Western State Hospital

Even today, nearly 50 years after the ivory columns and terraced gardens of Western State Hospital had long cracked and overgrown, a certain gravity hangs tangibly in the air. The somber grounds make for a serene afternoon stroll, but one laced with weighty history. From 1828 to the 1970s, hundreds of Virginia’s mentally ill called this massive Classical Revival complex home.

Western State now looms conspicuously over motorists flooding in and out of Staunton.

As I rested on the rim of an empty fountain basin and scrutinized the bed of leaves that had settled there, I envisioned the patients who had once done the same, peering at instead pools of water.

The asylum once boasted a lavish spiral staircase.5

Western State’s initial mission was arguably a modern one: handicapped rehabilitation. Patients wandered the landscaped greens and ornately-decorated facilities, the beauty of which aided their recovery. Dr. Francis T. Stribling, the asylum’s first director, advocated such “Moral Medicine,” healing through social interaction, comfort, and outdoor excursions.1 The calm loveliness of the Blue Ridge Mountains was certainly an ideal setting to test his theories.

A drawing of Western State Hospital, 1838.2

This utopian model, this haven for the mentally ill, quickly fell by the wayside. In 1905, Dr. Joseph DeJarnette took the reins at Western State, imposing a 38-year rule of eugenic experimentation and discrimination. He required countless patients to participate in involuntary sterilization in hopes of improving American society. He famously composed the verse: “Defectives will breed defectives, / and the insane breed insane.”3

Dr. Joseph DeJarnette’s research fostered inhumane treatment in Nazi Germany.6

 It may be difficult to visualize the innocuous building’s sinister past, so silent it now stands. However, a deeper reading into Western State’s walls reveals a dark saga in American medical practice. Learning about this and other historical asylums reminds us of how we have yet to grow in regards to fair treatment for our handicapped peers.

Sources

  1. http://www.wsh.dbhds.virginia.gov/history.htm
  2. http://opacity.us/site162_western_state_hospital_virginia.htm#historic|staunton_asylum_1838_drawing
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_DeJarnette
  4. http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Cities/Staunton/132-0009_WesternStateHospitalPhoto.htm
  5. https://www.pinterest.com/rukawada/gone-but-not-forgotten/
  6. http://www.virginiamemory.com/blogs/out_of_the_box/2012/09/19/two-faces-the-personal-files-of-dr-joseph-s-dejarnette/
  7. http://matthewwarner.com/former-insane-asylums-in-staunton-virginia/
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_State_Hospital_(Virginia)

Swannanoa: A Secret Treasure

Hidden among undulating Appalachian peaks stands an intricate marble mansion named Swannanoa. A wooded drive away off of I-64 exit 99, it remains open to the public only on select weekends. Trespassing notices do little to deter curious passersby in their hunt to witness the opulent palace.

Time has not diminished Swannanoa’s imposing profile.1

Richmond socialite and railroad magnate James H. Dooley spared no expense in Swannanoa’s early 20th century construction, ensuring perfection by employing over 300 artisans over the course of eight years. Dooley’s grand architectural plan incorporated the most lavish fixtures of 1912: stained-glass centerpieces, European gardens, delicate towers, and gold-inlaid plumbing systems, not to mention, a façade made entirely of Georgian marble.

The house boasts an impressive fireplace of various exotic marbles.1

Although Dooley had commissioned the building of magnificent mansions before (Maymont in Richmond quickly comes to mind), Swannanoa served an entirely different purpose. A mountain retreat for himself and his wife Sarah “Sallie” O. May, Swannanoa became symbolic of Dooley’s love for his partner. He immortalized his devotion to her in a Tiffany stained-glass portrait that floated above the ostentatious reception hall.

Mrs. Dooley’s likeness peers down at visitors to the palace.1

Ultimately, Dooley died in 1924, bequeathing full ownership of his romantic summer escape to his wife. After her death two years later, the estate passed first to Dooley’s two sisters, then quickly to the Valley Corporation of Richmond in 1926. For a brief period, the Valley Corporation transformed Swannanoa into a prosperous country club, its breathtaking natural views and extravagant quarters attracting illustrious visitors like Calvin Coolidge.

