Two recent day-trips that the Redhead and I took are less than 1.5 hours drive from Staunton, VA and both were to small towns – one actually more like a hamlet.
Broadway, VA is North of Staunton in Rockingham County, VA, about 12 miles north of Harrisonburg, along Route 42. With a population of less than 4,000, it has been ranked as one of the safest places to live in VA. Slow down as you approach, Broadway is filled with lots of surprises.
WW Motor cars was an unexpected surprise in this tiny town. Located within an old Feed Mill, WW provides superb restorations of antique cars. Several of their works in progress can be viewed through display windows facing the main street or tours of the facility can easily be arranged with the owners. WW Motors: http://www.wwmotorcars.com/index.html
Like many small, rural towns Broadway might be overlooked – certainly as a tourist destination. But, for those looking to find those hidden gems where the people are the story – Broadway, Virginia is certainly worth a visit.
Next stop, heading South from Staunton…the place that made Al Roker cry – with pleasure!
For some time now, we’d been hearing from our friends and neighbors about “The best pies ever”. When we asked where these pies were all they could tell us was, “someplace out in the country”. Being country folk, when James and Ann say, “Country”, they mean COUNTRY. Like the middle of nowhere! Or so it seemed. So, finally getting an address and relying on Garmin and Google Maps and luck, we set out to find “Woodruff’’s Pies”.
Actually, while a bit remote, Woodruff’s Pies are fairly easy to find. Monroe, VA is a small, hamlet type of area that is located somewhat between Lexington and Lynchburg and very close to the city of Buena Vista and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Starting in the early 1950’s, James and Fannie Mary Woodruff ran a small grocery store and gas pump from a building they had built themselves and which also contained their second floor living area. For 30 years they ran their shop and then in 1998 daughter, Angela, and her two sisters reopened as a small sandwich cafe. It didn’t take long until Angela’s passion for baking took over and Woodruff’s Pies were born. Being an out of the way location Woodruff’s Pies struggled along until February, 2020 when NBC Today host, Al Roker, paid the Woodruff family a visit (https://www.today.com/video/103-year-old-still-helps-run-pie-shop-she-opened-nearly-70-years-ago-79076933543). Two months later Covid struck and the nation-wide lock-downs ruined many businesses. But, thanks to Roker and the Today Show segment, lines of customers clamoring for the now famous pies formed outside the shop. Today. customers can enjoy their pie and a tasty sandwich at one of the small tables inside the shop or out in the yard at a picnic table. On our visit we enjoyed the Apple and the Almond Delight pies and the chicken salad sandwiches. Fantastic!
The Woodruff family and their pies are truly an American Story – in every sense. Woodruff’s Pies.
One of the many things we enjoy while day-tripping is the ability to truly get to know an area. Guide books, Best Places, Trip Advisor, etc. all have their purpose. But, nothing can replace just getting in the car, exploring, talking to everyone you can along the way and and taking time to …taste the pie!
It will be a year next month that the Redhead gave me the key to discovering where I’m now at. Until this past week, I have not had the courage to see what it would unlock.
Perhaps, it is age more than mere curiosity that makes me now wonder how I came to be here in this particular place at this particular time. I am a city boy through and through, feeling more at ease surrounded by concrete, asphalt and steel than deep woods. Red says I’m a baby by refusing to take a hike in a forest. No, I say, I’ve just been “Deliverenced”. Darn Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, that movie would have dissuaded even Thoreau from spending the briefest of afternoons at Walden! Squeal, Baby!
So, City Boy I was born and stayed…until now. Don’t get me wrong, Staunton, Virginia is not the Wilderness – at least not for the past 300 years or so. But, to put it into perspective, it is about 1/5 the size of our former hometown in Connecticut or about the population of ½ square mile of Manhattan! Yet, The Redhead and I still chose to live outside the City limits into the County and thus we have far more livestock than people as neighbors. True to my nature, however, I still crave civilization, now, especially, that of the past. Tumbled barns, remnants of stone foundations, depressions in a field’s landscape now surrounded by trees and occasionally overgrown, wild ornamental plantings give evidence that somebody was here before us. Why they came and what made them leave or disappear may answer my question: Why am I here? Is there something more than the natural beauty – so reminiscent of my family’s home place in Ireland’s West – and the gentleness of the people that drew us, after a few false starts, like a magnet to this land of both Peace and Rebellion?
Read all you want about a place, nothing gives more clues about its true nature than the artifacts, the tangibles of those that came before. Study Pompeii ‘til blue in the face and nothing will give you a clearer sense of that place or those people than actually seeing the chariot ruts and street-side “cafes” or the menus inscribed onto the walls of the “guest houses”. View the bleak stone slopes of western Ireland and one can instantly comprehend Cromwell’s curse of those refusing to submit. Thus it is with every place, past or present: it must be touched to be known.
