No pedestal - no platform - no milky steed,
Nothing like it was "supposed to be".
The chills and flutters pass and fade -
Why, oh mind, did you think they'd stay?
No path's easy and none short -
Time it takes to know for certain,
And lots of time to court.
Too long? Oh, no. Love's enough to wait.
And love's enough to walk me through
This limbo, labyrinthic state...
Love's enough to push me, too,
To dream of love that's mean to be...
And release it into silly poetry.
Meredith Bean McMath, March 1979,
three months before Chuck and I were married
Tired chirp she brings at end of day,
but every note she sings echos back to say,
"Silly chickadee, sing to them all;
We know who you hope to call.
But no matter how sweet your sounds will coo,
Only the mockingbird sings to you."
Pity chickadee for she sings alone,
Scratches her wings and sighs, forlorn.
Then owl smiles in a benign sort of way,
"Chickadee, don't you forget to play.
You're young yet, child. Sing aloud another day."
And chickadee stares... and flits away.
.Lorenzo Lee Bean, Jr. was The son of a man who had grown up in the hills of West Virginia, and learned how to take care of himself. And he was determined to teach his son the same skills. Hi son had an excellent sense of humor and the dark eyes and complexion typical of the Welsh. But with a name like Lorenzo, he was sometimes taken for an Italian child and had two bossy older sisters, so that sense of humor came in handy. Nevertheless, he changed his name to "Lee" as soon as he could.
Lee's first memory came at the end of World War I. His father, L.L., had served in the home guard, and when the boys came home from "Over There," the whole town came out to greet them. Lee remembered standing on the butt of his father's rifle as his father steadied him, so he could see the World War I veterans marching through Fort Meade, Florida - a sight that left a deep impression on the toddler.
His next memory was a little less fun. Their back yard held a huge tree dripping with the Spanish Moss indigenous to the region — the bane of mothers who liked to keep their children tidy - one day the three little Bean sprouts were headed to a birthday party in crisp, clean whites: Lee wore linen shorts and shirt, and his sisters had lovely dresses of fine lawn and cotton.
As Lee walked down the sidewalk, he decided to pass through a slick of Spanish Moss. He didn't make it and went down on his backside, covering his fine outfit with green slime. He sat there in the slick moss and began to cry, while his sister Virginia laughed and laughed. Then Libba walked up. She'd missed the show, so Virginia decided to demonstrate Lee's hilarious fall - and wound up on her backside beside him. They cried in stereo.
Such is the sad tale of the white birthday outfits.
Adelaide loved her family well, but she was an over-protective mother with a penchant- perhaps you could call it an obsession - for tidiness. This put a strain on free-spirited little Lee, and around the age of eight, he developed colitis. A doctor and family friend recommended he be sent to a quiet, farm environment during the summer. Probably made excellent sense to his father, L.L.,k as he'd done well raised on a farm. Lee spent two summers there, and, sure enough, these "visits" cleared him of his troubles; he loved farms ever since.
His father took Lee hunting, now and then, always instructing Lee in the finer points of good sportsmanship. For instance, Lee was never, ever to aim at anything on the ground for fear of hitting a human.
One day the two were out dove hunting. They'd walked away from each other for a bit when Lee heard a welcome sound. He came up behind a palmetto bush and looked over to see a dove cooing from a clearing. He thought for a moment about his father's words... then something caught on his eye on the other side of the clearing. There stood his father, L.L., behind another bush, his gun pointed down at the dove. Lee had just enough time to hit the deck before L.L. got off a shot. Then Lee stood, unharmed, and stared at his wide-eyed father.
They walked home in utter silence, the weight of a new understanding weighing heavily between them.
Father and son would also go on long camping trips to hunt with friends. One would cook for all, and the rule was this: whoever complained about the food had to cook. One night, a fellow decided to try to get L.L.'s goat by pouring salt into his coffee when he wasn't looking. L.L. took a big gulp and spewed the contents all over the campfire as he bellowed, "SOMEbody put SALT in my coffee!"
Everyone held their breath as the cook looked up in anticipation. L.L. quickly added,"But it sure is good, though!"
L.L. was a man of pride. To a fault, you might say. The man never said he was sorry. An example of his unnerving obstinacy can be found in the family's regular Sunday Drive. Back then, folks would pile into their Model T Ford's and just drive about the bumpy roads and enjoy the shaky view as best they could; at some point they'd stop and have a picnic, and then they'd pile in the car and trundle back home.
L.L. always got lost.
Adelaide would inevitably point this out, and she would always hear the same answer: "Adelaide, we are not lost! I know exactly where we are: we are in the great state of Virginia!" and that's where the discussion would end.
In 1920, the Beans received notice that L.L.'s father, David, had passed away. His obituary described David Ferguson Bean as 77 years of age, "a man of unassuming manner and friendly to everybody, and very close to his friends of whom there were many. He was a man of great tenderness of heart and was generous to the poor. He held the respect of all who knew him and his acquaintance was large." His services were given at Asbury Lutheran in Moorefield, West Virginia, and he was interred alongside his wife in the family plot behind the George Bean house on Simon Bean Mountain.
It is said L.L. only returned to West Virginia a couple times in his lifetime, as his childhood away from the farm had not been as pleasant as his father's. But attending his father's funeral was one such visit. L.L. was tight-lipped on the reasons for staying away, but he was happy to relate the more pleasant stories of his youth. Knowing L.L. from the letters he left behind, it was likely one reason was his father's profession: growing apples and turning them into fine Apple Jack (a friend to all, indeed).
In 1924, L.L. moved the family to Lakeland, Florida to get into the Real Estate and Insurance business.
Then came the Great Depression.
Sales and banking died, as did the remains of L.L.'s business hopes. As so many did, they headed home for comfort. They were soon Virginia bound, but it was to South Hill, Virginia, where Adelaide's relations lived. In 1932, L.L. took a job as a Bookkeeper at the South Hill Grocery Company. Lee, a teenager, now, liked South Hill very much, and South Hill liked him. A natural athlete, he spent every waking minute playing baseball or football.
The mountain men of the Bean family have a tendency toward height, and Lee had the family growth spurt in high school, where he rose to a thin and wiry 6'1". Right around that time, he developed a hard crush on a pretty young girl in his class named Ruth Montgomery. Ruth had the look of a 1930s Beauty Queen: a round, pert face, short, wavy hair and big, beautiful eyes. She invited Lee to her birthday party, and he was very pleased to accept the invitation. But he had a friend coming up from Florida that weekend. "Could my friend come as well?"
Then Lee had a devilish thought. "Oh, that's swell, but there's just one thing you need to know about Fred. He's a bit deaf. So, if you could speak up when you meet him, I'd be grateful. Then he wouldn't have to be embarrassed about it."
"Oh, all right! I'll remember that."
Lee greeted his friend at the train station and told him about the party. When they came to Ruth's porch, Lee paused. "Now, Fred, Ruth's a fine girl, but there's just one thing you ought to know about her..." and on he went.
Lee knocked, and when pretty Ruth came to the door, he exclaimed very loudly, "RUTH? This is FRED McDONALD, FRED? This is RUTH MONTGOMERY!" and then he backed away from both of them.
Ruth and Fred began to yell salutations back and forth, until Ruth became so flustered, she yelled, "Well, there's NO NEED TO YELL AT ME! I'M NOT DEAF!"
Fred shouted back, "We'll, I'M NOT DEAF EITHER!"
At this point both turned to look at Lee, who was about to fall off the porch laughing.
Ruth didn't speak to Lee for days.
In 1933, Lee entered Hampden-Sydney College, an all women University in Hampden Sydney, Virginia. The school was a perfect fit for this athletic young man. He joined the Hampden-Sydney Tigers football team, led by a quarterback named Homer Hatten from West Virginia, and Lee and Homer, whose nickname was "Moose," became fast friends. Lee also joined Chi Phi Fraternity and made another set of lifelong friends. And, in his spare time, he honed his Prankster Skills among equally clever devotees of the art.
Fall at Hampden-Sydney began with a ritual: when the apples were ripe, the bravest boys ran to a nearby apple orchard, climbed the trees and ate their fill... all night long.
The trip was a hoot for the boys but an annual disaster for the apple orchard owner - who happened to be a professor at the college. And that year was the year he decided he was going to fix things.
When the apples were just about ready, he went to his orchard and laid in wait for the thieves, his trusty shotgun and a pile of little paper pellets by his side.
If you load a shotgun by replacing the lead in the shotgun shells with balled up paper pellets, you will get a satisfying kaboom and a flash of something akin to a fireball. Terrifying to behold.
Each night he loaded up the weapon and waited.
The third night, they came... Lee Bean among the hopeful apple wranglers. They whispered as they walked, watching for the Professor. They crawled over his fence. He waited. They carefully chose their trees and climbed. He waited. A sentry was posted at the gate, turning his head side to side to watch the night. The rest began to ate fruit, and soon began to chat with one another tree to tree. They started laughing and singing and throwing apples at one another.
Still he waited.
Waited until he was sure they were perfectly, perfectly relaxed. Waited for the sentry to turn his head away from him one more time.
And then he rose up from his hiding place and watched the sentry turn back and catch a glimpse as he yelled out, "I GOTCH'OU NOW!" Ka-bloom went the shotgun. And as he reloaded, he listened.
They yelled in fright and fell from the branches in terror.
"YOU AIN'T GONNA' GET OUT'A HERE ALIVE, I TELL YA'" Ka-bloom.
The boys screamed as they ran, holding their busted arms, stumbling over the fences as they made their escape.
One more "ka-bloom" toward their frantic retreat, and the work was done.
Downed branches lay all over the orchard.
His apple crop was destroyed. Yet he was a happy man.
There was only one thing left to be done.
The next morning, he walked the paths of Hampden-Sydney, and every time he met a young man with a black eye, a bandaged head, a limp, or an arm in a sling, he took off his hat and greeted him with, "Good morning, Mister Black. How d'you do, Mr. Evans. Fine morning, Mr. Bean..." and extended the same kindness to the wounded students who sheepishly appeared in his classroom. From then on, the professor's apple crop was left unmolested.
But Lee Bean's taste for adventure wasn't undone. It was simply going to find new, er, "pastures" to explore.
One night, Lee and his best friend and room-mate Bobby Richardson decided they wanted some ice cream. They knew just where to get it. The Dean of the School was holding a Faculty Ice Cream Social. The freezer was in a second story room of the Dean's home, and the kitchen had an open window - right next to a sturdy drain pipe. That ice cream was practically begging to be snatched.
The boys took off their shoes, rolled up their pants and shimmied up the pipe, crawled inside and crept toward the freezer. The goal almost reached, they could almost taste the creamy home-churned confection - when the Dean's wife stepped into the kitchen.
"Oh!" she cried, but quickly recovered. With her best Virginia manner, she drawled, "Mr. Bean! Mr. Richardson! What a pleasure to have you drop in. You simply must come greet everyone."
"Oh, no, ma'am, we couldn't."
"Ou-our feet! No shoes!'
"Oh, that doesn't matter at'all. Ahh know they'll just love to see you!"
A more perfect punishment could not have been devised. Shoe-less, pant legs rolled, their intent obvious to all, the boys had to walk in to that party and be formally introduced to each of their teachers and all the important persons present, in turn. Next, she had them sit upon her delicate antique chairs and eat ice cream from her fanciest dishes. With a final flourish of hospitality, the Dean's wife sent them off through the front door.
Obviously Lee Bean needed his ethics readjusted. For that, there was compulsory Religion Class.
Religion was taught by one Professor McGee, known among the students as "Ole' Snapper", due to his striking likeness to the sound, look, and sudden fury of that venerable form of turtle. Snapper's classroom was in an upper story, turret-like room (no doubt chosen for its proximity to heaven), with a winding staircase much like an old castle keep. As you'd expect, Snapper was a punctilious man who never missed a class - unless it snowed. A rarity in southern Virginia, any amount of snow stilled all campus activity. You only had to go if your Professor made it to class, and Snapper was too old to manage snow.
One winter morning the students awoke and rejoiced to see to see Mother Nature had blessed the campus with a thick, white blanket of frozen freedom. So certain they had the morning off, they lounged about the dormitory in their pajamas... until a young man glanced out the window at about two minutes to 8 a.m..
His comrades rushed the windows.
Yes. Ole' Snapper was headed for the turret. It was a miracle. He was walking on top of that deep snow as though he was walking on water. As he got closer to the dormitory, the miracle took shape: two humongous snowshoes - Canadian tennis rackets - strapped to Snapper's sure and steady feet. Ole' Snapper was smiling as he walked.
The boys were late, but they came.
Snapper looked about, grinning foolishly; he knew he'd caught them all. They stood at their desks, waiting to be seated still wearing their winter coats (mere pajamas don't provide much protection in a drafty, cold turret in the dead of winter). Snapper smiled all the more at their unusual attire, and then he bade them sit and begin.
