Carter Hall and the Burwell-Morgan Mill

by Bruce Appelgren, Peak Custom Tours, Director

CarterHall.AerialViewSome of the landscapes in Clarke County in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia are breathtaking. I’m speaking of the great tracts of grassy fields, with hardly a structure to be seen until the fields meet the mountains that create the Valley. Coming from Chicago’s South Side as I did, where the only natural vistas are those provided across Lake Michigan, these natural scenes are some of the most beautiful in the Valley.

Why are these landscapes so different from neighboring counties where smallish farms or towns break up the landscape? Speaking generally, these lands were claimed by two kinds of settlers in colonial times – rich landowners with tobacco plantations who came from the Tidewater area of Virginia, and immigrant farmers from Pennsylvania who purchased much smaller farms. These generally were divided East and West on either side by Opequon Creek. These two agricultural models dictated the social and economic developments that followed in this part of Virginia.

George Washington surveyed this area for Sir Thomas Fairfax as a young man starting in 1745. By then, the competing claims for the land that had been granted to several governmental bodiess had been resolved. Both large plantation and small farm agriculture found their place in the region. What we can see in these vast landscapes of Clarke County is the legacy of the large estates, up to 8,000 acres, granted to wealthy individuals, mostly tobacco farmers. Chief among these were the estates of Robert Carter and Nathaniel Burwell. In other areas of the county, smaller farms predominate.

After the American Revolution, prominent landowners from the Tidewater area like Carter and Burwell began moving to the Valley themselves. According to Warren Hofstra in “A Separate Place: The Formation of Clarke County, Virginia”, “Their activities centered about the tiny village of Millwood, where Nathaniel Burwell, previously the master of Carter’s Grove near Williamsburg, had located various enterprises including a mill, tanyard, store, blacksmith shop, and distillery. In addition to Burwell, the Millwood society included a core group of well-born men and women connected to their state’s most prominent families.” These included names that still ring across the centuries –- Morgan, Byrd, and Washington, for example.

It was astonishing to me that the little village I had come to know through charming walks and casual lunches had been the center of life for wealthy landowners 200 years ago. I did however know of Carter Hall, the now 400-acre estate that is home to Project HOPE, the international health care nonprofit where I worked after moving from Chicago. The grand Carter Hall was built in the last decade of the eighteenth century in the manner of great English estates, with a large central section and two adjacent wings, all of local limestone. It served as a headquarters for Stonewall Jackson during the Civil War and has seen successive restorations since then.

During our tour, we’ll dine and stay in Carter Hall, visit the grounds, walk through Millwood and visit the Burwell-Morgan Mill. We may see an art show in the mill or watch this restored mill in action grinding grain. We’ll have a secluded lunch along the creek that runs through the village to experience these quiet historic properties.

To see the dates for our Carter Hall and the Burwell-Morgan Mill tour, click here.

Contemporary American Theater Festival Sampler

CATF_The Second Girlby Bruce Appelgren, Peak Custom Tours, Director

“The play’s the thing….”

Even if you have never been an active theatergoer, you would enjoy the Contemporary American Theater Festival. It was here I discovered ‘the play’s the thing’ can lead to a wonderful and purposeful life. Peak Custom Tour’s theater sampler offers a unique way to increase your appreciation of a life in the theater – a welcoming lunch with a festival staff member, seeing early set designs and models, a backstage visit to see the actual sets, a question-and-answer session with actors after a performance, and breakfast with the festival founder. Not to mention seeing three superb productions of new American drama. These are but a few experiences of the wonderful mix of arts and talent that go into creating a theater festival.

ContemporaryAmericanTheaterFestival_MarinoffTheater_©SethFreemanSeveral years ago, I attended a series of continuing education classes that introduced me to this Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF), its staff, and the varied arts of the theater. We had discussions with playwrights, witnessed a play literally created from courtroom transcripts, watched emotional read-throughs with Broadway professionals, and talked about how to nurture new American plays. The picture I received was a remarkable snapshot of life in and about the theater. Even though I was new to it all, I was impressed by the complex, collaborative creative process that brings these plays to life. And beyond that, the festival took the time to share all of it! Yet I barely saw the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creating theater. A recent article in American Theatre about this festival cited below describes much more of what is involved in creating this repertory festival.

ContemporaryAmericanTheaterFestival_TheWeddingGift_©SethFreeman“In short, it’s clear that CATF, which puts playwrights at the center of the action, is one of the nation’s preeminent festival-based new-play springboards, rivaled only by Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival of New American Plays and the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference. . . .
the program is atypical for summer theatre, not only for its location—in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia, roughly 75 miles from the D.C. metro area—but for the way it puts edgy new plays through the repertory wringer.”

I had to look up repertory. Wikipedia defines it as: “A repertory theatre (also called repertory, rep or stock) can be a Western theatre or opera production in which a resident company presents works from a specified repertoire, usually in alternation or rotation.” Suffice it to say that putting on six plays in 2017 in two weeks of multiple performances requires actors to wear different hats in different plays. Plays in this sampler tour package in order of viewing are “Byhalia, Mississippi” by Evan Linder, “We Will Not Be Silent” by David Meyers, and “Wild Horses” by Allison Gregory.

Yes, ‘the play’s the thing’ that creates wonderful new experiences amidst lively ideas and talented artists in a charming historic town. I think you’ll enjoy it!

Click here to read the article in American Theatre about this festival in Shepherdstown.

To see the dates for our Theater Festival Sampler of the 2017 Contemporary American Theater Festival, please visit visit here»


Photos by Seth Freeman