Photos of Uncle Bill and Aunt Minnie who gave me some of the stories about the great grandfather's farm in Hanover County, VA....Uncle Bill was 10 when the family moved to Virginia from Passaic County, NJ. Aunt Minnie was a native of Hanover County and she remembered many stories about the origins of Springfield Farm....perhaps factual and perhaps a few myths?
Springfield Farm was located on Elmont Road, about 3 or 4 miles north of Elmont, Virginia and one mile south of Ashland, Virginia. It contained approximately 330 acres at the time our great grandfather, Horatio C. N. Johnston bought it. It may have been a larger tract in its day. The first owner, was a Colonel Winn, noted for his inhumane treatment to his slaves. This information came from my Uncle Bill and Aunt Minnie who are pictured above. Then after Winn died, a number of others owned the property and in 1907 HCNJ purchased it, moved down with his daughter Marion Markert, her husband, and grandchild. He was 78 at the time, but as the story goes, the Markert’s planned to farm the property. How successful they were I do not know.
As with other places, Springfield Farm fell on hard times and there was no money for upkeep. The country was in a Great Depression, and its former glory had vanished by the time I was a small girl. I was very impressed with the grand house as a girl 9 or 10….the pre-Civil War house stimulated my imagination and I thought it quite wonderful even in its despair …despair was quite evident everywhere in those days…who could buy paint, nails, or even have the energy to keep up a front?
The house itself was a 3 story octagon shaped building with an English basement. The lot on which it sat was surrounded by a fence...this could have been iron…and in the front yard there were Mahogany trees. The seedlings or beans came from South America as the story goes by Ashlanders traveling there...and large English or American boxwood.
A flight of steps took one to the front porch, and into a hall flanked by staircases. On the left on this hall was the room occupied by Aunt Mary. I just remember it as being dark, and a bit warm. A wood stove was used to heat the room. To the right may have been a bedroom occupied by her son Johnston Vreeland Markert, his wife and two children.
At the back of this hall, was another hall which ran from the west to the east, the house itself faced south. At the west end of this hall was a room, which was kept closed off from the rest of the house.
On one visit, I decided to have a look at this room. It was filled with light, and was part of the octagon shaped walls. There was a fireplace draped with a fancy material; several black horsehair sofas...many pictures on the walls, and I remember a gaudy pillow in pink which “Sonny” Johnston Markert had bought his mother many years prior to our visits This room was closed off, not used probably too expensive to heat, so everything in the room was in good order. I am trying to remember if there were bookcases in this room, as Aunt Mary was well educated, and owned many books, some of which we were given later on. I remember many of the books were in German, but what an education I got from some of the English written ones.
Back in the hall again, there was a Silent butler, or a Dumb Waiter (there is one at Monticello). It could be pulled on ropes from the English basement the location of the original kitchen and lowered again for service. This was located on the north wall. What was at the end of the east of this hall, I don’t remember or maybe it was off limits. In the center however there was a small room the Markerts used for a kitchen with an kerosene cookstove...I remember it was closed off by a curtain at the door. As the story goes, the fire that destroyed the house started in this room.
My grandfather died in 1937, and Daddy in his old car with rotten tires would drive us to the cemetery which was located at Elmont to pay our respects to this beloved man, and then over to the farm to see Aunt Mary. I remember the road to the farm as being very rutted, and many flat tires. I don’t remember ever having a meal at the big house; we probably were on the giving end, taking foodstuffs, etc.
The farm property was land-locked which meant the land did not run to the main road, but needed an easement to enter/exit the farm. As one entered the easement from the main road, on the right stood a two-story tenant house. There may have been two of them. This is where the Markerts took shelter after the fire. I remember Aunt Mary sitting at a table in front of a window with her white hair and black dress, and still smiling. She must have been a beautiful woman in her day. And the walls were covered with newspapers to keep out the cold...tough times in those days!
Then back on the easement road to the farm...making a sharp right, one went past the well with its windmill...we children were warned not to go near this well as the boards were rotten and we could fall in.
I have described the first floor of the house as I remember it, the second floor may have been closed off and I never did see it. However, my brothers and I ventured into the ground level door of the English basement at the rear of the house..what we saw scared us so much we peeped in and ran! There were slave chains embedded in concrete on the basement floor! At the rear of the house was an avenue flanked by slave houses in disrepair. If only someone had taken pictures of these surroundings but my memory will have to do!!
I remember Johnston Markert coming to our house in Longdale with the news that the house had burned. Evidently he was able to salvage a few things i.e. paintings, pictures. At that time, or maybe later, he came to our house with many of these items and stored them in our tiny hall. He gave Mama the large photos of Petrina & HCNJ which you see today, and several other paintings, and he took the rest somewhere.
The furnishings in the house came from Passaic New Jersey. Most of the items probably belonged to Petrina Vreeland. Grandma used to describe Petrina’s house in N.J. as being very nice with fine things, and carpets on the floor!! As you know, Petrina died in 1906, and the family left the area for Virginia.