And so, this past Thursday, I finally made my journey into the past that now surrounds me, using the key that The Redhead gifted me last Christmas. I unpacked and charged up my long-desired but intimidating metal detector. A few Readers of this blog are actually quite astute in the use of these machines and have experienced both the joys and frustrations of combing through fields, parks, beaches and, well, just about anywhere they can get permission to search for the past. Some seek “treasure” in the form of jewelry or coinage – both ancient and not so much so. Others, while never turning their nose up at things of value, mostly enjoy “the hunt” for the past. I’ve read their blogs, watched their YouTube videos and enjoyed and even became hooked on the wonderful British television series, Detectorists. I was ready. Or so I thought!
My machine, (just saying it makes me feel, “part of the club”, lol) a Nokta Makro Simplex+ is designed to be just that: Simple, yet “advanced”. Perhaps it is. Cradling it under my arm and carrying a canvas ditty bag containing gloves, “pointer”, sharp-edged mini-trowel and a zip-lock enclosed instruction manual (just in case) I walked down to the property of our neighbor whom had given me the all-important permission to “hunt”.
He said to wear old clothes since his land was a bit rough. Unlike the fields and pasture lands of the videos I had watched over and over, Old Kevin’s land was a mire of brambles, saplings, old growth trees, ruts, abandoned “privies” and cesspools, a tumbled down shack and enough blackberry bushes to feed several bears for a season and enough thorns to keep everything else away. Except for Moi, the newbie “detector”. And all of it was, it seemed, located on a 30 degree slope!
By the time we reached the back of the property, the site I would begin searching in, I looked, thanks to the blackberry thorns, to be auditioning for the lead role in a Passion Play. Oi! Selecting a relatively clear area, I turned on the machine and began the search.
What the…? Not using headphones (why bother) the air was filled with static, crackles, pops, screeches and toots of every sort. Selecting a spot that emitted a steady screech I knelt down and began digging with the trowel. Rocks. More rocks. This can’t be, I thought. I held the machine up to a few and yep, the signal was louder than ever. There was a ton of iron in those rocks. Hmmm. Maybe that’s why I had read of there being so many pre- Civil War small iron smelters in the area . Well, I thought, let me move to another likely spot, with a different tune playing, so to speak. Ah, for the love of Pete. I can’t get up. My knees have locked! Trying to look just inquisitive rather than flummoxed, I root around a bit more until I spy a nearby sturdy looking branch and knee-waddle over to it to hoist myself upright. Jaysus!! The fookin’ thorns pierce my leather palmed gloves. Bugger me! This is rough work, I’m thinkin’. But, I’m up.
Eeee, eeeee, Eeeet. Now, That’s a signal, I’m sure. Down I go, much faster than I had just gotten up, I assure you. Scratch, dig. Retry the signal. Eeee, Eeee, EEEEEE. Ah, you’re onto something now, boy. Dig a few more inches. Aha! I can feel something. Coins? Old musket balls? Oh… Well, a pile of old nails is something, at least. Not wanting to grab another palm full of pain, I decide to use the trowel for a bit of leverage to get up. It sinks into the only soft dirt for probably several yards around. I look at the detector and hope it will not bend or break if I use it as a bit of a crutch. It holds and I’m up again, even if a bit slower than before.
Navigating more ruts and brambles, we come to a bit of a clearing and then it happens…a new signal, different than those of before. Oink, oinnk, ahoink. This has got to be gold. Or silver. Or an old Civil War relic. Kevin is nearby rooting around with a stick and unearths a skull. Animal, for sure. But, what else could be lurking nearby? We are, after all, only a few hundred yards from a compound of “Odd Ones”, as the locals call them, who find it rather amusing to hang deer butts from posts in their front yards. Nothing like a little “local color”, I suppose. But, the oinkking doesn’t quit and neither will I. The trowel hits something a few inches below the surface. An iron fence-wire guide emerges. I keep digging . Good thing, too. Something big is struck. What the heck! An old hinge of some sort is pried out. Maybe part of a buggy. Maybe an old piece of some machinery. Beats me. But, wait, there’s more, as the old TV commercial used to taunt. Is it wood? No. It’s a bit soft. Ah, an old leather satchel lost in the heat of battle? Hmm. No, not that either.
As I said at the beginning of this piece, to know a place or a people or a particular thing you must touch it to know it for what it is.
After only one afternoon of being a “relic hunter” (as painful as it was) I found something – quite by chance – that generations of historians, archaeologists and scientists have devoted their careers to either proving or disproving. I held in my hands proof that the believers were right. I did it.
Unearthed in this Valley of the Shenandoah, on the outskirts of Staunton, was irrefutable proof that not only does The Mighty Sasquatch, The Yiddi, The Bigfoot exist, but that he, too, like us, has a life cycle. And a not yet considered intelligence.
For the first time in known history here is the proof:
Believe! And keep hunting.
Here are just a few of the blogs on metal detecting that I follow and you may find interesting as well:
Well, how the heck are you doing? It’s been a tough few weeks, right? Same here. That upper respiratory virus that’s going around sure put a whooping on me…no energy for anything. But, when it passed, The Redhead and I decided to hit the road and do a little day-tripping in this beautiful part of Virginia.