Come spring, Snapper's boys planned their revenge. Most of the young men had grown up on farms, so they knew something about cows: like the odd fact that a cow is willing to go up a stairwell, but she won't come back down without a... "fuss".
The cow had never trod such boards, she'd never seen a turret, and she was very unhappy.
In fact, she made known her deep unhappiness all over the classroom.
As the boys stood at their desks before class, they were a little unhappy themselves. This particular stunt had, uh... backfired, so to speak.
But they began to enjoy themselves again as they heard Snapper's plodding step upon the stair.
Snapper entered the room, observed the cow mooing forlornly in the corner, and walked up to his desk without a word.
The students' faces fell.
Snapper's desk stood on a raised platform, and no one thought to walk the cow up on to Snapper's platform. The Professor's portion of the room was smelly - but otherwise pristine.
Sadly, this could not be said of several of the boy's seats.
Naturally Snapper looked about the room and told everyone to be seated.
And therein "lay" their punishment. Those who could sit, did. Those who could partially sit, partially sat. Those who couldn't sit, stood beside their desks the entire class - one hand taking notes, the other holding their noses.
After Snapper gave his lesson and left the turret, the students went to a great deal of trouble to arrange to have the cow taken out a window.
You'd think after these disasters the students would have learned to leave pranking alone. But, no.
There was a farmer who had a strawberry field. Come May, Lee and his friends decided to raid the strawberry patch. The farmer was ready for them.
When they'd filled their hats to the brim with fresh strawberries, the farmer stunned them by stepping out from behind a tree. He carried an elaborate tray, which he raised as he spoke these words: "Them strawberries taste much better with cream and sugar, boys."
Seems all the clever men of Lee's youth were farmers. Conversely, all the fools were those who called themselves important. Lee never talked down to people, and he never bowed and scraped to those made it a habit to overestimate their self worth.
Down in Florida there'd been a boy who'd been named after six rich uncles in order to inherit from them upon their death. Yukson Haben Obergat Teban Earnest Fleming Cox thought he was King of the Hill. And he was the meanest boy in town. They called him 'Yuk' for short. The kids used to come to his front yard, form a circle and chant his name until he came bolting out of the house, hoping to catch one and beat them senseless.
Sure enough, by high school Yuk inherited from two of the uncles. So then he was the meanest and the richest boy in town.
No friends, no respect, lots of money: To Lee's mind, useless.
Conversely, in South Hill, Virginia, a truck drove through town with a full load and got stuck under the town's overpass. Everyone came out to try to try to fix the problem. Police, firemen, town council - all the "important" people, and the neighborhood, too. Dismantle the cargo from the back, take apart the truck - you name it, they thought of it.
Along came the town drunk. He surveyed the situation from his slanted point of view and blurted out, "Why don'chou let the air out o'them tires!"
No friends, no respect, no money but incredibly useful.
Well, there was a particular snob at Hampden-Sydney who got on everyone's nerves. He was easy to pick out, because he was the only student who'd brought a car - his own car, as he readily pointed out - to school. A brand spanking new Model-T Ford.
One weekend, this young man went to visit relations quite a distance away. In light of the Model T's thin tires and the rough roads, he wisely decided take the train.
As soon as the whistle blew on his departure, the students went to work. Those boys might not have owned their own Model-T's, but they sure knew how to take 'em a part and put 'em back together Mr. Ford had made it a point of pride to design the Model T in such a way that anyone could learn how to manage and fix the car themselves - and many did.
When the fellow returned Sunday afternoon, he looked for his car and screamed bloody murder. "Who stole it!", he demanded.
"Nobody", came the calm reply. "There it is", and a finger pointed skyward.
He looked up to find his gleaming Ford - perfectly rebuilt - straddling the high ridge pole of a three-story dormitory.
As mentioned, cars were a rarity, so the train was an important part of students' lives. If a boy couldn't get a date at nearby Longwood College (girls only), he'd arrange for a an old girlfriend to come in by train.
One friend of Lee's, a dashing cavalier, invited a girl to come in for the weekend, only to realize he'd double-booked himself. He had a Longwood Gal set for the weekend's events, as well.
He begged Lee to help him. Lee didn't care for the arrangements, but he did his duty by his friend. Lee met Train Gal and took her around campus while his friend shared a soda with Longwood Gal, etc., etc. Lee thought up a great excuse for the boy while he escorted Train Girl to the school dance in his friend's place (while he was dancing elsewhere with Longwood Girl).
The weekend went off without a hitch; Lee sent Train Gal off at the station Sunday afternoon and sighed relief.
And then Don Juan made just one mistake. He wrote thank you notes to both young women and slipped Train Gal's's letter into Longwood's envelope, and vice versa. He saw nor heard from either woman again.
Ah, Longwood. A short walk for the fellows on a Friday night. If you didn't already have a date lined up, you could always take your chances at Longwood. Fellows lined up outside the girls' dorm, and the lassies came to the windows. Now the lights would be on inside their rooms, so all the fellows could see was the girls' silhouettes. You had to chat up and make arrangements for the evening with a silhouette. Eventually the silhouette would come down, and you'd find out whether you'd guessed right. Some silhouettes could look so promising in that second story window. It was like playing the lottery every Friday night... or Russian Roulette.
But the best story of all to come from Lee's Hampden-Sydney was the Bell Puller tale.
Ah, the morning bell. 6 a.m. every day, without fail. A huge, fifty-gallon bell sat high atop a twenty foot stand (so the sound could reach every sleepy ear). One long rope came all the way to the ground. One man, The Bell Ringer, came each day at five minutes to 6. Everyday he watched the second hand on his wrist watch until the time came. And he would pull. And the students would groan and get up, up, up.
Then a student hatched a brilliant plan. One night all the young men went out into the dark and used ladders to hoist themselves up that tall bell tower. They tipped the bell upside down and used wooden boards to loosely hold it in place. Then they formed a bucket line from the creek and filled the bell to the brim with cold, fresh creek water.
The next morning, the boys set their alarm clocks for 5:50 a.m. Everyone got up to wait by a window. The Bell Ringer came at five minutes to six. He stood at the base of the bell and looked at his watch. The boys waited in appreciative silence. And then, at six precisely, he pulled the rope and a dorm full of boys watched a grown man scream as 50 gallons of cold water hit his head and wash him to the ground.
And the boys hung out their windows and laughed and laughed
The Bell Puller was furious - so furious he stomped to the Dean of the School and demanded the guilty parties be expelled.
The boys from the dorm were lined up outside for hours and hours as the Dean waited for the guilty youth who planned the assault to step forward. But not one of them ever did. Since the Dean couldn't send them all home, the matter ended right there.
And the boys had one brief shining moment of triumph. They’d beaten the daylights out of that 6 o'clock wake up call.
A lot going on that freshman year, and Lee looked forward to the next adventures when he headed home that summer. Back in his home town of South Hill, Virginia, he and Ruth became an item, so summer wasn't looking too bad after all.
And in order to be his physical best for football the coming year, he thought he ought to take a physically demanding job. He began work at his Uncle Sam Dortch's Ice House. He worked hard and came and went from a freezing building into 90-100 degree heat each and every day.
But one morning he woke up to searing pain shooting through his arms and legs. He couldn't move.
Lee had contracted polio. Work at the ice house - the work meant to keep him strong - had actually lowered his resistance. There were only two cases of polio in South Hill that year: Lee and the other young man who'd worked there with him.
Years later, he told his youngest daughter that the pain he felt those first three months was so excruciating, if he could have found a means to kill himself, he would have. As he lay there, he fell into a deep depression. A young man with great prospects was trying to face the loss of every happy expectation - no more football, no more pranks - even Ruth quietly pulled away from him.
What was there to live for?
But his friends and family rallied around him. Particularly his father, L.L.. Lee's self-pity may have been understandable, but it did not sit well with a mountain man like L.L. Bean.
From the very beginning, his father's words were unremittingly harsh: Get over it, get up, get on with life. Quit feeling sorry for yourself; get up and DO something! The words struck Lee as nothing less than cruel... but they were exactly what he needed to hear. Lee used humor to get the most out of life until then, but now it was his father’s encouragement - his call to Lee to have an iron will - that would take him through the rest of it.
and along with his father's rough exhortations, were the daily visits of his mother. Adelaide now used her over-protectiveness to help Lee make a new life.
The doctor said there was a small chance Lee could regain the use of his arms and legs, but it would take daily movement - painful daily movement - then long sessions of exercise.
Adelaide was up for the task, even if Lee wasn't.
She came to his room every day to massage the failing muscles and help Lee push himself to his limits. The exercises were hideously painful, and, for his legs, the efforts turned out to futile. But the hard work on his arms paid off. Over the course of two-years, his arm muscle returned, and he learned to walk on crutches - Canadian Canes, they called them at the time. His legs - which grew thin to the point of skin over bone and nothing more - were fitted with strong metal braces, and he used his old physical agility to learn to move with quick grace on metal legs.
And all during that difficult two-year rehabilitation period, he kept up with his studies - ever hoping to graduate along with his friends at Hampden Sydney.
And, amazingly, he made it and was allowed to join his senior class at the College. But, although he could get around quickly on crutches and braces, there was no "handicapped access" anything back then, so certain classrooms were seemingly out of bounds. That's when a good old friend from the football team, Homer Hatten of West Virginia, provided a solution. "Moose," offered to pick Lee up before class - literally - and take him around. He would throw Lee over one shoulder and ran him to class, and that's how Lee Bean, Jr. completed his education at Hampden Sydney.
He was graduated in 1937 alongside the classmates he'd begun school with four years before.
By that time he'd decided to become a lawyer. There are a large contingent of Bean cousins practicing law back in Hardy County, West Virginia, so it could have been DNA at work. In any case, he was accepted to The University of Virginia Law School and began in 1937. But he needed extra cash in order to assist with tuition.
Enter the New Deal.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration created millions of new jobs, and Lee Bean was one of the lucky recipients. He became an assistant to Dean Ribble, Dean of the Law School.
One afternoon late in his second year he was standing at the counter collating when he overheard the Dean's voice rising from inside his office: "I am TELLING you, you cannot FAIL the SON of the President of the UNITED STATES!"
Turns out, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Junior was a law student at UVA but not a good one.
As Lee stood there, mouth ajar, the door swooshed open and the Dean's head appeared.
"What's your average in Contract Law?"
"Get in here."
Yes, Lee wound up tutoring F.D.R., Junior, so he could pass Contract Law and graduate that year. His not being able to graduate would be embarrassing, yes, but even more embarrassing when the President of the United States was coming to the College to give the University of Virginia Law School Commencement Speech.
And tutoring this young man was no easy task Turns out, F.D.R., Junior had two baaaaaad habits: women and drink. And, as a result, Lee lost a lot of hair. Every week Lee struggled to help Junior understand Contract Law, and every weekend Junior would disappear to enjoy various and sundry vices. Then every Monday, Lee was there to try to pick up the pieces and start again.
But. by golly, F.D.R., Jr. passed Contract Law and was set to graduate along with Lee in June of 1940.
And when Junior's father, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came to give the Commencement address, he wanted to thank Lee personally.
So, on June 10th, Lee was told to be at a certain place on campus at a certain time, and when the time came, a large limousine rode up. The chauffeur came to the back door, opened it and asked Lee to get in.
He did. And there was the President, sitting beside him.
What Lee was thinking, one can only imagine. Knowing the President also suffered from polio had to be a huge inspiration. As L.L. would say, Nothing should hold a man back, and here he was two feet from the truth of that notion.
He sat in that limousine, and the President thanked him, and then he asked Lee if had any hobbies.
"Yes, sir. Philately." Lee had collected stamps since he was a boy.
"Ah! Well, I'll send some stamps around, then."
Lee left the limousine, beaming.
F.D.R. went on to provide the speech to the law school graduates. The war news was grim that day: Italian troops had just invaded southern France, and so President Roosevelt put a message in his address. He described Mussolini's invasion as a "stab in the back," and so that speech went down in history (Further information: https://uvamagazine.org/articles/the_hand_that_held_the_dagger/ ).
According to the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, F.D.R., Junior went on to be "admitted to the bar in 1942, called... to active duty as an ensign in the U.S. Navy and served in North Africa, Europe, and the Pacific... [was] awarded the Purple Heart Medal and the Silver Star... vice president of pres. Truman's Committee on Civil Rights in 1947 and 1948," served in congress, etc., etc. You'd have to say things turned out all right for him.
As for the President's promise of stamps, Lee never really expected such an important man to bother with details. So he was shocked when three months later a huge plastic bag arrived - two-foot by two-foot - stuffed full of stamps from all over the world. With it was a letter from the Post Master General Farley of the United States, stating the President had personally wanted to thank Lee with this gift of stamps.
Upon Lee's graduation, he took a job with the government, but he always regretted being unable to serve his country during World War II. His friends were becoming Air Force Fighter Pilots, and that would have been Lee's choice as well. Several of his college buddies died during the war.
