Gravel Springs Farm is a late Federal style brick farmhouse built in 1836, and little changed since. Never extended nor substantially remodelled, the exterior has seen only minor changes, and the interior retains its original details down to the cooking crane in the kitchen fireplace, and even a good number of original doors and cupboards grained in imitation of mahogany and tiger maple. Elsewhere, a faux marble painted finish on a chimneypiece is being uncovered from beneath two coats of 20thC white paint; the chimenypiece is one of seven, six of which are examples of an unusual form in lower Shenandoah Valley vernacular architecture, the 'Winchester knife shelf mantel.' Many original or early outbuildings remain, including a rare two-story granary.
'All is vanity.'
'Aug. 8, 1914 - Picnic here at Gravel Springs Farm'
'I hope that I shall see this place again.'
'Lydia Richards, 1839'
[from among the many signatures & inscriptions pencilled in the mortar joints of the facade]
Set in the Shenandoah Valley, between two parallel ranges of the George Washington National Forest, the house is located along Gravel Spring Run, one of a number of springs and small streams that converge to form a branch of Cedar Creek, near present-day Star Tannery, in Frederick County, Virginia.
On the front porch, generations of residents and visitors made a guest book of the facade, writing tiny pencilled notes in the thin white painted mortar joints --scores of signatures and notes dating from 1839 into the early 20th-Century, records of picnics, and engagements, of weddings, and speculation of the future. Elsewhere, the granary and meat house bear more prosaic pencil notations: for bushels of wheat and pork shoulders marked with neighbors' names. Signatures continue to turn up on hearths and elsewhere on the property.
For most of its 168 years, Gravel Springs Farm was 375 acres, even peaking at 650 acres. Now, however, it is a nominal farm, or 'farmette,' purchased in the summer of 2004 with the house, some nine, mostly wooded, acres, and eight outbuildings. Though remarkably intact and unmuddled, there is much work to be done to restore the house, to rebuild its porches, to stabilize its outbuildings, and to rescue the yard from lilacs long gone leggy and other, fast encroaching, vegetation. Progress photos and notes will be posted from time to time.
Six of the seven chimneypieces have 'Winchester knife shelf mantels,' distinguished by compound, exaggerated ovolo mouldings set directly beneath the mantelshelf to resemble a series of graduated fins or kinife blades. A peculiarity of early 19thC Shenandoah Valley vernacular architecture, they are found in Winchester, Virginia and in adjacent Virginia counties such as Frederick and Clarke. Those at Gravel Springs are unusual for having three fully developed "knife shelves" (where two are often seen) that step upwards from a broad cavetto mould.
"Time-honored style: Local 19th-century home renovated to pay tribute to its history" ~ Northern Virginia Daily newspaper article, 2009.
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