First, we decided to take a little trip up to the town of New Market, where the VMI Civil War Museum is located. Still feeling a little weak we didn’t do much walking but did enjoy the views of the town and the Battlefield. How one’s thoughts can meander when looking at the scene of the battlefield set in the middle of the Bushong family farm, just on the outskirts of town. The Battle of New Market is mostly famous because of the efforts and contributions of cadets from the Virginia Military Institute, located in Lexington. The cadets marched the 85 miles in order to stop the approaching Union Army and as a result several of these young boys lost their lives. The stories of the townspeople helping the wounded from both armies is very touching and one can only imagine the terror the Bushong family felt as they huddled in their basement as the two armies clashed at their doorstep. Today, the scene is idyllic yet it doesn’t take much to imagine what happened all around you and pray it never happens again. (https://vmi.edu/museums-and-archives/virginia-museum-of-the-civil-war/)
Downtown New Market is filled with small, family run restaurants, shops and a great coffee shop, Jackson’s Corner Coffee Roastery and Cafe.
Our next trip was to the town of Buchanan and included a stop at New Freedom Farm, a wonderful horse farm providing PTSD and other therapies to veterans. There are a number of wild mustangs on the farm and part of the therapy is for Vet and horse to bond and help one another. It is a beautiful farm and the work they do is incredible. (https://www.newfreedomfarm.org/)
Downtown Buchanan is deceiving. Drive over the speed limit, 25mph, and you could go through it within 30 seconds. But, stop, pull over and you’ll discover wonderful architecture, Ransone’s, a great little grill/soda fountain, several small antique shops, the town library and an old fashioned movie house.
Buchanan also has a canoe, kayak river tour company, Twin River Outfitters. You can rent either craft and they’ll take you several miles up the beautiful James River and drop you off so you can paddle leisurely back to town. (https://canoevirginia.net/). Buchanan also has a Blue Grass Festival in early October. While exploring the river and the swinging bridge stop by the old River Craft Rail House. It has just been bought and is undergoing extensive repairs and updates by the new owner, Tammie, who is turning it into a family style restaurant, Tammie’s Place. During our visit we were amazed at the number of townspeople helping to restore this old building and helping Tammie achieve her dream. There is nothing quite like small town America!
Our friend, Mary Ellen, from CT visited us last week and we decided to show her around a little bit. Natural Bridge and Lexington are always fun to explore. Natural Bridge, surveyed by George Washington and once owned by Thomas Jefferson, is now part of Virginia’s State Park system. The main attraction, as the name would imply, is the natural bridge carved by Cedar Creek running through the limestone hills over many thousands of years.
Also in the park is a recreated Monacan Indian Village, depicting how the early Native Americans lived in the area. Unfortunately, at the time of our visit the village and a section of the park was closed due to a very damaging flash flood. Workers are hard at work opening up the trails and village.
After a nice visit to Natural Bridge, we drove the short distance to Lexington, VA for lunch and a walk around the town. In addition to seeing all the historical homes and architecture we discovered an old bookshop, The Bookery, on West Nelson St. Quaint, quirky and crammed with books – mostly old and some new, The Bookery is a book lovers heaven.
Sometimes there are adventures just around the corner and that is what we found when we decided to explore our own area, Staunton, VA . An afternoon at the Barren Ridge Winery was just what The Redhead and Mary Ellen needed…so they claimed. As their designated driver, I, too, enjoyed a nice selection of cheeses and crackers and the magnificent views of the Shenandoah Valley. (https://www.barrenridgevineyards.com/). The girls were very pleased with the wines, made more enjoyable by the beautiful setting.
Downtown Staunton is really a gem of a small town. Beside being very historical it also has one of the largest collections of Victorian Era buildings and homes in the country. There are numerous shops and restaurants of various types along the main street, East / West Beverly Street as well as the side streets. Latitudes, a Fair Trade shop, offers a wide variety of quality clothing, art and decorative items. (https://latitudesfairtrade.com/pages/staunton) The Foundry, is a new concept store front giving space to a number of local artists and craftspeople. We found several nice hand-made items here and enjoyed the opportunity to speak with the artists that made them. From ice cream, award-winning pizza, art galleries, a movie theater and various music venues, Staunton is the little town that has something for everyone.
No trip to Staunton (or to the Shenandoah Valley) would be complete without a visit to the Frontier Culture Museum.
FCM is a sprawling outdoor exhibit that tells the story of our early settlers and from where they came. As first generation Irish, I particularly enjoy visiting the Irish Farm. It is nearly a mirror copy of my fathers home in the “Old Country” – dirt floor and all.
There’s nothing quite like a dose of history to help keep things in perspective.
This past Sunday The Redhead and I, having hit another endurance limit of Cootie Lock-down, decided to do a bit of exploring in an area of Virginia we haven’t visited much: South West Virginia. So, with a tank-full of gas and a thermos of our Mayorga coffee, we headed out from Staunton down Route 81 to our destination: Paint Bank, VA.