Swannanoa’s intricacy extends even to its gold-embellished entranceway.1

For many years afterwards, the Italian Renaissance Revival villa lay unoccupied atop its mountain perch, all through the turbulent years following the Roaring Twenties. In 1949, Walter Russell snatched up the wilting palace for use as his University of Science and Philosophy. Here, Russell taught and published works promoting the “Russell Cosmogony,” his take on human consciousness.

The University of Science and Philosophy departed Swannanoa in 1998.1

Today, this hidden gem of Augusta County astounds guests much as it did at its inception in 1912. For more information or to schedule a tour, visit https://www.virginia.org/listings/Events/SwannanoaPalaceOpenHouse/.

Sources

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swannanoa_(mansion)
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Russell#University_of_Science_and_Philosophy
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_H._Dooley

Yet Another Virginian President

Woodrow Wilson: 28th President of the United States and one of Staunton’s claims to fame. His presidential library and museum sits proudly, conspicuously, on N Coalter Street, not far from the bustling foot traffic of downtown.

The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum remains one of Staunton’s main attractions.1

Known nationally for his progressive policies during the war-torn world of the early 20th century, Wilson’s lasting legacy includes the establishment of the Federal Reserve, the implementation of the Selective Service Act, the passage of the 19th Amendment, and the U.S.’s appearance in the international conflict that was WWI.

Wilson and his supporters smile triumphantly at the end of WWI.2

While Wilson’s controversial political career is widely documented, fewer people recognize his longstanding connections to the place of his birth. On December 28, 1856 in the early hours of the morning, the cries of newborn Thomas Woodrow Wilson pierced the still night air of Staunton’s Presbyterian manse.

The Greek Revival manse served as the home of several pastors, including Reverend Joseph Ruggles Wilson, Woodrow Wilson’s father.3

Although Staunton often touts itself as the birthplace of President Wilson, implying perhaps that he lived here for at least most of his childhood, this was simply not the case. Shortly after infant Wilson’s first birthday, his father whisked him and his siblings to a new Augusta, Augusta, Georgia.

Baby Wilson had hardly seen Virginia before his father accepted a job hundreds of miles away.4

However, as he grew older, returning trips to his hometown and his mother’s family residing within it grew more frequent. He spent the summers of his youth romping with cousins along the streets of the Gospel Hill historic district in Staunton. Later on, having collected an undergraduate degree from Princeton in 1879, Wilson established himself in Virginia on a more enduring basis. He enrolled as a law student at the University of Virginia in nearby Charlottesville.

Wilson stands with fellow members of the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society of UVA, a prestigious law club.5

It was at UVA that Wilson engaged in a brief romantic tryst with his cousin Hattie Woodrow, a convenient train ride away at the Augusta Female Seminary in Staunton (today better known as Mary Baldwin College.) He cut classes to visit her so habitually that he incurred a disapproving formal citation from UVA itself.

The girls of the Augusta Female Seminary were no strangers to young Wilson in the later years of the 19th century.6

Time and vocational pursuits eventually lured Wilson away from his birthplace, but not permanently. He could not shake the fetters of affection that tugged him back to Virginia again and again in his formative years. After his election as President in 1913, won in part with the support of Virginian voters, Staunton embraced their hometown hero with open arms.

Wilson celebrated his 56th birthday surrounded with Stauntonian friends and family, sleeping that night in the very building that he was born, the manse on N Coalter Street.

Whatever his reputation, Wilson made a lasting impression on Virginia.7

For more information on Woodrow Wilson or to visit his presidential library and museum, check out http://www.woodrowwilson.org.

Sources

Equality at Last

Every morning, school children across the country rise, right hands pressed against hearts, to pledge homage to “one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Whether in dingy classrooms filled with creaking desks or in newly remodeled, state-of-the-art school facilities, kids have been inculcated with the same message since 1892. Theirs is an integrated, cohesive country, one that lavishes freedoms equally on all of its members. However, this version of history immortalized in our Pledge of Allegiance flounders for a solid basis in reality.

Children recite the Pledge of Allegiance, 1957.8

America’s enduring struggle to truly attain “liberty and justice for all” extends across nearly its entire saga, from the initial intrusion of European settlers to today’s hard-fought redefinition of accepted gender and sexuality. Although this historical tapestry is woven with pronounced social victories—the abolition of slavery in 1865, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the legalization of gay marriage in 2015, to name a few—these triumphs are a mere thread compared to the vast blanket of American oppression.

