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.

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