Route 81, while a busy highway, offers some very beautiful scenery. But, as we approached Lexington and diverted onto Route 64 W, the scenery became even more spectacular. We crossed through the Allegheny Mountains, over the Maury River and parts of the George Washington and Thomas Jefferson forests. I cannot imagine anyone seeing this and not feeling the Hand of God.
When we reached the tiny city of Covington we exited the highway and continued along Route 18, toward Paint Bank. Talk about twisting roads! Past farmlands and forests and rivers and creeks , the scenery just rolled by. The route was dotted with a number of abandoned houses – some modest shacks, others quite substantial, holding the secrets of families that had lived there a century or more ago.
Finally, we arrived in Paint Bank, an area or hamlet more than a town. Its “Main” street consists mostly of the Paint Bank General Store, which also houses the Swinging Bridge Restaurant. Tingler’s Mill and several other buildings, including The Lemon Hotel and Depot Lodge are close by.
Across the street from The General Store is Mountain Crafters, a small yet interesting craft shop featuring the works of area crafts people and artists. The owner, Barbara Willard, was in the shop knitting when we visited. Barbara also spins wool and her loom is behind her 19th century work desk. As we browsed, Ms. Willard gave us a brief history of the area, including the origins of the town’s name. Paint Bankgot its name from the ochre and red clay lining the banks of the nearby stream now known as Potts Creek.Cherokee Indians used this clay as body paint as their war parties followed the rivers along the Allegheny Mountains. They also used this clay to make and decorate their distinctive pottery. Years later, the clay was used by the settlers to produce commercial paints and also bricks for their buildings.
By now, The Redheadwas famished so, after a few purchases, we said our goodbyes to Barbara and walked across the street to the Paint Bank General Store and the Swinging Bridge Restaurant.
Just inside the store is an assortment of everything from coolers containing beverages and food items, including local bison and beef. Shelves are loaded with an array of candy, camping foods, homemade fudges, snacks and some gift items. Toward the back is The Swinging Bridge Restaurant, so named because of the swinging bridge connecting both halves of the upper floor of the building where there is a Christmas oriented gift area. But, for us the main attraction was the restaurant. If you enjoy quality, homemade country food this place is for you, especially if you like something a little different: Bison! Yep, Bison, raised locally at Hollow Hill Farm, is served a number of ways, including burgers and steaks. Never having tasted bison before, we opted for a safe bet and chose the grilled, chopped bison. It is similar to a Salisbury steak but much leaner and with a more “wild”, savory taste that reminded me a bit of grilled liver. Very delicious! Also on the menu is chicken, locally raised Angus beef and other dishes.
Painted Bank General Store, Mountain Crafters and all of Paint Bank will surely be on our list of future “tours” for family and friends.
Now, I had not intended to make this blog a restaurant and shop review. Rather, it was intended as a reminder for all of us to get out of our lock-down frames of mind and discover the beauty all around us, especially in small towns. But, in reading and researching a bit more about the area we had visited, I was also struck by one thing in particular: the resiliency of people. The area we had just visited was, less than 300 years ago, The Wilderness of our yet-to-be new nation. Families looking for a new life and a chance to prosper were often attacked and killed by raiding parties of Indians of various tribes that roamed the valleys and rivers along the Allegheny Mountains. If a raid was successful, survivors would often be carried off into slavery, many never to be heard from again.
What’s it like to relocate to another part of the country or to build a new home?
That’s a question we’re being asked more and more lately. Being here in the Shenandoah Valley for almost two years now makes us certainly not “old hands”, but we do have more insight now than before this adventure began. Here’s the skivvy.
Sometimes we wonder if we should have moved earlier, when we were a bit younger. But, change one thing and everything changes. So, it seems that now was the “just right” time for us to move…even if it took us two tries.
Before moving from Connecticut for our first relocation, I had never lived more than 6 miles from the house where I was born. Talk about being a homeboy! But circumstances were what they were and I stayed put. Enter The Redhead and another chapter was started.
First, we decided to move to Florida. We had good friends that lived there and we even spent part of one summer there to test out the weather. The gods must have been laughing because that rather tolerable summer was an anomaly. But, we made connections that will last a lifetime. And, we successfully oversaw the complete renovation of a house. But, four years and four hurricanes were enough though!
So, we explored other areas and set certain criteria for making a move. We had to be near an airport that would fly us directly to NY (the closest to our hometown where family still lived), it also had to be reasonably drivable (under 8 hours), just in case. Weather played a big part, too. No more sweltering heat for most of the year. Yet, we were both attracted to Southern states. Georgia? No. South Carolina? Hmm, no. North Carolina? Hmmm, maybe, but, No. How aboutTennessee? Well, it did have a big draw for us and I ain’t talkin’ about Dolly!
But, No. Where to then?
After miles and miles of driving and weeks in hotels and B&B’s, it was Back to the Drawing Board. So, rethinking everything, we refocused our priorities.: Small town, Southern state, close to an airport and a reasonable drive back to family. We also needed good medical facilities, culture, natural beauty and Church. And, it had to be peaceful and safe.
After lots of online research we decided to explore Virginia and that’s how we found Staunton.
