Six sites open on local tour
Posted: December 4, 2012
The Winchester Star
Middletown — Several of Middletown’s historical and architectural gems will be highlighted on Sunday’s Middletown Garden Club Holiday House Tour.
Returning for the first time since 2009, the tour will be held from noon to 5 p.m. and feature three area homes, an inn and two churches, said Pat Craft, club president.
The tour not only highlights the history that Middletown has to offer, but it also shows some beautiful local properties in all their Christmas finery, she said.
“People always like to go and get decorating ideas and to see collections of things,” said Craft of Middletown.
The $15 tickets for the tour provide participants with admission to all of the sites; no tickets for individual homes are offered.
Proceeds will be used for the club’s town enhancement projects — the placement of urns with plantings along Main Street and special plantings and benches in the town park, she said.
Tour guests also receive a half-price admission to Belle Grove Plantation for Sunday. Members of the club decorated the master bedroom at the house as part of its holiday tours.
This year’s tour will feature two Victorian homes — Monte Vista at 8183 Valley Pike and the Gruver-Wright House at 1319 Reliance Road — the Hoffman House at 7827 Main St., the Inn at Vaucluse Spring at 231 Vaucluse Spring Lane, Thomas Chapel at 7854 Church St., and Grace United Methodist Church at 7882 Main St.
The owners of each property decorate the sites, Craft said.
Garden Club member Rosalie Cornwell loves getting inside the different homes and seeing how they decorate for Christmas. She has worked as a tour guide in past years, but this time she will help with tickets and refreshments at town hall, where the event starts.
Cornwell was part of the group that originally suggested the tour and had her home featured in the first round of visits in 2006. She loves how the program has grown and continues to introduce people to parts of the town they hadn’t explored before.
“It really shows what our little town is about,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize there is that much history in Middletown.”
The tour does not allow smoking, high heels, strollers or cameras inside the homes, and walking shoes are recommended for safety on stairways. Children younger than 16 must be accompanied by an adult. The snow date is Dec. 16.
Monte Vista 8183 Valley Pike
Monte Vista has been recognized as a historic structure by the Virginia Division of Historic Landmarks and the National Register of Historic Places. The 1883 structure is a Victorian-era home. The cornerstone of the home is etched with “C.W.H. 1883” and is thought to refer to Charles W. Heater, who was a wealthy farmer and president of the state Board of Agriculture.
When Bill and Barb Houdershell purchased Monte Vista in 1996, they took on the project of a lifetime. They have used their talents and stamina to restore and to enhance while maintaining the original integrity of the dwelling. Their ongoing restoration is approximately half complete, and they look forward to finishing the remainder of the house and starting on the gardens in the spring.
As a result of collecting and acquiring special furnishings over the years, the Houdershells have created a comfortable and livable home within this historic property.
Monte Vista sits on 5 acres of the original 540 acres of the Heater property and retains several of the outbuildings dating to its construction. Most recognizable is the large bank barn with its tall cupola that can be seen from U.S. 11 and Interstate 81. Unusually tall, the barn measures 72 feet from floor to cupola. The smoke house, brick bake oven, icehouse and summer kitchen are relics from an age of family self-sufficiency.
St. Thomas Chapel 7854 Church St.
St. Thomas Chapel was built on a quarter-acre lot purchased from Jacob and Susanah Danner for $50 in 1834. It was patterned after York Cathedral in England and was consecrated by Bishop Meade in 1836.
During the Civil War, the church was used by Union Gen. Banks as a commissary and stable. Dr. Guyer of Middletown attended the wounded there.
The chapel is on the Virginia Landmarks Register and The National Register of Historic Places.
The St. Thomas Trust was formed in 1967 to oversee much-needed repairs and to ensure that this historically important structure is maintained for future generations.
The Gruver-Wright House 1319 Reliance Road
It is believed that the earliest portion of the Gruver-Wright House was constructed in 1894. By 1899, Benjamin Gruver, a founder of Reliance, had moved his family into the new home he built in the middle of Reliance. In 1910, the house was enlarged and many Victorian details were added.