As for Lee's father, L.L. wasn't done "getting up and getting on" with things. Always ready to push on with new ventures, in 1943 he moved to South Boston (in business for himself, with a partner, Mr. Allred) to begin "Southside Wholesale Distributors." Eventually he wound up back in South Hill and once served as Mayor of the town, so things turned out all right for him as well, the self-made mountain man.
Meanwhile, Lee took a job as a lawyer with the Department of Agriculture and wound up best friends with a fellow named Tom O'Reilly.
By 1942, Tom and Lee had been sent out from Washington, D.C. to St. Louis, Missouri. Lee was 26 years old, happy with life and law.
Then Tom and Lee started noticing the office mail girls: there was a tall, thin, striking-looking with auburn haired, and a short, perky blue-eyed blonde. The gentlemen promptly struck up a flirtation.
In the weeks that followed, Tom developed an eye for the short, blue-eyed blonde, Jean, while Lee also developed an eye for the short, blue-eyed blonde. She looked just like Ruth Montgomery: pretty eyes, perky, rounded face.
"Too late, Lee. Already got a date with her," said Tom one afternoon, "but I think I can set you up with her friend, Maxine." Maxine was the auburn-headed, tall one. She was shy and equally pretty and laughed at all of his jokes, so Lee got to thinking that might be all right after all.
Maxine Hay, for her part, liked Lee Bean from the start. Whenever she came through the offices, he'd put aside his paperwork to chat. She loved his laugh, his smile, his good looks, and the way he always had his shirt sleeves rolled up, the dark Welsh complexion a beautiful contrast to the crisp white starch of the sleeves.
By the time he stood up and she saw he was on crutches, it was too late to matter.
Some of life would be hard, yes, but what was the point of thinking like that when you could have those dark brown eyes to gaze into, and his laughter, and his heart. Really, what did anything matter when you were in love?
Well, the matter turned out to be Maxine's mother.
Virginia Hay was vehemently opposed to Lee. As they dated throughout Maxine's college years, Virginia continued to tell her what a poor choice she was making. "Only think what you're doing! Throwing your life away on a... on a LAWYER!" She couldn't admit Lee's handicap was a problem, so she blamed his doctorate of jurisprudence.
If you'll just note the look on Virginia's face in the above photo, you won't be surprised to find she eventually demanded Maxine quit seeing him.
The months that followed were miserable for the couple.
The only thing they could both looked forward to was the marriage of her best friend, Jean, to Tom O'Reilly. She was to be Jean's maid of honor. Lee was to be Tom's best man.
When the wedding day arrived, it had been twelve long months since Maxine and Lee had seen each other. After the ceremony, Lee approached Maxine, looked into her eyes and asked in his sweet southern drawl, "How you been, sugar?"
After that, Virginia Hay was just going to have to find a way to get over it.
Maxine and Lee were married in 1949 at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia. Their film footage of the moments before they left on their honeymoon. reveal Lee's parents looking on with pride... and a somewhat sour look on Virginia Hay's face. And there's Maxine, smiling like the sun just rose for the first time, and Lee, with a lovely grin, rushing to the getaway car so quickly his crutches all but disappear.
Lee Bean was a rarity: an honest lawyer. He was remembered for his crutches, but he was honored for his integrity.
But there was other work to be done as well. During the Civil Rights movement, Virginia schools were in an uproar, and the racist faction in Arlington wanted to make certain desegregation never happened there. The U.S. Supreme Court had formed integration into law. Virginia had decided it did not have to integrate. It was time to stack the School Board in favor of racism - to make certain the Supreme Court would not get a toe-hold in Arlington County.
A group of men, led by Mr. Robert Peck of the once well-known Peck Automobile in Arlington, asked Lee to serve on the Board. They took for granted that a boy raised in Florida and Southern Virginia would see things their way. That, and the fact that, as a lawyer, he'd be in danger of losing his law license in Virginia if he went against the Virginia Court's decision, seemed to seal the deal. There were two "liberals" on the board - one of which was Elizabeth Campbell who went on to found WETA Public Television. And there were two "conservatives."
And there was Lee. A man of fairness. He voted with the liberals, and won integration for Arlington schools.
The family soon received anonymous phone calls in the dead of night. Death threats. But Lee pressed on, standing firmly by what was right and fair.
Then there was a second vote to be made. Now that they'd won for integration, they wanted to integrate as quickly as possible. Lee felt integration needed to be slowly invoked over time. He feared that the poor education the black children had had left them unprepared for public white schools. They would fail, he thought. He lost the vote, and the newspaper came down on him hard - as if he'd changed his mind on the issue. But he was right. A huge number did fail, but integration had begun.
And he remained a hero to integrationists. His youngest daughter can recall the strange excitement of finding herself in the car on a Sunday heading out into the far hills of Virginia where Lee would attend a small, black church and give the sermon. Throughout his life, he was called upon to speak.
One evening he found himself at a lawyers' conference where he'd just been given a fine introduction. Lee approached the podium, looked down at the stand, and quickly looked back up. "I thank you so much, Jim, but I have to say... you've left me absolutely speechless. I mean to say, Jim, you've accidentally taken my notes, and I have no speech."
As a lawyer, Lee's focus was Domestic Relations, and he became quite well known - famous, actually - for his work in the field, writing a book on Domestic Relations for the Virginia Law stacks at UVA (1982 - https://search.lib.virginia.edu/sources/books/items/u3245650), and becoming President of both the Virginia Trial Lawyers and the Virginia Bar Association (only one other lawyer - Tom Moynihan of Winchester - has accomplished the same).
And, yes, he was a skilled lawyer, he was best known for caring about his clients. His first question for a person intent on divorce was always have you tried counseling?
In the 1980s, Maxine went to New York with a group of women to see the Kipps Bay Showhouse. The women knew each other only a first name basis. As they sat talking over lunch, the conversation veered to the realm of their respective nasty divorces. Harsh words for ex-husband, but even harsher words for the useless lawyers they'd had to represent them. But one lady kept saying she'd had a great experience - that her lawyer had done everything for her, and she was deeply grateful for his efforts.
Who was that?, they all wanted to know.
Lee Bean of Arlington, she replied.
Maxine jumped in her seat a little, then leaned over to the woman next to her and whispered, "That's my husband!"
He was a friend to all. The family once drove back to South Hill for a family reunion; Lee pulled up to the gas station and struck up a conversation with the attendant using a suddenly thick drawl - as though he'd only left town yesterday. It was clear he wanted to make an old friend comfortable talking to this fancy lawyer in a Lincoln Continental.
Like F.D.R., Lee never liked to think of himself as handicapped. He appreciated handicap access - that was only fair - but otherwise, he let the subject drop. By middle age, Lee had become as powerfully built as L.L. In truth, the fact that Lee had to exercise everyday as he pulled his own weight around, throwing his hips forward to take every step, probably served to prolong his life. So, while other dads played "airplane" by laying on their back and flying the little ones on their knees, Lee just lay on the floor and flew his children by holding them high. So, he couldn't carry them up on his shoulders, but he could lay on the floor and let them come at him to try and tickle him, but he always won and then he'd tickle the life out them. But the childrens' favorite past-time was the dessert that came after dinner: listening to Lee's stories from his youth and his father's youth.
And he never lost that sense of humor. Naturally, he was a member The Optimists Club (while at college, his youngest treasured the quick notes, tucked with a five dollar bill and a list of the Optimists Club Newsletter jokes - all his favorite jokes checked off), he and Maxine loved all forms of music, particularly swing, classical and Jazz (Maxine and Lee had gone to Eddie Condon's Club in New York City during their honeymoon), and in 1966, Maxine and Lee purchased a farm in Fauquier as a weekend retreat. Lee took to farm life like a duck to water. as did the family. "Bridle Tree Farm" in Sumerduck, Virginia, became the perfect spot to have horses, go fishing, swimming and renovate a beautiful of house the family could enjoy for decades.
Lee always loved work as a trial lawyer (there's an actor in every Bean) and never wanted to miss a day of work, despite 50 years of walking with the help of Canadian Canes. Lee Bean away in 1989, a few months after the birth of his first grandson, Palmer Lee McMath. and in the end, he nearly got his wish. His third heart attack took him at age 73. He'd only missed half a day of work.
"Lawyer L. Lee Bean, Jr. Dies - The Washington Post, Dec. 7, 1989 - https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/1989/12/07/lawyer-l-lee-bean-jr-dies/efd366c3-128a-4883-b6a4-54fc62119453/
DEATH THREATS and DESEGREGATION: My Father's Role in the Integration of Arlington, Virginia Public Schools
L. Lee Bean, Jr. was a wonderful father and an amazing man, but I didn’t know exactly how amazing until I was about 16... when I asked him about his role in the fight to integrate Arlington, Virginia Public Schools.
The United States was experiencing huge and long-anticipated changes in the 1950s. And on May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court decided any law that had established segregated public schools was unconstitutional. Every public school in America was required to integrate.
To no one's surprise, southern state's refused to comply with the Court. And thus began a painful stand-off. Virginia liked its segregation, thank you very much, and had Jim Crow laws in place to make certain every aspect of Black Americans' lives difficult:
- Black public schools provided a sub-par education.
- Black Virginians could only get sub-par housing, because it was hard for them to secure loans.
- Black Virginians had difficult getting good jobs with good pay, because businesses were segregated and only saw them as "worthy" of low level jobs.
And the list goes on (Visit "The Story of Segregation and Desegregation in Arlington" for further information).
My father - known as Lee - was a successful practicing attorney in Arlington in the 1950s, and in 1957 he was elected to the Arlington, Virginia School Board (Another momentous event that year was the birth of his third child, Meredith).
Arlington Democrats liked Lee, because he was known as an intelligent moderate and an all around great guy. But Democrats' opinion didn't count for much.
Republicans held the majority of powerful Arlington positions. They, too, wanted my father on the Board for the reasons listed as above, but they knew that if school desegregation came up, Lee was unlikely to wander off and make an "anti-Republican" votes. They had an ace up their sleeve: if Lee voted with the U.S. Supreme Court for integration, he'd immediately break Virginia State law and lose his license to practice. Hence Republicans were absolutely positive he'd keep things just the way they were.
The issue came up in 1959. There were five members on the Arlington School Board that year - two ready to vote for, two against and my father - smack in the center.
When the vote came up, L. Lee Bean, Jr. voted with the U.S. Supreme Court for integration.
After that, our family received death threats and my father waited to lose his law license. But he never did. Arlington's decision was the first domino, and Virginia began a massive change.
Years later, my father told me the whole story. And I asked him why: why with all that danger and tension he went ahead and cast the swing vote to integrate Arlington Public Schools, and he paused. Then he said, "It was a matter of justice".
He lived his whole life that way, so I understood. And I'm deeply grateful to have been his daughter.
First, find a cheap Tavern...
As a "better do this while we're still young" married couple, in 1987 my husband, Chuck, and I took a leap of faith and purchased Birkett's Tavern in Hillsboro, Virginia. As you can see from the '87 photo above, we were very brave or very stupid - more likely both.
The original two-story structure of Flemish Bond brick (center) was built by John Hough in 1819. We knew the date by looking in Virginia State Archives to find the real estate taxes went from nil to significant on the property that year. And in 1824, John "Birkit," Sr. purchased the building from Hough and opened a tailor shop.
Sixteen years later - April of 1840 - Birkett took the half day's wagon-ride to Leesburg and acquired a license to operate an "ordinary" - a tavern - "from his home."
And it's been known as Birkett's Tavern ever since.
The Tavern stands on Charlestown Pike in the center of Hillsboro - one of only two brick homes built in the village. Back in its early days, the tavern had at least three outbuildings: a long stone kitchen (Indicated by an exposed stone wall inside the modern kitchen), a chinked-log smoke house (Good for a garden and tool shed!), and one large outbuilding (Likely a barn to hold the horses of the guests). All that’s left of the barn is a stone foundation - which sits a few inches under the sod at the back of the one-third acre property.
THE ca. 1819 BRICK SECTION
First job was to remove the decrepit porch that threatened everyone who tried to get to our front door. Chuck and his brother, Robbie, stationed themselves on either side of the porch, waited for traffic to clear, and in short order (really, really short order), the porch fell into Charlestown Pike. Quick work to clear the debris before the next car came over the hill.
Then we tapped a bit on the old plaster that barely hung on to the stone and brick sections and brought that down. Okay, okay - it was more than a little tapping. Anyway, we were getting somewhere! And it wasn’t pretty, but it was progress.
Now that people weren't going to die attempting to knock on our front door, we tackled the front "parlor."
When we removed some truly hideous red and white wallpaper, we found the ghost of a chair rail, some markings from the original tavern bar, and evidence of the various layers of milk paint - all the way down to the first coat: a bright salmon color. We liked it, so we recreated the color as closely as possible (Our test paints can be seen on the wall below). When we were done, we left an 8" square on the north wall - unpainted, so visitors could see the layers for themselves.