We had contacted a Realtor prior to driving up to Staunton the first time. She was wonderful and generous with her time in showing us around the area. Yes, Staunton was the area we wanted to call home. We returned home, thought about it some more and decided to sell our “forever” home and move. We sold our home in 6 hours! Back to Staunton we went to secure a rental so that we could transition more easily and sensibly. This was a bit tricky and we wound up finding a nice apartment on our own.
For some reason, working with Realtors did not work out too well for us. The first Realtor that showed us around when we were exploring needed to take care of some matters so she wasn’t as available as we had hoped. Too bad, because she is a wonderful person that we would have loved to do business with.
We were open to building or remodeling an existing home. It was in finding the right location that proved to be elusive. While we initially thought city living was just right for us – being able to walk to amenities had been a goal – downtown Staunton would be a challenge. We didn’t want to undertake another complete renovation nor were we alpine hikers, something that might come in handy in navigating the hills of Staunton. Realtors showed us homes that needed everything from complete gutting / renovation to mold remediation to needing a herd of goats to keep the acreage under weed and brush control. One memorable agent might have taken us a bit too literally when we said we wanted a quiet, safe neighborhood. His picks were a building lot that was somehow located within an old cemetery and a new home that had an electric fence surrounding it – to keep out the neighbor’s cattle.
Fast forward a bit to where we finally located a building lot in the perfect location for us: just outside of the city limits of Staunton in Augusta County. And this is where our experience may be most helpful to those thinking of doing something similar to us: relocating and building/remodeling in a new area.
First, learn everything you can about the location: tax rates, are public utilities available, zoning (what type of homes are allowed in your area – single family only or mixed use (multiple family), future Planned Development by the town/county/ developer. Don’t forget to explore the area. Is that nice building behind the trees an office building or a prison? Thankfully, we didn’t have that experience.
Research the potential Builder / Re-modeler – Diligently! Ask the County / Town/ Neighbors about any Failed Inspections they may have had with previous jobs. Talk with Homeowners that have worked with them…in private. Don’t have the Realtor or Builder present during the conversation. It’s understandable that some people may be less than candid if there were any problems during / after their home building process if a third party is present.Talk with suppliers, including those in the Big Box stores if the builder uses them. An “eye roll” may be worth a thousand words. Talk to competitors. Most good / ethical builders will be honest in speaking of another builder. They may do things a little differently or prices may be a little more or less than the other guy, but a prolonged, “Welllll”, speaks volumes! Talk with everyone and don’t forget the folks at the local zoning / building departments and the local police / sheriff. Our experience was that they were very helpful and gave us great insight.
Once you decide on a builder, “do a Reagan”: Trust but Verify!Be specific in what you want and what you’ll get. Everything must be in writing, including materials that will be used. Weather affects almost every building process. But, what happens if the builder delays completion for 2, 3, 4 months or even more? It’s going to cost you money to extend a lease or sale of an existing home. Will a deliberate delay cost them anything? Some builders start, stop and move onto another project before finishing the first. Find out, too, who will be doing the actual construction. Does the builder have his own “core crew” for framing and finishing, etc. or is everything sub-contracted out? If a “core crew” is used, how long have they worked for the builder? Be cautious of a builder that has an exceedingly high turnover rate or that constantly flips sub-contractors. There is a reason. Make sure there is an actual blueprint for the job and not an “online rendering” and that you are given a complete copy. Go over everything in the plans with the builder and an attorney / architect before contracts are signed (expect to pay for these beforehand, they do cost money). Changes made after contracts are signed will almost certainly cost you money and time, especially if made during construction. A wall color change probably won’t, unless the builder has already bought the paint. When picking appliances verify when the choices must be made and when they will be bought. Sometimes a buyer can buy the appliances directly and have them held by the store until needed. This can spare you the aggravation of hearing later from the builder that the prices went up or the item is out of stock so you must pick some other model or make. Experience is speaking here!
Finally, find out how a particular builder handles mistakes or problems. Only a previous home buyer can tell you this. Things happen, but how those unforeseen snags are taken care of is important to your sanity and enjoyment of your home.
Building can be a challenge. But, being diligent (and a bit lucky), patient and choosing wisely can turn that empty lot into your Home, Sweet Home!
If you are ever considering moving to Staunton give us a shout!
“One of the things that I enjoyed about your shop was that it wasn’t Antique Roadshow. You were preserving antique and vintage furniture with the idea that they would again be used and be affordable. That was cool”. Nothing could have summed up Redeux Vintage Furniture better than those words said to me this afternoon by master woodworker, Gary R. Wood.
Inspired by necessity (mine) and begun in a garage, Redeux was a dream realized. Starting in late 2007, I set out to furnish my home by finding older, American- made furniture and restoring it to the point that it would become attractive and usable furniture. There were just two problems: I had very limited funds and no real training! But, No Brains, No Headaches. Why worry?
