Celebrate spring and the re-emergence of natural beauty and color during the annual Historic Garden Week Tours—America’s largest open house and Virginia’s oldest volunteer tourism project. Historic Garden Week will once again pass through the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County, but this year, new splendors will be revealed to the public for the first time. On April 24, visitors are invited to explore the iconic homes and gardens in the Brown’s Cove area on a driving tour through the historic region. Settled over 275 years ago, three of the property’s family homes will be open for guests to explore and experience their splendor firsthand.
For over a century, the Garden Club of Virginia (GCV) has sought to preserve and protect the natural beauty and environment of Virginia. Dating back to the 1920s, the women behind the GCV have defined our landscapes with their commitment to the Virginia countryside and historic homes. From their work helping to establish the Virginia State Park System to their historic preservation efforts on the grounds of Monticello, the women of the GCV have been instrumental in the conservation of native beauty in Virginia.
In collaboration with Historic Garden Week, the GCV continues to make strides in preserving the natural splendor that Virginia has to offer by making historic homes and gardens accessible to the public each year.
Mount Fair Farm
The Historic Garden Week tours will allow guests to experience Brown’s Cove, an historic part of the valley established by the Brown family in the mid 18th century. It will include a tour of three of the family homes: Mount Fair Farm, Innisfree Village and Brightberry Farm.
The tour winds through rolling farmland and alongside sweeping mountain panoramic vistas before revealing hidden botanical wonders and elegant equestrian facilities. Guests will visit Mount Fair Farm, a Virginia and National Historic Landmark. The Greek Revival and Jeffersonian-detailed home was built by William T. Brown circa 1848 and is the grandest of the Brown family homes. The tour of Mount Fair meanders across a crushed-stone pathway, over a bridge and past a scenic pond to show visitors the expansive natural beauty of one of the largest and best-preserved antebellum farms in Albemarle County.
In addition to the idyllic home, Mount Fair Farm is a family-owned and operated vineyard and equestrian facility. The state-of-the-art equestrian facilities are a classic combination of functionality and elegance. The wood-beam stalls and brick barn aisles are outfitted with lantern lights, tying in the authentic historic ambiance with modern comfort and class.
Seven acres of the estate are dedicated to growing grapes to produce wines that showcase the terroir of the region. The sloping hills and morning sunlight where the vines grow have enabled the family to produce an excellent Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. In its viticulture endeavors along with its small-scale farming activities, Mount Fair Farm is committed to sustainable practices.
A visit to the greenhouse is a must, with its iconic glass and steel frame, pristine boxwoods and Jeffersonian red brick pathways. Nestled behind the greenhouse is a reflection pool and fountain, a serene oasis to sit and take in the breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Innisfree Village: Walnut Level and Turkey Ridge
Visitors will have the opportunity to explore Innisfree Village, a residential community for adults with intellectual disabilities. The 550-acre property houses 75 coworkers, caregivers and long-term staff working as part of a cooperative, therapeutic workstation environment where community members bake, garden, farm and create together. Innisfree Village fosters a close-knit environment where residents and volunteer caregivers live as a community in the 15 houses on the property.
Staff members at Innisfree Village live at Walnut Level, a traditional Federal style brick I-house built in 1810. The home still has its original wainscoting, and each of the seven bedrooms has its own fireplace with a hand carved mantels. The historic doors similarly still retain their original locks.
Residents at Innisfree participate in therapeutic workstations, where residents and volunteers bake, garden, farm and create side by side. Whether their passion is creating in the art studio, woodworking or cooking gourmet meals in the kitchen to serve meals to the residents, each person at Innisfree has endless possibilities.
Guests on the Historic Garden Week tours will also be invited to visit Turkey Ridge (seen here), the modern family home of the Innisfree Founder, a beautiful juxtaposition of contemporary architecture against the historic ancestral structures.
The gardens of Turkey Ridge were a labor of love. The homeowner of Turkey Ridge worked with gardener David Phipps for 18 years to produce a whimsical garden and retreat. The garden has become a home to pollinators and birds alike and is replete with life-size sculptures (shown below) from the one and only Walter Matia. You can learn more about Walter’s art in Book 13 of Wine & Country Life which you can read here.
Finally, the tour will turn to Brightberry, the oldest of the three Brown family homes, which was built in 1790 and completely renovated in 1989. The renovation preserved the original floors, woodworking and many of the original bricks used for the chimneys. The floor plan has been reimagined to accommodate a more modern lifestyle. To bring natural light into the home, the renovation included the installation of French doors and additional windows.
For over a decade, the homeowners worked with a local stone mason and artist, Mike Firklay, to repurpose the original foundation stones along with stones found on the property to build the current walls and patios surrounding the home. Unearthing the history of the home has created an environment where the homeowners can look out and see the history of their home right before their eyes.
The now light and airy estate flows into the outdoors where the stone craftmanship leads the residents out onto the rolling back lawn and onto the dock overlooking the idyllic pond.
Amidst the sloping lawns, flowering trees bloom and potted plants burst with color. The garden on the property boasts oak and maple trees alongside bountiful flowers—hydrangeas, hollies, azaleas and lilac bushes accompany fruit trees.
Honoring the Enslaved Cemeteries
In 2017 efforts at Mount Fair revealed over 120 individual burials of enslaved African Americans. The current owners worked to meticulously restore the graveyard for the enslaved, once hidden in a thickly wooded forest. The pathway up to the restored cemetery for the enslaved individuals now contains beautifully stone clad pillars to mark the grounds and a bronze plaque to memorialize the role these enslaved individuals had in the development of both Mount Fair and of our nation.
The plaque at the restored burial site offers visitors an opportunity for honoring and reflecting on the people who lived in slavery on the property. The plaque states:
“We know neither their names nor their circumstances but imagine they lived honorable lives during a period of our nation in which equal human rights were not extended to all people. Our hope is that this monument will serve as a reminder, to all who visit, that many suffered unfairly during the formative years of our nation and that we must forever strive to ensure that past mistakes are neither forgotten nor rationalized; furthermore, that we carry forth with an understanding that the pursuit of an equal and fair society requires constant evaluation and improvement.”
The Brightberry Farm also honors and lovingly maintains an historic cemetery for the enslaved. Both of the cemeteries are on hilltops with spectacular vistas of the surrounding mountains and will be accessible during the tour.
Albemarle County Historic Garden Week Tour Details for 2022
The Charlottesville-Albemarle Tour of Brown’s Cove is hosted by the Albemarle, Charlottesville and Rivanna Garden Clubs and will be an opportunity to learn about the complex and astounding history of Virginia while experiencing its natural beauty.
The tour will take place on Sunday, April 24, 2022, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are available at VAGardenWeek.org for $60 per person and must be purchased in advance.
After over 100 years of outstanding work, the Garden Club of Virginia continues to showcase beautiful homes, gardens and landscapes that are steeped in history. The GCV never fails to provide an opportunity to enjoy, learn and experience the natural wonders that Virginia has to offer.
ABBY MEREDITH ARMISTEAD is a Double Hoo who loves all things Charlottesville and equestrian. Abby grew up competing through the Arabian Horse Association, where she found success as a four-time Youth National Champion. During college, Abby made the switch to Hunter Jumpers and competed throughout Virginia. Abby worked as an attorney in Washington, D.C. and now is a freelance writer living in Charlottesville, where she spends her weekends hiking with her dog in the Blue Ridge Mountains, frequenting the farmers market and reading any novel she can get her hands on.
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