The brick section has three Rumford corner fireplaces: one in the front parlor, one in the dining room and a third in a second floor guest room. What the devil is a Rumford? A fireplace sytem designed created by Sir Benjamin Thompson - Count Rumford - to maximize heat and space efficiency.
Fireplaces are placed in the corners of rooms, are shallow and have a curved back wall that sends rising heat out into the room. They were placed in adjacent room corners and over one another on the next floor up so their chimney flues could intertwine. Nifty, eh? But since one of the chimneys had collapsed and we didn't have 10,000 bucks, all three fireplaces remained a decorative talking point while we lived there...
Birkett's tavern was very well-situated, as taverns go. It stood at the crossroads of Charlestown Pike and the old road to Purcellville. Back then, the road to Purcellville ran all down the tavern's west side (The current road to Purcellville - Rt. 690 - lies several doors down and east of the tavern and was built much later).
Now, the ca. 1900 west frame section was put on an early 19th century stone foundation (The type of stone work gave the date away), so we thought the stone foundation might have been built for an early, wide and deep covered porch.
Further proof: the brick section's west wall had two front doors - one from the parlor and one from the dining room. Why did we think they were doors to the outside? Dead giveaway was the transom windows. The west side dining room door that led to our living room had a completely intact transom window - still set with its wavy 19th c. glass. And the west side parlor door had been closed in by the time we got there (turned into a shallow entrance closet). but they left that transom space over the door. so we turned that into a little display shelf:
Birkett's property used to encompass an eastern patch of land - the east neighbor's name - where a red barn stands today. The tavern keeper owned other properties, as well (Like the little stone house to its west - the oldest structure in Hillsboro), and his total land amounted to around 12 or 13 acres. A typical early 19th century tavern required around 13 acres to support the business (Farmland for planting and pens to store animals brought through town by drovers). This was in the days before the trains, and there was only one way to get an animal all the way to the large markets of Alexandria: walk.
By the way, the house's original hand-carved mantels, the built-in corner cupboards, and all were "9 over 6" windows. (Nine panes over six). In the 1930s, the government established the Works Progress Administration to create jobs for a very depressed American economy. One thing they developed was the Historical Homes Study, and our home was lucky enough to be a part. This gave us clues on how we could restore them home. For instance, we knew the large brass locks had all been removed by the time we got there! Likely sold, as they were valuable. The WPA reports can be found at Leesburg's Thomas Balch Library.
We also learned that the front parlor mantel was gone. The original was described as "a Federal-style medallion with crossed arrows and side pillars," but the mantel that stands there now is a very simple affair. We did our best for it, though, and dressed it up nicely at Christmas time...
As we were hunting for historic clues to the home, we decided it must have been a fine tailor shop. We found evidence under the attic floorboards: they include scraps of fabric, a 19th century woman's apron re-made from an old dress (likely Civil War-era), a front piece from a pair of ca. 1810-1830 breeches, various pockets, a portion of bonnet lace, and a flattened beaver skin top hat. At first we thought it was a rat skin, but then... few rats are oval. When pumped up with a wide rim of cardboard, lo' and behold, a very worn ca. 1830 beaver hat appeared. John Birkett's? Whoever the owner, he was right-handed: the brim is worn on the upper right edge.
The framed receipts below the frabric scraps are a blue I.O.U., dated May of 1854 and signed by the then-Hillsboro resident Walter Friggins and written to Hillsboro Shoemaker William Fritz who lived across the stret. The I.O.U. is for the grand sum of 12 cents. Silly - until you realize a dozen eggs went for a penny, so the I.O.U.'s true value was around twenty or twenty-five dollars.
But the long piece of paper above it is the true treasure. It has no date, but as a Civil War historian I can say unequivocally it was written during the war. From the top the note reads, "Samuel Arnit Dr." and below his name, a list: "87 pounds butter, 6.37; 66 pounds rags, .37, 74 chickens, 1.54; 64 doz eggs, 64." Then another of the same sorts of items for different amounts.
Without question this is a list of items Union soldiers took from the tavern. The huge number of rags is the first tip-off (bandages were ever in short supply), but the sinker is the phrase "at 75 cents per hundred." Seventy-five cents on the dollar is what the federal government compensated civilians for goods taken by Union soldiers. We know the Union Army passed through Hillsboro on the way to Antietam in 1862, so it's highly likely this is when the goods were taken.
Now, the town was decidedly Confederate, and half way through the war Confederates gave up the idea of ever getting anything back from the government - that is, unless they swore an oath of allegiance to the United States. So the owner - one of Mary's sons-in-laws - "filed" the worthless receipt on the attic floor of the brick section of the house - allowing us to pick it up and solve the puzzle 130 years later.
We now resume our regularly scheduled program...
The stone kitchen that once stood about 12' back from the house was about 25 feet wide and 12' feet deep. Why was it separate from the home? Well the roof can tell you: there fireproof slate shingles on it, while the main house shingles were wooden. It appears there was a "Dog Trot" - a passageway from house to kitchen - that led from the dining room of the tavern (Where we had our dining room).
There is another door cut in this back wall which once led to an outside stairwell that went straight to the root cellar below the current dining room (this door is now set with removable shelves for an optional bookcase). While visitors can stand up in the basement rooms below the dining room and front parlor, the only current access to the root cellar is via a crawl space under the L-shaped back porch.
In the basement under the front parlor sits half of a ca. 1850 wardrobe. It was a great place to tell ghost stories, because there are hints of a dark tale:
During the Civil War, wood became scarce and coffins were always hard to come by, so tall wardrobes were often cut in half to use as replacements. There's a half a wardrobe lying in that cellar.
I used to love taking our son's friends down there and have them sit on that wardrobe while I told them a few ghost stories. I would end by telling them the other half of their "bench" probabaly sits in a Hillsboro cemetery. Highly effective.
Another interesting item which can be seen and gotten to from the crawl space is the lower half of the original kitchen's stone fireplace. The fireplace is five feet wide and four feet high, but, because the kitchen floor was raised three feet above the original dirt floor kitchen, the fireplace in no longer accessible. It rests behind the back wall of the large kitchen pantry. But the outside of the fireplace chimney stands in the north wall of the back workroom.
A portion of the old kitchen wall an stood in for our mud room - just inside the back porch.
In the 1940s, the store was turned into three apartments, and in the 1970s, Mr. and Mrs. Hoff purchased the property and turned it into a home. The Hoffs created the modern kitchen by raising the kitchen floor to the same level as the rest of the house. Although the kitchen has nine-foot tall ceilings, there is one low beam - the evidence remaining from a once a much higher ceiling beam for the dog trot. The stone kitchen foundation was easily mapped by visiting the crawl space underneath the existing kitchen. We renovated the kitchen again in 2000.
PART II: OF STONE AND FRAME
The stone section was added to the house in 1840 (Evidence: taxes on the house made another significant leap in 1839). This was around the time Birkett opened his tavern doors. No doubt he needed an extra tavern room or extra storage.
Leesburg Court House records note the cost of the bond to run an Ordinary was $150.00 (If you ever look through Loudoun County, VA records, keep in mind that the town of Hillsboro is usually listed separately in the back of these record books (all entries are alphabetical - look under "Hillsboro"). An 1856 post-mortem inventory of Birkett's Tavern and home are found in Loudoun County Court House records. Several kegs are listed, along with half a dozen tavern tables and bedsteads. It also lists the debtors to the tavern-keeper - which began on the day - perhaps even the minute - the tavern opened.
Soon Birkett's Tavern became known as Birkett's Hotel. In that day, a "Hotel" like Birkett's slept several men to a bed, and a drover's animals - be they goats, cows or sheep - would be kept in pens on the property (or on one of Birkett's many other tracts of land). Easiest to manage were the flocks of turkeys: the drovers just encouraged them to flap up into the nearest tree to bed down for the night.
His tavern guests must have feasted on fresh oysters from the Canal boats at Harpers Ferry, because we found hundreds of oyster shells in the backyard. Then there were all those kegs of course. A few good beers might have helped a man sleep through a crowded, smelly, noisy night with strangers - not to mention the noise from flock of turkeys in the nearby tree.
Hillsboro's Charlestown Pike (Route 9) fed into the Leesburg Pike (Route 7) - the main road that led straight to the docks at Alexandria. After Hillboro, a drover would walk a day and stop at Dranesville Tavern. They could make it to Alexandria by late afternoon the next day.
But Birkett and his family were not the only people managing this busy place. The 1850 slave census of Loudoun County lists John Birkett as the owner of seven slaves - a woman in her thirties and six children ranging from 2 to 17. It is likely the slaves lived in the upper room of the west stone section of the house and that the first floor area was used for tavern storage (large hand-hewn nails are still there on the open beams). One indicator was marks of an outside stairwell to the west loft.
In the second story, there are marks on the decaying, original ceiling plaster (now removed) which indicate the space was divided into three rooms with a hole cut in one wall for a stove. That one wall is still standing and now separates the bedroom from the hall stairwell. The wall is made from pine boards - some of them 18" wide - that are simply no longer available anywhere. Prior to 1870 (when the stair well was built in the stone section), the only access to the upper rooms was by a stair on the east end of the house - typical of slave quarters. "Masters" separated themselves from "servants." The outdoor stairwell is long gone, but the doorway is now visible (and became a bookcase), and the pre-Civil War door (found by the current owners under plaster) was restored by John Ware, Jr., Stonehedge Restoration of Hillsboro, and serves as a closet door in the upper stone room.
The slave history of Hillsboro was not known or recognized when we first moved there. In fact, the Hillsboro History pamphlet that existed then made no mention of them at all. When I asked why, I was told there were no slaves in Hillsboro! As an historian, I knew that was incorrect and determined to do the research and find the truth.
I already knew there were Quaker towns in Loudoun County whose residents were known to help the Underground Railroad. In addition, the sons and fathers of Quakers and German farmers formed Virginia’s only known Union troop – the Loudoun Rangers. And Hillsboro was a town of commerce and almost entirely Confederate. These farms and businesses were run with the labor of Loudoun County slaves, and their history must be recognized. I found the slave census for Hillsboro by visiting Leesburg's Thomas Balch Library. It wasn't easy. The entire book was alphabetical by owner, but cities were listed by themselves at the very back.
I've since learned the majority of Hillsboro’s slaves lived on the ridge of the south hill. Although I haven't walked up there, a local historian and townsperson said evidence of their log cabins are still there. One of the stories I found during my research was that of Zilpha Davis, a freedwoman of Hillsboro who lived down by Catoctin Creek. Read her story.
In 2019, Hillsboro United Methodist Church finally marked the slave cemetery. Now measures are being taken to protect their grounds. It should be noted that, although their slave cabins are disappearing, the stone and brick homes we enjoy today were built by their hands.
To find out more about black history in Loudoun County, visit the Thomas Balch Library or connect with The Black History Committee, Friends of Thomas Balch.
Part of the joy of renovating the home was to try to create looks that were appropriate to the time. For me, that meant painting the walls of the east stairwell (above) in the Limner style. Limners were 19th c. traveling artists who'd come into a town and take commissions to create quick portraits or decoratively paint a parlor or dining room wall. The techniques used counted on quick work (milk paint is fast drying), and to really save time portrait artists often painted the bodies of unknown future patrons and simply filled in the heads on the spot. Keeping the Limner tradition of working as quickly as possible, I finished the wall painting in a day and a half.
I also painted the faux marble on both downstairs fireplaces, and created a primitive pictorial of Hillsboro ca. 1850 on the dining room mantel at right. This mantel has been dated to 1850 but was not original the house. We bought the mantel (sans top shelf) from the former owners, installed it ourselves, added the mantel shelf and stained it to match the rest of the piece
My mother, Maxine Bean, had been an interior designer and came to live with us after my father passed. She helped us make a boatload of design decisions.
She had the second floor bedroom in the stone secion seen below, and chose to have the far east wall plaster removed to reveal the beautiful stone work. The stonework was then re-pointed, and a small stairwell was built to give access to a loft over the bedroom hall - an excellent writer or painter's garrett or playroom.
By the way, after Birkett added this 1840 stone addition, he apparently wanted the house to look "all of a piece," so he decided to plaster the entire house (brick and stone) and keyed it to look like blocks of marble (George Washington used exterior wood panels to simulate marble blocks at Mount Vernon). Each block was then "marbleized" with streaks of gray paint. You can see why I wanted to try the limner style...
When we purchased the house, the plaster was already irreparably damaged. So we made the hard decision to remove it from the stone and brick sections. Until then the brick section had never been painted, but we were told by more than one restorer that paint would be the safest way to protect the old brick.