Scrounging junk shops throughout Connecticut and beyond and accepting furniture that was no longer wanted by friends, the adventure began. An older brother of mine was a master mechanic of sorts and he could fix any machine on land or water. If he couldn’t find the correct part for something he would make it. Yet, he never had any formal training in this. He could just “see” how something worked. To a far lesser extent, I could “see” how furniture had been made and also how it had been used through the years. Unlike my brother, however, I could not and cannot still, make anything. I can only preserve or restore furniture made during a time when things were mostly made by hand. I also very often get a sense, from tell-tale signs of use, of the past owners.
My first piece was a Federal reproduction of a chest of drawers made sometime during the 1920-30’s. I still have this piece and have become attached to it…my first-born, so to speak. Next, was a bedroom suite from the 1960’s. The difference in style and quality from the piece made 30 or so years earlier was striking. It wasn’t quite to my taste, but beggars were not going to be too choosy. So, this furniture was restored and, as luck would have it, someone loved it and, at the time, was more in need of furniture than I. So, it was my pleasure to send it off to a new home.
Fast forward a few years. I studied everything I could find on vintage and antique furniture styles, manufacturers, woods and finishes. I started a blog, chronicling the furniture I had found and was working on. Each piece had a name: American Princess (a dainty chest found in an old shop in Maine), The Three Legged Dog, yep, a “distressed” dresser also missing a leg. After some innovative restoration and a complete makeover, The Dog was in a new home the afternoon he appeared on my blog site. The Jigsaw Puzzle presented a real challenge. Found in a used furniture outlet in an abandoned factory, this was nothing but a pile of oak boards and a marble slab when I first saw it. But, again, no brains, no headaches.It laid in the back of my garage workshop for nearly a year before I decided to take a closer look at it. No nails, no screws, no pegs. How the heck was this put together, I wondered? Back to researching furniture made around 1870 I went and soon found similar looking pieces. They had all been put together using special horsehide glue. Well, using an array of clamps, braces and straps and an ample supply of this old-fashioned glue, this dresser was eventually properly put together. Whoever originally made this had to have been a genius.
There were mistakes. Oh, yes. I sanded some things only to deeply regret it later (you can’t restore 100- 200 years of patina). I experimented with some stains, mixing my own “custom” colors. A sideboard/server stained purple was a sight to behold, I can tell you. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t convince myself that it looked like purpleheart wood. Luckily, a young couple just loved, loved, loved it. It matched the color of their newly painted dining room! That was a one-off color, believe me.
A very fortunate bit of luck during that time period was to learn of and attend refinishing classes being taught at a nearby wood-workers club. The instructor was Gary R. Wood, of New Hampshire. Master refinisher, restorer, preservationist and antique-reproduction maker, Gary Wood is an ideal teacher. Less is better, was his often-used motto. Preserve the past. Experiment. This was music to my ears. His frequent question to students,“What would you do?”, always got us to thinking and, sometimes, laughing about what to do about a particular piece or technique. So, after a number of classes I had a bit more of an understanding of how to better approach the art of preserving and refinishing beautiful pieces of furniture -even if, at first glance, the beauty was hidden.
This afternoon, after not having been in contact for several years, I called Gary at his shop in New Hampshire. What a pleasant surprise it was that he remembered me and my old shop, Redeux. We spoke of what we were both now doing. He is still creating and preserving beautiful furniture, of course, but he has also started a new adventure. Gary is teaching Middle School children about woodworking. Who knows, maybe one or two of these kids will find the joy in the wood as did Gary and countless generations before. I told him of our move here to Staunton, VA in the Shenandoah Valley. The abundance of quality “older” furniture available here that was just waiting to be brought back to life was exciting news for Gary. Ever gracious, Gary gave me some tips and sources for some neat products to use in my restoring efforts.
Below are some photos of pieces I have recently worked on or have just begun the restoration process. Also, I have just acquired, through auction, two interesting pieces that will be kept for our own use. I’m not sure where this will all go, but it is great to be again working on pieces of furniture that have stood the test of time.
One of the pluses of living in the country is that one is required to live in The Real.
I had especially noticed this sense of living in The Real during my many visits “Back Home” to Ireland. Being of the first generation of my family born here in The States, Back Home meant the family place. For us it was the West of Ireland – County Mayo and in particular the then small town of Charlestown.
My first visit was a real eye opener. Despite stories of having descended from Irish Royalty (weren’t we all?) the reality was the family was materially poor. My father and generations of family before him was born and raised in a single room cottage that was, upon my first visit, still occupied by my uncle and his family. No electricity, no running water, no plumbing. That was home.
Politically, it seemed the family was all over the place. Uncle Batty, when I showed up unannounced at his workplace, thought I was an IRA hitman that had “come for him”. I never asked why he thought that. But, the joy he showed that it was the son of his never-met older brother standing at his doorstep erased all need to explore the matter further. His wife, Evelyn, was a nurse, educated and trained in England. Her political views, expressed only once, was that, Yes, things had been bad in the past. But, she said, “Without the English we’d all now be a lot worse off”. She was living in The Real. The world as it was right then, not what it had been, good or bad.
