The board of directors developed a five-year strategic plan, said David Goff, chairman of the board of directors, who also served as interim director in September 2010. “We looked at all the options and settled on this course of action.”
The money from the auction will be added to the trust set up by Isaacs, Goff said, which totals from $1.7 million to $1.8 million, and will be used for the operation of the property.
Figuring out how to engage people and making the facility — which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1969 as well as the state register — more valuable to the community is part of the plan,
“It wasn’t used historically,” he said. “Now it will be an historic, interpretative and a multi-functional space.”
Some former docents are disappointed with the changes.
“My heart is broken. I can’t believe it,” said Doris Michael of Berryville, a docent for about 24 years who was named docent of the year 12 times. “People came to see the house because of the way it was decorated with oriental rugs, antique furniture, and more. Now it is all gone.”
Linda Hansen of the Gaylord area of Clarke County agrees. She was a docent for almost 20 years and is very upset. “This change was not necessary. Thousands of people visited in the fall. It was a jewel of the county and now it is nearly an empty house.”
Redding said he and the board have been responsive to the concerns about the changes and are trying to make the house more about the community with more events held yearly.
“The way the furniture was set up and the admission prices weren’t working financially,” Goff said. “Telling the story of the house would have been difficult with the furniture that didn’t fit the period of the house or the Nelson family.”
All the docents were invited to a meeting about the changes and direction of the house, he said.
Goff has been associated with Long Branch for three years and said these ideas were developed since that time by the full board who chose to go in the present direction for the future of Long Branch. Redding became executive director in the fall of 2012. “This is what we want to do, and Redding is doing it right” he added.
Exhibit spaces are being set up on the first floor of the house. The former dining room will be a lecture hall and exhibit wing, Redding said.
“This will be a multi-functional space where we don’t have to move the furniture for a lecture,” he said. Displays will tell the story of Long Branch and include an original chair acquired from a Nelson relative.
The entry to the house will include a few pieces of furniture as it would have been when the family lived there, he said. “It was very sparse on purpose since it was a public space where business colleagues were greeted.”
It contains a butler chest that is original to the house.
A 1866 will for Hugh Nelson lists what was in the house and is being used as a guide to repurpose the house, Redding said.
The parlor will be used as exhibit space as more items are acquired, he added.
The wood floors, which are in good shape, will eventually be covered with ingrain carpeting of the period, he said. “The entry way will have canvas painted with a design and a floor cloth for other areas.”
The hunt room will continue to pay homage to Isaacs and tell his story, with his trophies on display, and other equestrian items intact, Redding said.
It has not been decided what the area that was added on by Isaacs will become. “We will rethink the use of the room since it did not exist originally.”
The interpretive spaces upstairs will be indicative of the time also but will not be accomplished right away, he said. But the goal is to eventually host overnight guests.
The upstairs landing will be used for a history detective type display to show how the changes have occurred, said Cassie Ward, director of public programs. Also weddings and other events are still taking place at the site.
The opening weekend will highlight two exhibits — The Long Branch Story (journey through the history of the house) and Harry Isaacs Legacy (gallery devoted to telling the story of the last owner of the home and the individual responsible for establishing Long Branch as a publicly accessible site).
On Oct. 25, a free preview will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. debuting the new acquisitions as well as the exhibits. Staff curators will explain the changes and future plans.
The opening will continue Oct. 26 and 27 with tours, music, crafts and an antiques appraisal by Potomack Company with a suggested donation to benefit Long Branch. Admission is $5.
— Contact F.C. Lowe at email@example.com