Birkett died in 1854 and was buried in Hillsboro's Arnold Grove Cemetery. Court records note the 1876 court order that forced the sale of the house. Apparently Mary remarried within a year after John's death. Her new sons-in-law ran the tavern during the Civil War, but after the war, it began to "gather dust." "Birkitt's Hotel in Hillsboro" was put up for public auction in1876 and sold for $1,000 to one Lydia Hough (Likely Lydia was related to John Hough, the original builder).
Around the turn of the last century, the owners added a frame section to the west end of the home. At that time virtually all of the old windows were replaced to match the addition. Gone are the 9-over-six windows with bubbled glass (except for one remnant in the back work room). Now all the houses are set with tall Victorian window panes, 2-over-2. The frame addition became a general store in the early 20th century.
When we moved in, the floor of the long room had been painted, with the exception of a large rectangle of in its center - probably where the store's central cabinets sat. Previous Hillsboro residents remembered "The Weller Store", and folks could set their clock by Mr. Weller's 7 p.m. closing time. In summer months, he sold ice cream from the front bay windows (See below at the back of the room). Former Hillsboro resident Lucy Roederick once said, "You could get everything at that store - even bananas!"
We re-finished the floors, and suddenly the long wide room was perfectly suited for a Victorian dance....
PART III: TREASURES, DEEDS & 1930 ADDITIONS
During all the years we were there, we just kept finding treasures! WE found hand-blown marbles (Yep. They aren't round), Victorian paper dolls, and an 1870s children's school book. The book was probablyt issued by Hillsboro's first public school, the 1874 Arnold Grove Academy - now known as Hillsboro's Old Stone School.
And then there were china and pottery shards and all those oyster shells!. And up under the 1870 stairwell in the stone section (in a space we were trying to clear for wiring), we found a ca. 1917 flour bag from the flour mill that once stood at the west end of town, and in it were three items: a medicine bottle, an empty can of salmon, and a whiskey bottle. Perfect bag lunch!
TRACKING THE DEED
The tavern deed is easily traced back from its modern owners, but there was a gap in the deed track - a chunk of empty space in the records between 1874 and 1928. I happened to be volunteering at the Thomas Balch Library, cataloging entries from local newspapers, when I ran across a small advertisement: a notice of the sale at auction of "Birkitt's Hotel in Hillsboro" in 1874. It was sold for $1,000 to one Lydia Underwood.
Having finally found this connection, I was able to easily trace the deed up to 1928 through the records of wills and deeds, and so the deed track is complete (Lydia Underwood gifted the tavern to Joseph Underwood in her will which went into effect in 1878, and Joseph willed the tavern to Harriet Underwood in 1893). An interesting piece of history is the forced sale of the Tavern in April of 1874:
Birkit [sic](Defendant), S.P. et al vs Reed, Harman et ux,â" of the Chancery Index 1875-1940 (No. M 3533). The chancery case lists "John and Mary Birket" at the top of the page, then says Mary died intestat, "leaving no personal estate and but a small lot of ground in Hillsboro Loudoun County Virginia some 50 x 22 feet on the main street of aforesaid town and leaving no debts or liens so that said lot descended to her heirs at-law to writ your oratrix and Susan Birkit who has married D.M. Divine. Margaret - the wife of Wm. Allder. Sallie - the wife of J.W. Price. Cornelia - the wife of Wm. A. Baker (said Cornelia is insane). S.P. Birkit and John Birkit and Wm. Birkit - who is dead leaving a widow - Margaret Birkit - and children.
It went on to say the lot couldn't be split, so he (Reed) demanded they sell. The case was settled and "Birkett's Hotel" was sold at public auction to Lydia Hough.
For more information on Birkett's Tavern, marriages, deaths, censuses, town history, or Loudoun history, please contact The Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA 20175 or visit the Loudoun County Clerk's Office.
THE 1930s SECTION
Yes, it looks smaller from the street, but the home is actually quite large. The back of the house was added some time in the 1930s or 40s, probably in order to support the store - much like the stone section for Birkett's Tavern. Chuck and I restored these rooms one by one, and they now contain a library, full bath, and office. We left one room in the house unrestored: the back storage/workroom.
And, off the library, one finds the most valuable item in the entire house: the original full-flushing toilet. Plumbers have offered to buy this gem of a fifteen-galloner from us, but we wisely refused. The bathroom once had layers of grimy linoleum, cracked and peeling false tiles linoleum wallpaper, and a claw foot tub... with no claw feet. After our renovation, it had a painted wooden floor, the same wallpaper in excellent shape (the addition of a chair rail above hid a multitude of cracks and tears), and four pedestal feet for the tub courtesy of my brother, Lorenzo Bean.
In 1999, we added a back porch off the kitchen and stone sections. One reason we put it there is because we'd found evidence of a porch along the south wall of the stone section: the original v-grouting stopped below the threshhold of a back door. We assumed if there were only stairs at the door, the v-grouting would have continued down to the ground on either side. Instead there was a clear line across the stonework.
Also, up around the second story were two metal flanges - leftover supports for a back porch roof. We hired carpenter Paul Pronske to create a Hillsboro-style porch, so he based the railings and columns on a home that sits across the street. And, while the original back porch apparently only attached to the stone section, we chose to create an L-shape porch in order to make it possible to walk on to the porch from the kitchen. A stone patio completes the sideyard.
Whe we left, Birkett's Tavern had a third of an acre, all fenced in and, beyond the back stone patiom we had a garden set with old-fashion roses - the ones with scent.. And there were peonies, lilacs, wisteria, and Butterfly bushes, alongside Hawthorn, Magnolia and Water Elms.
Then, at the front of the house, we placed Double Lace Cap Hydrangeas whose magnificent flowers and changing hues caused curious individuals to knock at the front door and ask about them.
And on that note, we end. our tale and say may Birkett's Tavern long stand and continue to delight all residents, visitors, and passersby alike.
I was born October 20, 1924, the third daughter of Hattie Mae Whirshing and Walter Gabriel Hay. They named me Maxine Lucy Hay – Maxine for an exotic French celebrity and Lucy for my mother’s beautiful baby sister… who married her first cousin (whoops).
I loved my Auntie for her free spirit and her love for her husband, Vernon Barlow, and her funny bone, and because she is part of one of my favorite memories: June 10, 1949, my wedding day. The wedding was held at Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia on a typical, steamy Williamsburg day. The ceremony was set for 3 pm, and we were gifted just in time with a 2:30 pm tropical thunderstorm that caught most of the guests as they were coming in to the church.
To get inside, everyone had to splash through a huge puddle that formed in the old brick walkway. Now the bridesmaids were waiting for me in the vestibule, and the groom and groomsmen were stuffed and waiting in the ante-room of the pulpit area.
I began to navigate the rain and wind under an umbrella and managed to completely soak my organdy gown and bridal veil before entering that storm-drenched vestibule. As we prepared to walk down the aisle, I was now wearing a soaking wet organdy wedding dress and a wet and shrinking veil.
And I became distraught and on the verge of tears. I was always the sister most likely to cry, and my younger sister, Ruthie, turned and saw my distress. So Ruthie leaned in and helpfully whispered in that she would walk out of the church if I cried!
So, trying to quickly blink away my tears, I tried to focus on the congregation - to find friends and relatives. When that didn't work, I began to focus on the architecture of the beautiful Bruton Parish Chapel.
And it was then my Aunt Lucy saved the day.
My eyes floated up, way up, and there was Aunt Lucy: my happy, loving, hard-working Aunt Lucy was sitting in the Bishop’s Chair, looking all the world like the Queen of England in her Minnie Pearl hat and farmerette dress. She’d found the perfect spot to enjoy her niece’s wedding.
And I began to smile. How could I not be made joyful?
Now I was now ready to enhance my beautiful moment by heading up the aisle to join my precious man... who didn’t notice my condition at all! Never mentioned it once.
But another Aunt had enhanced the day as well: my Aunt Evelina – the practical nurse who had delivered me in a difficult birth. I was the third daughter in four years, and, yes, it was a risky delivery. My Auntie, who must have been in such a state, promised my mother she would give this little niece her diamond engagement ring if she survived.
And I wear that ring today.
So to Aunt Lucy and Aunt Evelina, Thanks for everything!
- written by Maxine Lucy Hay Bean, "for my children and my children’s children, etc. etc., with confidence this will not be posted on a Bulletin Board, Police Station, Church Hall or Psych Ward, and that it will be met with the same generosity of spirit in which it is given."
Maxine and Lee... heading for the honeymoon!
This was written by my mother, Maxine, in 2011. She passed away in 2014 and is deeply missed by all who knew her.
"And a Straight-Jacket for the Editor": Three Pro-Union Women Journalists Living in Confederate Virginia
A Union commander, to take charge of the Rebel Conscripting Officers.
A plaster for the [Second Street] mud-hole, it is breaking out again.
A straight-jacket for the Editor, who was bent on having her own way.
The Waterford News - 11 Mo. 26th, 1864, Vol. I, No. 6
In 1864, a young woman of Waterford, Virginia named Lida Dutton decided providing meals to Union soldiers and helping the wounded was not enough. She had to do more for the Union cause. Never at a loss for bold ideas, Lida soon came up with the concept of an underground newspaper for Union soldiers and promptly roped in sister Lizzie and friend Sarah Steer as fellow-editors. Thus was born, The Waterford News, quite possibly the only newspaper ever written by Union women to be published out of Confederate Virginia.
What kind of women begin such a conspicuously dangerous work? Why, the kind bent on having their own way, of course — ones whose story you are about to learn.
Lida (L) and Lizzie Dutton of Waterford, Virginia
When Barbara Black was a very little girl, her grandfather would sit her upon his knees and tell her the story, and, although she’d heard it a dozen times, she loved to hear it once more:  A handsome soldier in a Confederate uniform approached a pretty young miss for the purpose of asking her directions. His name was J. William Hutchinson, and he was actually with the 13th New York Cavalry, acting as a Scout in what he thought was enemy territory. The young lady was Lida Dutton, a Quakeress living in one of the only pro-Union villages in Lee’s Virginia.
By his uniform, she assumed he was a Confederate soldier. By the fact she was standing in Virginia, he assumed she was a Rebel. He politely asked her the way to a certain place, and from there things took an interesting turn.
Being a Quaker, Lida wouldn’t knowingly lie, but she also wouldn’t knowingly help a Confederate get where he was going any faster than he should, and so she cheerfully gave him directions using landmarks used only by the locals: “Left at Brown’s stump, right at Uncle Harmon’s well, left at Zilpha’s Rock...” As the end of the impossible-to-follow directions, Hutchinson quietly asked, “Miss, which side would you like for me to be on?”
Momentarily flustered, she finally blurted out: “If you’re a Rebel, I hate you, but if you’re a Northerner, I love you!” At this point, he introduced himself and showed her his Union insignia.
And that is how Lida Dutton met her match.
In the first three years of the Civil War, Lida and Lizzie Dutton and Sarah Steer could be found caring for wounded Union soldiers, hiding them from marauding Rebel troops, and managing to hold together the farms and businesses their fathers and brothers had had to leave behind to avoid conscription into the Confederate ranks. But in the spring of 1864, they decided they would do more, and nothing — not the lack of goods nor the abundance of Confederate soldiers — was going to thwart their good efforts.
At least eight issues of The Waterford News were published before the spring of 1865, and in each edition’s four, small pages these young women neatly packed a tidy meal of patriotic editorials, poetry, riddles, local news and humor, a sample of which reads as follows:
"The next day or two the rebels again visited this district and appropriated to their own use several horses and two wagons loaded with corn, belonging of course to Union citizens. They also visited the tannery of Asa M. Bond and arrested thirty-five dollars worth of leather."
A few stores... with Dry-Goods, Molasses Candy and other stationery, suited to the tastes of the community. Young and hand-some Clerks not objectionable.
The soldiers ate it up... to put it mildly.
Not only did it boost the morale of the troops, it also brought in subscription fees – monies which the girls turned right around and sent back for soldiers’ aid.
The Waterford News was even perused by President Lincoln. Private Schooley of the 11th Rgt., Maryland Volunteers sent a letter to the President with this introduction, “To His Excellency Abraham Lincoln. Will your excellency please accept the two enclosed copies of ‘Waterford News’ and excuse me for taking the liberty of sending them to you... You will see by the Sending, the intention of the Fair Editresses in editing the Paper under the difficulties which they do. ‘Tis for to aid the ‘Sanitary Commission.’ They have already made up nearly 1000$ [sic] for the same purpose!”
To understand the nature of these exceptional young women, we must understand their social context: the history of Quakers (also known as “The Religious Society of Friends”) has been marked by unusual bravery and strength of character. Students of Quaker history find evidence of the persistent influence of a people of faith who helped change the course of American history, as well as evidence of America influencing the nature of Quakerism. These competing influences are best exemplified in the history of Loudoun’s Quakers — a people who found themselves struggling to maintain a pacifist tradition in the midst of Civil War.