I’ve thought many times of Evelyn’s words and contrasted them with those of my father. Yes, he had seen a bit more of the brutality of an occupying army. Not allowing even English Toffee into the house, however, seemed a bit much, even to a little urchin. But, the day that my eldest sister had a would-be “suitor” call at the house was a real humdinger. Dressed in a tweed suit, he carried a gold pocket watch that he allowed me to hold. Yet, the real treasure was a strange coin with some type of antelope stamped upon it.
“Dad, look at this”, I blurted out. Examining the coin, my father seemed to enjoy the novelty of it as much as I. Until he turned it over. There it was. The image of Queen Elizabeth II in all her youthful beauty.
First, his jaw went slack, and then his eyes started blinking out some type of Morsecode. We had seen those telegraphing eyes before. Whatever was coming wasn’t going to be good.
“You’re a *&^)#%@*^# ’Limey”, shouted my father. “I say”, said my sister’s Caller. Well, he didn’t get to say much else, I can tell you that. The last we or my sister saw of him was the back of the tweed bending over to pick poor Elizabeth up from the sidewalk in front of our house.
It would be several years later before my sister would agree (with permission, naturally) to marry a very nice man. Of Irish descent, ofcourse. All went well until the day before the wedding. It was then that dad found out that while the young man about to marry my sister was indeed Irish, he wasn’t the “Right Irish”. His great-grandfather had come from…get ready…Belfast, Northern Ireland. My sister was marrying a “Collaborator”. Neither I nor anyone else in the family knew what the heck my father was talking about. Which brings me back to the beginning of this story, living in The Real.
When I say that we live in the country it’s that we are surrounded mostly by farms. Dairy, goat, poultry, horse and agriculture farms abound here. Some are small, some quite extensive. Our immediate neighbors in this neighborhood come from different backgrounds and professions: teachers, technical engineers, business owners, medical professionals, skilled labor, etc. Many come from small towns or farms. And, of course, this city boy. Each of us have been drawn to this area for reasons, while specific to us, have similarities, too: the need for “elbow room” in order to have privacy or to have a garden, the need to escape the costs, congestion and craziness of large cities. Yet, there is the tacit understanding that we would help one another. And will be kind to each other.Perhaps it is by being so close to nature, to God’s abundant blessings, that we have become so aware of how beautiful life is.
And so, this past week, we celebrated our good fortune in two ways. First, we had a “block party”. Every family in our little hilltop neighborhood came to “the crossroads” to enjoy a beautiful, sunny day and sharing food, laughter and the feeling that, at least within our little community, all is well.
Secondly, The Redhead and I ventured out for a drive yesterday that took us out beyond Route 42 into deep farm country and finally heading westward along Route 250 through the Allegheny Mountains into the small town of Monterey. Monterey is the home of the Maple Festival, drawing craftspeople and maple syrup product connoisseurs from great distances. Unfortunately, like most other festivals, this year’s was cancelled due to the pandemic. Nonetheless, Monterey is a nice little town (really small) but it has several nice country- style restaurants, inns and spectacular scenery. I will say, that prior to yesterday, driving over the mountain was something beyond my comfort level. Do it slowly, carefully and in good weather and you could have a nice outing. Hint: Monday may not be the best day to make the trip – some things are closed.
Along this section of Route 250 you will also find the Confederate Breastworks and the battle field of McDowell, dating from 1862. Both locations, near one another, while relatively limited in scope, were where Confederate and Union troops clashed for control of this mountain pass. Standing at the Breastworks and looking down the valley where so many men had struggled, fought and died two thoughts came to mind: What a terrible tragedy that Civil War was, pitting neighbor and family against one another. And, later last night, after mistakenly watching a few minutes of the “news”, I thought back to the beauty, bounty and friendship we had seen all around us this past weekend and wondered, why this country is being torn apart.
Will we ever let the transgressions, real or imagined, of Queen Elizabeth, Stonewall Jackson, Columbus, Kit Carson, Junipero Serra and on and on stay in the past? Will we ever again live in The Real?
We have been in our new home since mid-June and, for the most part, we are unpacked and settled. What a feeling of relief!
To say that we are grateful and realize how blessed and lucky we are to be here in Staunton – at any time, but especially during these days of crazy, would be an understatement. It certainly is a time for reflection and prayer.
For this, my first blog in three months, I’ll divide it into basically three parts and in reverse order of the Clint Eastwood movie: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The Ugly: Building a home is not for the feint-hearted, easily discouraged or those expecting everything to be as planned – or promised. Sometimes it can get real ugly. There, I’ve said it and now to move on.
The Bad: Between the Covid virus and the continuing riots in many parts of this country I feel as if we’re living in The Twilight Zone. Nothing makes sense. Yesterday, I read yet another report, this time from the Director of the CDC, that many – up to 17% by CDC’s estimate, of reported deaths from the Covid virus are fraudulent. Why? Because apparently hospitals and doctors are making money when they diagnose and treat someone for having been “exposed” to Covid. And, of course, politicians are driving this system. Why has our national health care been hijacked by fraud and politics? Bad stuff.