In any case, such social progress is almost invariably the result of resilient protest, open dissension.

Our decade is no stranger to public demonstrations for social justice.1

In the 1950s and 60s in particular, the yearning for civil rights took center stage in the United States, for racism and racial segregation had wormed themselves into nearly every aspect of society. Jim Crowe laws touting “separate but equal” facilities based on gender and skin color provided an illusion of equality that masked vicious undercurrents of hate and discrimination. With this persecution came organized resistance.

Renowned leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and Andrew Goodman employed various means to enlighten the public of these bigotries, to demand fairness in society. Soon, the decade exploded into long-awaited peaceful protest and civil disobedience—sit-ins, marches, rallies, and boycotts.

Rosa Parks so firmly believed in her right to equality that she was willing to be arrested for it.9

Rosa Parks so firmly believed in her right to equality that she was willing to be arrested for it.9

No matter how reasonable the freedom-fighters’ dream of a color-inclusive America, no matter how strong their supporters, traditional government officials still heatedly debated enforcing laws that protected the well-being of minority groups.

Despite fear of backlash, protestors banded together to broadcast poignant statements about equality, as here, following Martin Luther King, Jr. during his march on Montgomery.2

In April of 1968, the government finally ratified the Fair Housing Act as an addition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Previously, those with darker skin tones, regardless of financial or veteran status, frequently faced vehement rejection when attempting to purchase property in historically white or wealthy neighborhoods.

With the robust backing of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Fair Housing Act began to gain traction in the Senate, which narrowly approved it and sent it for endorsement from the House. The deciding factor, however, was the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4th.

In the face of nationwide panic, anger, riots, and general violence in lieu of the Civil Rights Movement’s beloved spearhead, President Lyndon B. Johnson pressured the House to pass the legislation. They readily obliged.4

 From then until now, home sellers have been prohibited from victimizing on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, and familial status. The government’s new mission is “to eliminate housing discrimination, promote economic opportunity, and achieve diverse, inclusive communities by leading the nation in the enforcement, administration, development, and public understanding of federal fair housing policies and laws.”5

This logo has become the symbol of a major forward step towards achieving “liberty and justice for all.”6

 Today, we enjoy a degree of independence never before seen, but undeniably, discrimination and threats to equality still remain. “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. of his era, “but the appalling silence of the good people.”3

Luckily, enough good people of the 1960s raised their voices in support of racial equality to enact lasting change.

In the present day, we must continue to uphold the Civil Rights Movement’s model of action rather than inaction, outspokenness rather than timidity, upstanding rather than by-standing.

We must unify to ensure the continuing fight for genuine liberty is not marred by regressive demonstrations like those occurring in Charlottesville on July 8th, when Loyal White Knights of the KKK intend to rally in front of the Charlottesville Circuit Court against the city’s removal of its Robert E. Lee statue.7

KKK members wish to spread a message of white supremacy later this month.7

In Charlottesville, we very well may hear the “strident clamor of the bad people,” but it is up to us to guarantee that no one hears “the appalling silence of the good people.”

In 2012, members of the Charlottesville community—from all walks of life—gathered in Charlottesville to depict their understanding of the First Amendment.10

Sources

  1. http://www.theblaze.com/news/2013/03/26/gay-marriage-to-be-taken-up-by-the-supreme-court-today-and-heres-everything-you-need-to-know/
  2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/12/civil-rights-art_n_4769268.html
  3. http://www.businessinsider.com/inspiring-martin-luther-king-jr-quotes-2017-1/#-2
  4. http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/fair-housing-act
  5. https://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp
  6. https://wzplegal.com/practice-areas/fair-housing/
  7. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/jun/10/klan-rally-scheduled-charlottesville-next-month-sp/
  8. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/17/books/review/Gage-t.html
  9. http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/rosa-parks/videos/rosa-parks-and-the-montgomery-bus-boycott
  10. http://www.play-scapes.com/tag/things-i-wish-i-saw-on-the-playground/

An Architect’s Paradise

Warm summer weather draws with it dozens of visitors to Staunton’s bustling heart, its downtown. From locally-brewed coffee to cuisine for any appetite, wine-tasting to antique-hunting, downtown hums with vivacity. Perhaps the only thing that lures pedestrians’ eyes away from the buffet of storefronts is the architecture that surrounds them. Virginia Living magazine enthuses, “The city’s greatest spectacle is the cityscape itself, a magnetic panorama of period architecture that draws the visitor in like a painting by Norman Rockwell.”1 Gothic, Victorian, Romanesque, and downright striking, Staunton’s eclectic architecture enjoys far-reaching acclaim, not to mention, an extensive history. From 1891 to 1911, this picturesque mountain town had been the drawing-board for the architectural mind of T.J. Collins.