By the early nineteenth-century, most Loudoun Quakers associated themselves with the Hicksite faction of the church which espoused a more liberal point of view than Orthodox Quakers. By the time of the Civil War, they were still pacifists, met twice weekly for Meetings, disciplined their members, and encouraged plain dress, but further assumptions are destined to break down. They had been living in the middle of a heated political situation for several years, and their pacifism had been sorely tested. When John Brown’s Raid occurred so near to Loudoun, local militias were formed. Quakers were told to show up for muster or pay a fine. At the beginning of the war, the Confederate army took Quakers for laborers or jailed them for use as bargaining chips. As a result, most headed north, but several risked church discipline and joined the Union army. One of those men was young James Dutton, brother to Lida and Lizzie. By 1862, Lizzie had fallen in love and become engaged to a Lieutenant Holmes of the 7th Indiana Regiment. The matter had become personal, such that when it came to a choice of allegiance between country or faith, Quaker women like Lida, Lizzie and Sarah stubbornly chose to support both. A Waterford News editorial boldly stated, “Christians make the best soldiers.”
At every turn, Loudoun Quaker women refused to be categorized. Regarding the tradition of Quaker “plain dress,” for example, there is this interesting notation in the very first edition: “Great distress is felt by the ladies of this vicinity at not being able to appear at meeting in new bonnets, dresses and wrappings, owing to the stringent blockade.”
These women were very well educated and strongly encouraged to express themselves. Only a few years before the war, Lida, Lizzie and Sarah had been active members of The Waterford Literary Society, writing essays whose topics ranged from a thoughtful, “What is There Left to Write About?” to a hilarious ode “On Chickens.” Essays were read aloud to the group, gently critiqued by the members present, and then recorded in a large bound book. Thankfully, the Society’s volumes survived the war and rest in the archives of The Thomas Balch Library of Leesburg, Virginia. One of the anonymous notes in the Society Essays reads, “Take life as it is, a real matter-of-fact thing, and do it justice,” and it is easy to imagine the “Fair Editresses” of The Waterford News taking the sentiment to heart.
Although the Literary Society provided a place for young ladies to sharpen their wits as well as their pencils, their excellent educations began at home. Several years before the war, Sarah Steer had been sent north to a Ladies Academy, and John and Emma Dutton had always encouraged their four daughters to exercise full use of their minds. In a letter written in 1864 to his youngest, Anna Ellen, John Dutton wrote, “I take great pride in my childrens’ writing. I want each to exert themselves in this particular branch of learning and now is the time whilst thy little fingers are limber... Make it a rule to study — to think — weigh thy thoughts well for thy self. Don’t conclude things are right just because the mass of the people say so.” As a result of such parenting and the Quakers’ insistence on female education (all this despite 19th century ‘Woman as Shelf-Ornament’ thinking), Lida, Lizzie and Sarah’s writings are a treasure of womanly expression:
The young ladies of Waterford, Loudon [sic] Co., Va., are hereby notified to meet the first opportunity and lend their mutual aid in filling a large mud-hole with stone, said mud-hole being located in the middle of Second Street... the men have driven around it so much that it is extending each side. Being fearful the gentlemen will get their feet muddy, the ladies will try and remedy it.
While the state of the Second Street mud-hole made itself useful as a running joke (c.f. opening quotation), the young women knew how to turn a joke on themselves, as well. The paper contained a marriage column, but it was always empty. At the bottom of the column, a sad little footnote would appear, such as, “Words are inadequate to express our feelings on this subject.” Edition number three contained this note of surrender: “We think there is no prospect of having this long-continued vacancy filled until after the war: so we will discontinue it for the present.”
And how did the soldiers react to the news? In a word: quickly.
The very next edition reads, “After the marriage column was closed, the young gentlemen became very patriotic, volunteering to serve a lifetime, and proposals numerous flocked in. We will make them feel that delays are dangerous.” All humor aside, letters from Union soldiers which appear in the paper make it clear they had a serious appreciation for the young ladies’ efforts. And, make no mistake, it was an effort.
With no paper and no money, getting a newspaper out of Confederate Virginia was no small task. Draft copies of The Waterford News had to be smuggled north across the Potomac River. The Baltimore American voluntarily printed the newspapers for them. Subscriptions were handled through the Federal Post Office at Point of Rocks, Maryland; the active Confederate troops made it impossible for the girls to distribute the paper from their homes. For their efforts, the young women risked severe “discipline” by the Confederate army, as did all of Waterford for its pro-Union sentiment.
The worst Confederate attack on the villagers occurred in 1862: Confederate troops arrived to forage and announced when they were through they intended to burn the pro-Union village down. The wife of Samuel Means of Waterford ran to the only person she knew who still had a horse: a farmer who lived just outside of town. She asked him to ride to Union General Geary, stationed just a few miles away, and tell him to send Union troops to save the town. The fellow flat-out refused. She then asked him to lend her his horse so she could make the ride. Again he said “no.” She then said, “Then I will steal thy horse and go myself.” And so she did. General Geary promptly dispatched troops to the town, and Waterford was saved... for the time being.
With war literally at their doorstep, Lida, Lizzie and Sarah chose to publish the newspaper, despite personal risk, and even personal tragedy.
The July 2, 1864 edition of The Waterford News encouraged its readers to press on:
"Let not kind words, loving tones, and love of good deeds cease to find a place in our hearts. Now, if ever, is the time to ‘cast bread upon the waters,’ when tired and weary ones are all around us, and starvation stares so many in the face; when loved ones are struggling with pain, and joy and happiness are hidden in the distance; when hope leaves us and misery looks at us with hollow eyes. Let us be up and doing — old and young — we have no time to idle; every quickly flitting moment is to be improved, every space filled up."
This editorial, which might be dismissed as nothing more than flowery patriotic sentiment, becomes poignantly descriptive when we discover it was written soon after Lizzie received the news her fiancé, Lieutenant Holmes, had been killed in action.
Doing life justice means that much more when life isn’t doing you justice in return.
In late November of 1864, General Grant authorized a raid on Loudoun County. It has become known as “The Burning Raid,” but The Waterford News called it “The Fury Order in Loudoun.” Frustrated with the seemingly unchecked activities of Colonel Mosby’s Rangers, Grant’s concept was to burn out the farms still able to provide forage to Mosby and his men, and to this end a multitude of barns were burned and livestock was killed or driven off. In addition, men under 51 capable of bearing arms and any slaves remaining in the area were to be taken.
At this point, political sentiment was unimportant. Mosby gathered forage from whoever had goods, thus the Union army visited whoever had goods.
So, in a sad twist of fate, Pro-Union Loudouners had the unpleasant task of watching the Union army destroy in less than a week what they’d been protecting from bushwhackers and Confederates for four years. Between November 27th and December 2 of 1864, the skies over western Loudoun were dark with the smoke of hundreds upon hundreds of fires.
And, again, Loudoun’s Quaker women persevered. Major J.B. Wheeler of the 6th New York recorded that, “At Waterford, Loudoun County, Virginia, two young ladies perched on the wide gate posts in front of their home, waving American flags and said as their hay was being destroyed, ‘Burn away, burn away, if it will keep Mosby from coming here.’ ” Tradition holds that one of those young women was Lida Dutton.
An editorial in the Jan. 28, 1865 edition of The Waterford News had this to say about the ‘Fury Order:’
We do not believe, if our Government had been as well acquainted with us as we are with ourselves, the order for the recent burning would be have been issued; but having suffered so much at the hands of the Rebels ever since the commencement of this cruel war, we will cheerfully submit to what we feel assured our Government thought a military necessity.
It should be noted not everyone reacted as stoically. When Union soldiers demanded matches from Quakeress Ruth Hannah Smith for the sole purpose of using them to burn down her barn, she quietly held the lucifers in the steam from her teakettle before handing them over. Her barn was saved.
We know that the effects of war did not alter Lida, Lizzie and Sarah’s resolve, so it should come as no surprise that when peace came they continued to “do life justice.” Sarah Steer applied to the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Philadelphia Meeting and to local Quakers for the funds to open a school for the children of freedmen. The school was built in 1867, the first of five in the County, but Sarah didn’t wait for the walls to go up around her. She began teaching in 1865 and so became the “first teacher of black children” in Loudoun County.
The building, an historic property now known as “The Second Street School,” is owned by The Waterford Foundation and is the site of a unique living history program. As part of the Loudoun County’s Third and Fourth grade curriculums, children are able to spend a morning in the one room school house taking on the identities and responsibilities of the African-American children who attended in 1880.
An excellent summation of the trials and tribulations of Waterford Quakers is beautifully detailed in the Waterford Foundation book, To Talk is Treason, by John Souders, Bronwen Souders and John Divine. Most of the story of Lida and Lizzie Dutton and Sarah Steer is contained therein. It is abundantly clear from their histories, each of these women were capable of being that Editor referred to as “bent on having her own way.”
And what of Lizzie and Lida Dutton after the war? Both continued to write, submitting poetry and articles to local newspapers on occasion, but life still had a few surprises left for them.
Lizzie continued to live in the now quiet village of Waterford, and we could forgive her for assuming the exciting portion of her life was over. There had been one fleeting correspondence between herself and a Lieut. James Dunlop of the 7th Indiana - a friend to her fallen fiancé and the very man who’d written her with news of his death - but, after the war, Lieut. Dunlop had gone home to Indiana to marry his childhood sweetheart.
But fate decreed Dunlop’s wife would die within two years of the marriage. He never remarried, and for years he let the thought nag him: “Whatever happened to Lizzie Dutton?” In 1881, he came to Washington on business and used the excuse to send a card to the Dutton home. The reply was a letter from Miss Elizabeth Dutton.
He took himself straightway to Waterford. An account of the event reads, as the two renewed their acquaintance, “matters flowed on so easily, smoothly, and naturally, that in a few weeks Mr. Dunlop found himself at his Indiana home busily engaged in preparing for the reception of a new mistress, and soon the little town of Waterford was all a blaze of light and a scene of general rejoicing, for the lady was popular and beloved by all.” Joseph Dunlop and Lizzie Dutton were married January 22, 1882.
Last, but not in the least least, there was the matter of strong-minded Lida. Was she be able to square things with her Union Lieutenant after her bold attempt to hood-wink him? Yes, but not before he winked right back.
Lieutenant Hutchinson followed his surprise introduction by telling Lida he planned to hold her to her bold promise — her promise to love him if he were a Northerner. When she regained her composure, she told him she believed she’d said “like,” not “love.” He strongly disagreed and promised to return for her after the war.
Well, like him or love him, when Lieut. Hutchinson came back for her, she married him. Apparently they continued the happy argument of “like” vs. “love” with their children as audience... their grandchildren... and, eventually, their great-grandchildren.
The two were man and wife for 53 years before William passed away. 
Heroes are the simple creation of continually choosing to do life justice in the midst of trying circumstances. Thanks to the preservation of Loudoun history, we’re able to celebrate the heart of these three heroes: Sarah, Lizzie and Lida... three women editors who were, thank heaven, absolutely bent on having their own way.
And they must have the last word:
Many threats have been made
about burning our houses over our devoted heads,
but Waterford is still standing.
And we trust it may stand long in the future
to remind other generations that in its time-honored walls
once dwelt as true lovers of their country as ever breathed the breath
of life-long-suffering but faithful... to the end."
- The Waterford News, July 1864
This article was first published in Citizen's Companion Magazine The author, Meredith Bean McMath is an award-winning historian and prize-winning playwright who resides in Loudoun County, Va. Her Civil War novel, Pella's Angel, is set in Loudoun County, Virginia during the Civil War and is available on Amazon and via Kindle.com
 Letter of Barbara Dutton Conrow Black to Ladies Home Journal dated Feb. 4, 1962 (copy in Waterford Foundation Archives, Waterford, VA)
 Waterford Perspectives, Education Committee of The Waterford Foundation, Waterford Foundation Archives
 To Talk is Treason, Bronwen and John Souders and John Divine, The Waterford Foundation, Waterford, VA (1997) p. 56
 The Waterford News, Vol. 1, No.’s 1-8 (copies in “Civil War File” of The Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA and The Waterford Foundation Archives)
 ibid, Vol. I, No. 2 (Nov. 6, 1864)
 “Robert Todd Lincoln” papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (referred to in Oct. 6, 1955 article from The Blue Ridge Herald, “Lincoln Papers Reveal Waterford Had Newspaper During Civil War;” copy in “Civil War File,” Thomas Balch Library).
 To Talk is Treason, et al
 The Transformation of American Quakerism, by Thomas D. Hamm, Indiana Univ. Press (1988), p. 52
 “Girls Published Civil War Newspaper,” by Emma H. Conrow, Baltimore American, February 5 1922, p. C-3 (copy in “Civil War File” at the Thomas Balch Library and The Waterford Foundation archives).