But, what has struck a personal note with me is the abandonment and demonizing of our police by politicians and large and vociferous swaths of the public. It is a rare day when a cop, of any rank, can hope for and much less expect to be backed by a politician. Still, there was, until recently, a feeling that many, if not most, of the public still supported police in general. Corrupt, brutal, ignorant or untrained officers are a different topic.But, the vast, overwhelming majority of cops are decent, honest, compassionate and willing to work in environments most people have nightmares about. And now, many of our political elites attack and want to jail or fire them. Groups of agitators, paid, sadly misguided or mentally impaired riot nightly, violently attacking police and burning and smashing the dreams and work of ordinary people. This is will not end until every decent person says, “Enough”. This is very bad stuff, indeed.
And now, The Good!!
We are Home.
Many of the design aspects we planned for our house have come to fruition. Our front porch has become one of our focal points and a great place for friends and neighbors to stop by and sit a (long) while. Morning coffee seems to taste better and ending the day looking at sunsets and talking things over while sitting in the rockers is a slice of heaven.
Our fireplace with “instant” (gas) flames has already provided several somewhat chilly nights a cozy feeling. And, The Redhead can’t wait to decorate for Christmas. The Sunporch is a bright, sunny room. It faces East and offers a view of the sun rising over the mountains and treetops. In some ways it reminds me of both our Connecticut and Florida homes and gatherings of friends in the book clubs we hosted there. Maybe again?
Once again I have a library. But, surprisingly, to me anyway, is that it has a somewhat cluttered look. Too many books? Never! But, looking at a jumble of wires draped over and around my desk is not pleasing. It’s unfortunate that whoever built my desk in 1790 could not have better planned for computer and speaker wires to be tucked away! But, there are nice cubbies for fountain pens and ink bottles…and that’s something.
The kitchen has turned out quite well and cooking once again with a gas flame is wonderful.
Our house has become our home. We are blessed with wonderful friends, some neighbors, others close by. We have family – of the heart and blood. Some have already visited. The Redhead was in heaven this past week when, after 7 long months, she was again able to hold Grand baby Jonah.
And, finally, my plans to once again find, research and restore American vintage and antique furniture has begun to come about. Shelving has been set up in the basement, plans for work benches and stands are being drawn up and area auction houses (my hunting grounds) are once again opening up. There are several items on hand that require the Redeux Furniture treatment but then it’s on to newer, yet old, pieces of America’s past.
Thanks for reading and bearing with me. The pictures that are posted were taken sort of impromptu so ignore any out of place sofa pillows or coffee cups, etc. The Redhead has not edited any of these photos, so who knows!
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It’s been a while since I’ve posted updates of our home building project here in Augusta County, Staunton, Virginia.Because of the current virus distancing protocols, we haven’t been able to visit the site as often as we had previously. But, this afternoon, The Redhead and I met with our builder and went over a few remaining details and got an up close look at all the progress that has been made these past few weeks. What a change!
Most of the heavy work has been completed. The rear deck is awaiting stairs and the stairs to basement and attic will be finished shortly. Plumbing fixtures will be installed soon as will be the granite counter tops and kitchen cabinet doors. The Hickory wood floors have all been installed and are in the process of getting a final sanding before the finish is added. But, it really has come together.
Two features that we think will be very beneficial are ceiling fans in almost every room and the addition of interior insulation. Both features will help in maintaining comfortable temperatures year-round and the insulation of the interior walls will also help to reduce noise between rooms. I’ll update on this after we have settled in for a while.
Now, come along and take a peek at what will soon be our new home.
So, there you are. Work on the house is now going full-steam ahead. Closing may be very late this month or possibly the beginning of June. The lock-downs have caused a bit of a slow down with personnel and the material supply chain. But, all seems well now.
The Redhead and I are going to have our work cut out for us in landscaping the yards, planting shrubs, etc. Any volunteers??
Personally, I can’t wait to set up my workshop in the spacious basement and get back to reviving American vintage furniture. It’s been several years since I’ve mixed my varnishes and stains and used my glues, clamps and brushes. Let’s hope I’ve retained some of my Redeux Vintage Furniture skills!
A special thanks to all of our friends and “family of the heart” that have kept us in their prayers. Without your support and prayers, tonight’s blog may have been a different story. And, thanks to St. Padre Pio, your intercession has never failed.
My mother had an expression she would use if she found us hanging around the house too much: “Get out and blow the stink off.”
If hanging around the house can make you stink, many of us are now close to down- right putrid.
There isn’t much more to say about this virus lock-down. We’re all talked out about it, I think. Some areas are starting to see rebellions of one sort or another, but, so far, these are, for the most part, peaceful and sensible. People want to work and be with their families and see their friends and pray together. No one wants to get or give the cooties.
This past week, The Redhead and I did try to get some of the stink off. We drove and walked around Staunton and yesterday, Saturday, we joined several of our friends for what was a real treat. It seems that even this virus can bring unexpected blessings.
So, here are a few pics of our lock-down life here in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Come on along.