The present owners, John and Kristin Wright, moved in four years ago and began their restoration. A new kitchen was added last year with planning to maintain the style and integrity of the Queen Anne era.
As stated by The Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission, the home is thought to be the finest example of the Queen Anne style in Warren County.
The Wrights have a personal and business interest in antiques and have displayed some of their favorite vintage Santas, Roseville pottery, Depression glass, musical instruments and local items that tie to the history of the area.
John was a full-time farmer in Fauquier County and brought some of his livestock to Reliance. Living on the property are chickens, donkeys, ducks, geese and two miniature burros. Although many of the original outbuildings are now gone, the old barn remains.
Kristin’s cottage garden includes lilacs, daylilies and roses around the home, reflecting the style of the era.
The Inn at Vaucluse Spring 231 Vaucluse Spring Lane
This historic home was originally built in 1785 by the son of Gabriel Jones, the fabled “Valley Lawyer.”
Vaucluse was named after the French county retreat of Petrarch, the great poet of courtly love. Barry and Neil Myers felt that “love” and bought the property in 1995. They left their busy lives in Northern Virginia to experience the serenity of the Shenandoah Valley and found themselves busier than ever restoring the buildings on the site.
Barry used his previous experience building custom homes and Neil added her creative touches to create the inn. The original federal-style manor house, along with various other buildings on the property, gives guests a choice of 15 accommodations for their visit.
The spring on the property is an artesian aquifer that sends 1.5 million gallons of water each day through the old millrace.
Before the Myerses took ownership of Vaucluse, it was owned by the Chumley family, who took inspiration from this property for their paintings. Most notably was John Chumley, who painted local scenes and often included depictions of area residents. Although he died in 1984, the Myerses keep his memory alive by displaying some of his original artwork in the Manor House. John Chumley’s daughter, also an area artist, remembers the years she lived at Vaucluse and returns to paint there when she can.
Hoffman House 7827 Main St.
This 1796 house is a virtual time capsule of Middletown’s history. Originally owned by Isaac Klotz, the home has been owned by The Hoffman family since 1852.
Civil war soldier James W. Hoffman called this his home from 1874 to 1894. He was an enlisted soldier in Cutshaw’s Battery of Stonewall Jackson’s Artillery in the Valley Campaign.
During fighting in and around Middletown at the time of the1864 Battle of Cedar Creek, a cannonball damaged the chimney of the house. That cannonball was retrieved and is displayed in the home.
When local historian and descendant John Hoffman took ownership of the property in 2000, he and his family restored the structure and sorted through several lifetimes of furnishings, appliances, household tools, historic ephemera and personal belongings.
Visitors will take a step back in time to view these original items, dating from the late 18th century through the 20th century.
The Hoffman House appears in the “James E. Taylor Sketchbook: With Sheridan Up the Shenandoah Valley in 1864 Leaves from a Special Artist’s Sketchbook and Diary” in a drawing of Middletown’s Main Street. James E. Taylor was on site with his sketchbook in hand to record the Civil War activities in this area.
Middletown Heritage Society members will guide visitors through a tour of the house for the Holiday House Tour and will welcome questions about local history.
Grace United Methodist Church 7882 Main St.
Dating to about 1896, this landmark has continually housed an active congregation.
The tower has housed a hand-played carillon since 1938. It is one of the last hand-played carillons in the Shenandoah Valley.
The front of the church is built with native dressed blue limestone, the roof is covered with slate tiles, and some bricks in the rear walls are from the earlier 1852 church.
In 1989, an addition was constructed on the back of the church for congregational activities.
The Middletown Garden Club’s Holiday House Tour will be held from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 and may be purchased at Middletown’s Town Hall on Church Street or from garden club members. For more information, call 540-869-3342 or 540-869-1805.
— Contact Laura McFarland at email@example.com