 The Waterford News, Vol. I, No. 6 (Nov. 26, 1864)
 ibid, Vol. I, No.1 (May 28, 1864)
 Essays of Friends Literary Society, Waterford, 1857-60, Rare Manuscripts — Thomas Balch Library, Leesburg, VA
 To Talk is Treason, p. 87
 The Waterford News, Vol. I, No. 1 (May 28, 1864)
 The Waterford News, Vol. I, No. 3 (July 2, 1864)
 Waterford Perspectives
 Hillsboro: Memories of a Mill Town, Hillsboro Bicentennial History Ctte, Pub’d by the Hillsboro Community Association, p. 25 (The Thomas Balch Library)
 To Talk is Treason, p. 92
 Ye Meetg Hous Smal, Werner and Asa Moore Janney published by Werner and Asa Moore Janney (The Thomas Balch Library) p. 42 - insert
 Friends Intelligencer, vol. XX, pp 250-251 (copies in Waterford Foundation Archives)
 The County of Loudoun, by Nan Donnelly-Shay and Griffin Shay, The Donning Co. (1988) p. 53
 Camp & Field, Sketches of Army Life, by Wilbur F. Hinman (Cleveland, 1892) (Ref., The Thomas Balch Library) pp 422-423
 “Commonplace Book” by Mary Frances Dutton Steer (collection of letters and memoirs), Waterford Foundation Archives, p. 15
Written by Meredith Bean McMath - first published in the former
“This is Martha at the Hill Tom Market. There’s a... This is kind of unusual, but there’s a woman here who... says she’s been walking all the way from Washington...”
“No… Washington State.”
“She says she’s been walking across America, and she’s looking for a place to put up her tent for the night.”
O—kay. Martha is asking if I’ll let a lunatic stay in our backyard overnight. We have a son...
“She seems really nice. She and her dog...”
“She said her dog can stay outside.”
Great. Our dogs will hate her. They’ll bark all night. They’ll...
“I was trying to think who might, you know, think it was okay to have her in their backyard, and I thought of you....”
What should I do? Haven’t heard about her on the news. But what if she really has walked all the way across? How could I let her walk past my house? Surely we’re only going to get a chance like this once in our lives...
Think, woman. Think...
Ten minutes later, my son and I were standing in the doorway of our home in Hillsboro, Virginia, watching for the arrival of a perfect stranger - with a zillion questions still running through my mind. What kind of a woman would do this? My husband and I had read Peter Jenkin’s book, Walk Across America, and he’d convinced us America was better off than we thought. But that was in the ‘70s. Had she found a different America? Wouldn’t it have to be different for a woman? Which brought me back around to.. Was she insane?
Then up she came. Her long brown hair sun-streaked and shiny; her skin not too darkly tanned; a full backpack swaying behind her, keeping time with her strong measured step; a sleek black labrador trotting happily beside her. I smiled when I saw the dog had packs, too — one on either side. When she was close enough to shake my hand, I caught the scent of fresh fields and road dust.
Her name is Ananda Woyer, and she was 26 years old when we met in November of ‘96. Her plan was to plant her toes in the Atlantic Ocean on the Delaware shore by Christmas and then fly home to Seattle, Washington. Seattle — where she’d begun her trek almost two years before.
She said the whole thing began when she was having lunch at a bar and saw a poster — an advertisement for people who wanted to walk across America. To this day she has no idea why it appealed to her, but she couldn’t get the thought out of her mind. Two weeks later, she quit her job and signed up.
Just like that.
Eighteen months later, she'd lost her fellow travelers, gained a sprightly black lab named Roxie, and walked all the way from Washington State to Virginia.
Right away I realized I could not possibly have this woman sleeping in our back yard. No way. She was going to have to stay in the guest room.
“Ananda, would you like to sleep in our guest room?”
She laughed and nodded. “Love to.”
Something about the laugh made me ask, “How many times have you been asked to stay in people’s homes?”
“Quite a lot, actually.”
Sometimes folks hear about her on the news, but usually they don’t know her from Adam. Still they take her in.
“And that’s the way it’s been all along. Sometimes I have to ask if there’s a place I can put up my tent.” She smiled. "But then I hardly ever need to put up my tent. Oh, and then some times someone knows someone in the next town and calls ahead for me.”
“Ever been in danger?”
“I got followed once, but eventually they left me alone. Of course, having Roxie along helps.” At this, Roxie perks up, presents a lovely grin and plants a wet kiss on my son’s face.
My son is enchanted. At seven year’s old, Palmer doesn’t understand the magnitude of Ananda’s walk, but he sure is impressed by her dog. As far as he’s concerned, only great people have great dogs, so Ananda has to be great. Actually, this makes sense to me, too. Roxie bounds around the house like a puppy and runs off to wrestle with our pooches: immediate best friends.
Meanwhile, I’m sitting in awe of our surprise guest. “So, what do you when you get sick?”
“I got a cold once back on the west coast. But that’s it. I haven’t been sick a day since. We walk about eighteen miles a day.”
“How does Roxie like the walk?”
“She loves it! You’ll see tomorrow morning: she can’t wait to get out on the road again.”
“Do you feel the same way?”
“Pretty much. Only now I’ve started thinking about what I’m going to do when I get back.”
“Will you write about it?”
“I’ve definitely been thinking about it.”
“So, if you write a book, what’ll you tell us about America?”
She grins. “That it’s safer and more friendly than you think. Especially in Kansas. Ever since I left Seattle, I’ve heard the same thing over and over, ‘Our town is terrific. Perfectly safe. Great people, but watch out for that town down the road.’ Same story in every town.”
“That’s funny, ‘cause I was just going to warn you about D.C... Hey!” I whacked my hand on the kitchen table with the suddenness of inspiration. “I just remembered I have a good friend in D.C.! Want me to give her a call and see if she can take you in?”
“That,” she said with a smile, “would be wonderful.”
Which is how Ananda met my friend Peg Grant... who had a friend in Annapolis, Maryland... and on and on Ananda walked...
And she was able to put her toes in the Atlantic Ocean by mid-December and eat Christmas dinner with her family back in Seattle.
Soon after that, she moved to Kansas.
Looking back, I can honestly say that - as much as Ananda taught us about America during her brief stay - she taught us even more about ourselves: how a split second decision to do something different and scary can lead to something wonderful — if we’ll just finish reading the poster on the wall... or allow yourself say:
“Sure Martha. Tell her to come on up.”
You know this one? The dream where you’re being married to someone you don’t like – by your history professor – while standing in your pajamas? Yeah. That one. Nightmares involving public humiliation are the worst: Didn’t study for the test? Don’t know where you are? Forgot to put on clothes!?!
This is why actors amaze me. For the joy of bringing a play to life and a chance to bring an audience to their feet, they are willing to face the possibility of public humiliation. Forgot a line? Missed your cue? Your skirt fell down!?! Yep.
Actors are the bravest of the brave. When the army is forming a front line to charge the enemy on the battlefield, bring up the actors. Tell them just beyond that row of critics holding semi-automatics there’s an audience waiting, and off they’ll go. And in community theatre, they don’t even get paid to run that gauntlet.
Many, many years ago, I became a volunteer in the acting army when I joined the cast of a Growing Stage production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew.
I hadn’t been in a stage play since college, where I was cast as Angel No. 2 in Medieval Plays for Christmas. I had one line. What I learned from that experience is that when the moment arrives to speak that one line, and you’ve practiced that one line four thousand times, it is virtually impossible to make that one line sound normal.
Next acting I tried was live radio theatre here in Loudoun County, Virginia. Radio Theatre is the Laz-E Boy Recliner of theatre experience: it involve no memorization, very little rehearsal, and no costumes, set, publicity or lighting. You can wear your polka-dot pajamas, if you like - a definite plus. But it has no audience — a fairly large drawback.
And so, after all those years I dared to "tread the boards" again, going out for a local production of Taming of the Shrew. I was hoping for at least two lines this time but was scared to have too many. Highly respectful of my wishes, Tim Jon, the Director, gave me very few lines — and four different roles.
We began rehearsals mid-July, a cast from every conceivable walk of life with one very important thing in common: no free time.
Planning a rehearsal schedule in which everyone is there for certain scenes takes the skill of an airline pilot (But it was pure coincidence our co-Producer and fellow actor, Stokes Tomlin, was a retired airline pilot). Tough as that scheduling turned out to be, the real fly in our ointment was a missing actor: we had no Hortensio (the original cast member bowed out due to illness).
If you’re not familiar with Taming of the Shrew, Hortensio is is the one who winds up marrying The Widow. Have I mentioned one of my roles was The Widow? Oh, fine, there’s a little more to Hortensio than just the marriage. He plays a huge and very integral part of the play — and it was six weeks from Opening Night.
All of us called every actor we knew that fit the director’s description, which by that time had narrowed to “Breathing — possibly male”. I had no luck at all: one guy was gone in August; another had a lead in a different Shakespeare play; another was called out west to fight forest fires for the National Park Service (the nerve...).
Days ticked by. The Widow began having nightmares about history professors and polka-dot pajamas. Practices were unsettling: half the time I was reading for Hortensio. You can sprain an acting muscle that way.
And that is why four weeks before opening night, I came to rehearsal depressed. But acting is an amazing thing: once practice begins, you somehow come to believe that everything will turn out right. I easily lost myself in the beauty and the humor of Shakespeare, the blocking of the movement in scenes, the characterizations, the thrill that is live theatre. Not to mention getting to work with the best of people.
I’ll bet most folks think of acting as speaking lines, but acting is mostly listening: its reacting to each other’s lines, working together when someone drops a line to bring a scene back on track, helping everyone stay in character when the set falls down. You hang together or you die alone. As a result, you make friends for life with some of the most caring, intelligent, creative and generous people you’ll ever meet. And when you get together, you share war stories like old veterans.
However, in order to bond properly, you also need a full cast — which brings us back to our missing Hortensio.
There we were on a lovely August night, practicing our lines in the courtyard of Leesburg’s Market Station (A very cozy Globe Theatre-like space, as it happens), when a very tall, mustachioed fellow in a three-piece suit stepped out on the balcony from The Tuscarora Mill Restaurant. Lots of diners had been watching us rehearse from the window above and we'd just gone on, show business as usual, when he called down in a friendly tone, “So, what are you doing?”
“Shakespeare!” we called up in unison.
“Taming of the Shrew,” our Director, replied.
And then a bit of a miracle occurred. The fellow nodded, stepped up to the railing and began quoting from the play.
And we stood below, dumbstruck. But when he kept quoting, we began nodding and smiling among ourselves, and our Director - who looked as though he’d eaten the proverbial canary cage and all - said, “Well, there’s our Hortensio.”
When the fellow was done, we applauded loudly and asked for more. He laughed and shook his head. “Funny. That’s not the response I usually get.” Then he said something about loving Shakespeare and launched into Hamlet’s soliloquy.
Tim offered him Hortensio on the spot. And he was brave enough to take it.
Four weeks later we opened the show, and I’m pleased to say we sold out every night; few lines were muffed; no sets fell, nor any rain, nor any costumes; Shawn Malone, former co-manager of The Tuscarora Mill Restaurant, had a blast playing Hortensio, and the cast bonded, just as they should.
If Shakespeare was correct and all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players, I'm certain theatre is the best of all possible worlds.
Give it a try sometime. And be sure to look around for me... I’m the Director in the polka-dot pajamas.
Article first appeared in McMath’s "Good Neighbor Column" in the former Loudoun ART Magazine, published by Gale Waldron. Although she is no longer with us, her work and inspiration live on, and this is updated and posted in Gale Waldron's honor.
First published in The Piedmont Virginian, 2008 as
“Out of the Ordinary: Life in Hillsboro, Virginia”
In late summer of 1862, a fellow named Tom Syphert made his way into Hillsboro, Virginia with two things in mind: round up some horses for the Union Army and visit with old friends. The son of a Lovettsville blacksmith, Tom knew the area and the people well – or so he thought...
Before the Civil War, Hillsborough (as it was spelled then) was the second largest city in Loudoun County behind Leesburg and contained some twenty businesses, around 100 voting white males, their families, and a large population of slaves and freedman who, for the most part, lived along the Short Hills Mountain. Before the Civil War, the town was bustling with two flour mills, a textile mill and a dozen other businesses that kept Loudoun wagons rolling with fashioned clothes and furniture, cobbled shoes for humans and horses, and provided three different spots for gentleman to “belly up to the bar.” And over and next to these shops were the homes of the shop owners and behind them, the outbuildings: barns, chicken coops, pigpens, smoke houses, springhouses, and icehouses. Imagine the soot and smell from these concerns and then add one more distinct odor: the tannery smack in the middle of town. The smells could not have been pleasant to the students of the Hillsboro Ladies Seminary a mere four doors down.
This bustling, noisy village would be the Hillsborough Tom Syphert knew as a child - but not the one he found in 1862. By then, both armies had passed through several times and most of the businesses were shut fast due to the inability to re-stock shelves. Yet most of the people remained, and Union uniform or no, they didn’t mind bending Tom’s ear with the latest on all the neighbors.
