The Southern Shenandoah Valley Branch of Preservation Virginia is seeking independent, 501 C-3 tax-exempt status as a result of the recent decision of the state organization, Preservation Virginia, to eliminate the “Branch” Structure. Approved by the Branch membership at its February 2013 annual meeting, the change is expected to take place January 1, 2014, when the Mountain Valley Preservation Alliance (MVPA) is born. The new organization will expand its membership area to include Alleghany and Bath Counties in addition to its current membership from Botetourt, Rockbridge, and Augusta Counties. It will continue to focus on regional preservation issues, advocating either separately or in collaboration with other preservation groups.
One example includes serving as the umbrella organization for the proposed Lewis & Clark Eastern Legacy Trail project and the just established regional committee of representatives from four counties – Botetourt, Rockbridge, Augusta, and Albemarle – now designated by the National Park Service as a “trail segment.” Another example includes working with the Valley Conservation Council and the Rockbridge Area Conservation Council to preserve The Natural Bridge.
An annual tradition of the branch organization has been organizing and offering a tour of a regional historic site to its membership and friends. This year, the fundraising event will showcase the unique and lovely estate, Forest Oaks at Natural Bridge and will be held on Saturday, September 21, 2013 from 5:00 to 7:30 pm. A beer and wine garden, courtesy of the Southern Shenandoah Valley Branch, will greet guests on the rear terrace at 5:00 pm. Guided tours by the property’s two new owners will follow at 5:30 and participants will learn of plans to establish a bed and breakfast including a small on-premises winery and bakery. The barbecue dinner featuring chicken and pork, side dishes, dessert, and beverages is being catered by Three L’iI Pigs of Daleville/Botetourt, and begins at 6:30pm. The cost for the tour and dinner is $ 17.50 per person. Checks along with the completed reservation form (on the flyer) should be made payable to SSV-PV and mailed to Southern Shenandoah Valley Branch – PV, P.O. Box 525, Lexington, Virginia, 24450.
The tour of Forest Oaks may have a special interest to people in Botetourt and Rockbridge having historic ties to both counties. This large two-and-a-half-story Flemish-bond brick gable-roofed dwelling is significant in architecture because of its original Federal-style section, (circa 1806), as well as its subsequent alterations including an enlargement around 1812 and substantial Colonial Revival additions in 1916. The house and property have also been associated with several families within Rockbridge and Botetourt. The land on which Forest Oaks stands was originally deeded to Benjamin Borden as part of the enormous Borden Grant from Lieutenant Governor Sir William Gooch in 1736. The property was purchased by Matthew Houston, a member of one of the Scots-Irish families from Pennsylvania that settled in the Valley of Virginia.
Matthew Houston was born in Rockbridge County in 1762 and after his marriage to Patsy Cloyd, Houston ran a saw mill, gristmill, and dry goods store. In 1804, he purchased a farm one and one-half miles away from the Cloyd family. On this property, near the small village of Springfield, Houston built his house, called Vine Forest. Already on the property was the High Bridge Presbyterian Church, an early Rockbridge County church where Matthew Houston’s brother, the Reverend Samuel Houston, preached.
After his wife’s death, Houston sold the Vine Forest property of three hundred acres in 1841 to a resident of Campbell County, William Penick Arnold, for $7,500.00. At the same time, Houston donated the two acres of land upon which High Bridge Church stood to the church. When he died in 1871, the property passed to his son, a graduate of the University of Virginia and member of the House of Delegates, Dr. Jacob Wyatt Arnold. Upon Arnold’s death in 1887, the property passed to his widow, Sarah Wilson Arnold. In 1916, Mrs. Arnold sold the property to Miss Lilly Walton, an Englishwoman and resident of Cleveland, Ohio. Walton was a friend of the Peckin family and it may have been on a visit to their home, the nearby Greyledge in Botetourt County, that she saw Vine Forest. Accompanying her was an adopted son, Curtis Walton, an architect trained at Case Western Reserve who had a hand in the property’s transformation during her ownership. The Waltons had spent a great deal of time in Europe, especially Italy; some of the items they brought back with them, such as the majestic tapestries are still hanging in the large hallway that those attending the September 21 event will see. (VLR 6-19-91; NRHP 8-23-91; DHR File No. 81-207)
The public is encouraged to reserve their space for the Forest Oaks Tour and Barbecue Dinner as soon as possible as there will be a limit to the number of attendees. Carpooling is also suggested. For questions or further information, contact Botetourt SSVB board members Peggy Crosson (540-354-9698) or Kurt Kunze (254-1052).
–submitted by Peggy Crosson