After being there, Tom updated his brother in a letter: “Amy Ann – formerly Spates – now Fritts, is living in Hillsborough and is rampant Union, while Eliza Hammerly lives right across the street from her and is as rabid secesh [secessionist]. Dick Tavenner still lives in Hillsborough and is Union, while his wife and two girls are violent secesh. Amy Ann has two sons in the rebel Army, while a third who went to Illinois… was in the 68th Illinois and was here in the Army of the Potomac… and was often in skirmishes with [Colonel Elijah] White’s Rebel Cavalry, to which his two older brothers belong. The two older ones, however, were forced into the ranks. But this will give you some idea of how the demon of rebellion has sundered old friends and severed families.”
The next day, Tom rose up early and walked on to Snickersville, “for there are no horses in the country – the war has swept them all.” Oddly enough, his overnight accommodations were provided by the “rabidly secesh” Eliza Hammerly, who thoughtfully packed him a lunch but failed to mention where Tom might find horses: Hillsborough’s remaining steeds were safely tucked in “Jockey’s Cave” west of town in the Short Hills Mountain.
I like to imagine that during Tom’s stay at the Hammerlys, he took a moment to step next door for a drink at Birkett’s Tavern. John Birkett passed away before the war began, but his sons-in-law were still managing the business. Tom might have walked through the front door into the taproom, the air thick with the smell of smoke and liquor and the faint smell of hay from the mix of straw and sawdust lying on the floor to catch whatever fell there, be it liquor, spit, blood. He might have glanced around the room to see if any there would acknowledge his presence without sneering. If he saw no friendly faces, he might have stepped through to the back dining area, remembering the beer and fresh oysters served there (Oysters and beer used to come to Hillsborough fresh from Washington, D.C. via C&O Canal deliveries to Harpers Ferry - hmm, probably ceased by then, come to think of it).
But if the day wasn’t too warm, he might have preferred to step on to the Tavern’s wide side porch – the one standing at the crossroads of Main Street and the old road to Purcellville. Sitting down, he might have viewed the stone house across the way with its chimney marking: “I.H. 1827” and admired the stonework, not knowing the house was serving as a Confederate Post Office. If his eyes then strayed to the backyard, he would have seen some empty animal pens. Before the war, men known as “Drovers” would make the two day walk from Loudoun to the markets at Alexandria, but during the Civil War, Drovers couldn’t cross the line of Union pickets – if they still had animals to take to market. So, at that point, Tom might have realized he was going to get a good night’s sleep – no sheep bleating in the night, no turkeys gobbling from the tavern’s roosting tree. When Tom was ready to order whatever the Tavern had on hand, he might have been served by one of Birkett’s slaves. According to the 1850 census, Birkett owned eight slaves, a 32-year old woman, an 18 year old man, and seven younger children. While their names are not provided, I do not doubt where they lived: three small rooms on the second floor were separated from the rest of the house, accessible only by an outdoor stairwell.
It is likely the woman was the Tavern Cook, and she would have been working in the stone kitchen at the back of the tavern, separated from the house by a “dog trot” walkway. A five-foot high, four-foot wide fireplace with a swing arm was the heart of that kitchen, and the fire there generally never went out. The roof was covered with slate tile, so that if the kitchen burned, the tavern would still have a fighting chance.
Tavern fires were so legendarily frequent that at nearby Harpers Ferry the government bought a portion of White’s Tavern and forced the owner to re-locate the tavern to the back of the building - and as far away as possible from the Armory and its touchy contents. The danger wasn’t just tavern candles burning day and night, nor the straw and straw dust underfoot, nor the drunkards warming themselves by the fire: it was the barrels of alcohol. When the server went for a new barrel at Birkett’s Tavern, he walked out of the dining room, down the back stairs and right under that dining room. There he could stand up straight and choose a new barrel to send upstairs. So, think of a tavern (or “Ordinary” as they were known up north) as a collection of various forms of fire overtop a number of barrels of liquid fuel, separated only by straw, sawdust and a few creaky floorboards.
I'd think about that whenever I changed the fire alarm batteries in the home. I'd think about other things as I walked through the living room, built on the foundations of that old tavern porch. And I'd think a whole different set of thoughts when I grabbed the railing of the 1870 stairwell, built after slavery was abolished and the slave quarters were opened to the rest of the house. I'd think about all these things, because my family and I lived in Birkett’s Tavern... for 30 years.
My husband and I bought the ca. 1819 building back in 1987, determined to restore at least one old home in our lifetime. Turns out that one was quite enough. When we moved there, Hillsboro had transitioned from that long ago mill town to a quiet village of 33 homes and 122 residents, give or take a baby or two. The devastating economic effects of the Civil War and the Great Depression were hard on the residents of Loudoun County, but the homes were basically intact and ready for restoration.
By the time we bought Birkett’s Tavern, it had changed hands seven times. The previous owners were the first to turn the building into a true single family home, but there was plenty left for us to do: electric switches hanging from the living room ceiling, live electrical sockets jammed into cutouts along the baseboards, and our telephone wires coming in over the windowsill (we had a choice in the winter: close the window for warmth or enjoy telephone service). But they’d done some fabulous things, too: like establish baseboard heat and raise the kitchen up from dirt floor level to meet the rest of the house.
We set our own priorities and went right to work removing the rotting Victorian porch from the front of the home. And that’s when it began to happen: neighbor after neighbor came and introduced themselves. They told us all about our house, their own homes, the neighborhood, the history, and then invite us to supper or the next community association meeting. When the old porch finally came down, we received a bottle of champagne from the lady across the street: “With thanks for improving my view.” After another grueling day of clearing away debris, a couple invited us over for cocktails. We were too tired to even think of showering and dressing and began to decline their kind invitation. They smiled and laughed. “Come as you are! We insist!” My husband and I looked at each other and thought to ourselves, Toto, we’re not in Kansas any more.
Two years later, our son was born, and then, when my father passed away, we invited my mother to come and live with us. For the next sixteen years we busied ourselves with family, work and restoration. And suddenly 30 years were gone. Our son moved away, my mother had passed, and it was time to move to a smaller home… one that required a lot less loving attention.
But I think Tom Syphert would like what we did to the place. The floors are polished, the building has electricity, no need to chop wood to heat the place, the kitchen is actually inside the house, water comes right in and goes right out, and there’s a different sort of horsepower in the driveway. Oh, and I'll be the drinks are free, if you're nice to the new owners.
Tom would like the look of the whole town, too. Hillsboro survived the Union Burning Raid of 1864 (although it cleared out several backyards). The hills around town are being farmed once more - most often with rows of grape vines, and the neighbors care about their old homes and respect their integrity while they improve the amenities. Right now (2020), the town is in for a huge adjustment: telephone lines and cables to be set under the road, sidewalks improved and road circles placed on either end (instead of hideous stoplights). Can't wait to see the finished product!
It was a pleasure to be a part of Hillsboro for a while and rebuild that beautiful old place. It's an experience we will never forget or regret. In fact, we think everyone should restore a tavern... at least once in their life.
"You may have people in your life who don't expect much from you — don't value your potential or input for whatever reason: too young, too old, too inexperienced... I am not one of those people."
If you’re an actor who’s been in one of our theatre productions, you've heard me say something like this the very first day.
When I direct, I tend to treat young actors like they’re adults and all actors like they're professionals - each one of them with opinions and ideas that matter. And if all goes well, by the end of a production the actors own the show as much as I will... because that's when the magic happens.
I’ve seen other directors' approaches. Heck, I’ve TRIED the other approaches. And if a director is brilliant and creative and can get actors to do exactly what they say, the show will shine. And everyone will feel great about being a part. And that's good.
But I want actors to do so much more than just mimic my intent or the meaning of the play.
BUILDING A PLAY ONE CHARACTER AT A TIME
I want actors to internalize the process like professional actors do - things they would have learned in drama school. I'll start them off with a character concept, but from there they need to read the script and make that character their own. I encourage full character development, even if they have no lines or are a member of the Chorus. As we go, I'll teach Method Acting, which involves improvisation and emotional recall, and then go over how thet might best learn a script: audio, visual or movement - whatever helps an actor get where they need to be.
And as rehearsals progress, I'll start soliciting their ideas. And if the idea serves to: 1. Further the plot, 2. Reveal more about their character, or 3. Set the audience up for a pay off (in this scene or later), then I’m going to want to try to work it in. When actors of any age approach a play this way, they start finding relationships and possibilities that as director I might have missed. And I will always want to be open to their idea, because amazing things might come of it.
BE WILLING TO KILL YOUR FABULOUS IDEAS
When I became a published author years ago, I had to defend my choices to an editor. So what if I spent five hours crafting that paragraph? If it doesn’t develop a character or relationship, further the plot, or provide a payoff, I had to be willing to let it die. Note: clearly this requires the director to know the play inside and out, because if you haven't prepared yourself, you're going to get defensive. Add a really tiny ego, and you just... might... snap.
So in a my directing world, I have to be prepared and confident... but also realize they may not be the best ideas in the room. Yes, I know I have a creative brain, but why wouldn’t I tap into a larger creative brain if I had a chance? Actors have a chance to dive into these characters much more than I do. They're going to find things there I didn't see, and as the other actors do the same, relationships and situations things are going to happen - good things - "If she's going to react that way because of what happened earlier, and as her sister, I would know that, that changes the way I should react..." - if you let them happen.
And, as a result of all of the above, actors begin to take ownership - of their characters, a scene and the play itself. This is where the magic begins.
So even though this will replace the absolutely brilliant idea I had as the Director, well... gulp... let's do this instead.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE REALLY BAD IDEAS...
Okay. What if your actor comes up with an idea that just won’t work? Is truly horrible? Makes no sense to the character's history, etc.? And they present it to everyone before I've heard it.
Then I have to thank them for the idea, say No and tell them why. Why? Because 1. I want them to know suggestions are respected and appreciated, and the next one they have may be perfect (and often are), 2. Explaining why it won't work helps everyone understand more about the character, the plot or the scene mentioned, and 3. An explanation gives everyone in the cast a chance to further understand the setting, the character or the plot of the whole thing.
Obviously at this point a couple of things are crucial: a directors needs to love their actors enough to know how to say no diplomatically or actors won't offer ideas for fear of retribution. But directors also need to avoid wanting actors to loooove them, or they'll never know how to say no to a bad idea, and the whole cast and the whole play will suffer.
But, in the end, whether a good idea or a bad one, thanks are due to actors. Because their process and commitment is how a good play becomes great.
LAY OUT THE GROUND RULES
Lest you think rehearsals should devolve into a free-for-all “sharing time,” I'll point out ideas are solicited only at certain times in the process:
1. Creative input falls mostly in the beginning of the rehearsal schedule. Group discussion is good. And this is also a great time for the Director to underscore the story arc of the play, the scenes, and the characters.
2. Then when we begin to run scenes regularly, actors are asked to hold their ideas until the next break - and then share those ideas only with the director.
3. Crucial to the entire process: actors do not get to suggest what other actors can do. Ever. They can certainly ask why another character does something, but... that's it.
Simple reason: every actor must be entirely focused on their own character/s, their actions, feelings, backgrounds, etc.. This is the process professional actors use, and I love bringing it to community theatre, because, when actors take this process on, shows get reviews worthy of professional productions (Think I'm lying? Check out Run Rabbit Run Theatre reviews).
And when an actor is completely focused on developing their character in a scene, it often leads another actor to have a revelation about their own character.
Lastly - without exception - actors should never simply tell another actor to “do it this way" or "try it this way". That would be called directing.
THE GRANDE FINALE
In the end, there is solid success in the "Do what I tell you" approach to directing: learning and doing a task well gives actors a sense of accomplishment and the applause is gratifying. But in the end, those actors will make the required effort – and often little more. They don't want to rock the boat, so they won’t challenge themselves to think about their choices or the process, or engage their own creativity. And they know that the same director can do the exact same show with another group of actors the next year, and it'll look and feel almost identical - with the same applause. They never get to own the show. They just... borrow it for awhile.
But when actors have a chance to make the show their own, the audience immediately knows it. All the nuances are there: they aren't pretending to be someone, they're real - real three-dimensional characters, with relationships, tensions, actions - all real. And that's the ultimate audience reward. And that's professional acting at its best: when every actor - young and old - walks away knowing there will NEVER be another show like the one they just created.
They own it and it will always be theirs. And that's theatre magic.
I learned how to direct from producing dozens of shows with various directors using many techniques. But I learned the most from the best directors in the Loudoun / DC area: Dolly Stevens, Tim Jon and Tom Sweitzer. They start with respect and end with actor ownership, and now I just can't see directing any other way.
Meredith Bean McMath is the Managing Director of Run Rabbit Run Productions, Inc. She has written books and plays, an opera's libretto, and book adaptations for the stage. She has degrees and awards and is grateful for all... but sometimes wishes writers and directors were paid a little more.