Staunton’s iconic Marquis Building is not only a lovely architectural marvel, but also served as the office of the man who transformed the look of the city forever.2

The agricultural and mineral boom in the Shenandoah Valley at the end of the 19th century enticed a sea of budding architects. Hearing the promise of wealthy patrons in need of commercial properties, the former Union solider and architecture prodigy T.J. Collins travelled from Washington, D.C. to enlist under the Staunton Development Company.3 Within two short decades, Collins and his two sons had fashioned an independent business based in the Marquis Building, a business that permanently embossed the entire city with the stamp of their legacy. Over 200 Staunton buildings bear Collins’ signature: the Augusta County Courthouse in downtown, the Arista Hoge House on Kalorama Street, and the still-functional Staunton train station, to name a few. Each structure stands proudly as a testament to the popular building fashions at the turn of the 19th century, and more importantly, to the ingenuity of an artist.

Collins’ first construction here, the Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, still towers over the Staunton skyline.5

According to Bill Frazier of Frazier Associates, “It was in this dynamic age of high Victorian eclecticism, Richardsonian Romanesque, Beaux Arts revivalism and emerging ‘modern’ architecture that Collins practiced an eclectic approach with a continuing preference for Romanesque forms.”3 In fact, this influx of differing artistic influences on the American architect was precisely the energy that Collins craved, inspiring him to undertake his first project, the Saint Francis of Assis Catholic Church. In 1895, he designed this English Gothic cathedral for the numerous Irish immigrants who had taken root in Staunton.6 Reminiscent of churches in the Irish homeland with its skyward towers and greenstone bricks, the cathedral appeared as if it had been physically transplanted from overseas. However, its style did not carry on into his later works. After all, as Frazier emphasizes, the period in which Collin lived was “one of the most creative, complicated, and controversial periods of American architectural history.”3

Collins’ drawing for the C&O Station, now home to the Depot Grille as well as a functional Amtrak station, reveals how little its design has changed over the years.4

Collins’ English Gothic cathedral gave way to a preference for a Richardson Romanesque flare in his design for the Arista Hoge House in 1891, followed by a Beaux Arts inspired Augusta Country Courthouse in 1901, and capped with the Italian Renaissance Revival blueprint for the Dixie Theater in 1912.6 Clearly, Collins did not linger over any single architectural mold for long. The result is a Staunton brimming with heterogeneity, each building its own microcosm of interesting stylistic detail. Without a doubt, he infused Staunton with a distinctive character that lasts to this day, and a stroll through its streets showcases a number of his designs. While the town may not be named after him, T.J. Collins created his own city in the foothills of the Shenandoah Valley.

Thanks to Collins, Staunton has become one of the most beloved small towns in America.1

Sources

  1. http://www.visitstaunton.com/feature/downtown-architecture/
  2. https://www.pinterest.com/natannwhite/staunton-va/
  3. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/05/24/tj-collins-touch-transformed-staunton/102099724/
  4. http://historicstaunton.org/preservation-in-staunton/collins-architectural-drawing-archive/
  5. http://www.onlyinyourstate.com/virginia/14-churches-in-va/
  6. http://porterbriggs.com/t-j-collins-architect/

Today, A True Community Pool

The patter of wet feet striking damp pavement and the singing of splashing water will soon greet the ears of many a Gypsy Hill Park visitor this season. On May 27th, the popular hangout, cool-off, workout, and all-around recreation spot—Gypsy Hill Park Pool—will reopen its gates. A welcome reprieve from the soaring summer temperatures, Gypsy Hill Park’s Olympic-sized pool boasts locker rooms, a double-slide, and a children’s pool with invigorating water features. This destination attracts numerous visitors from Staunton’s vibrant population, running the gamut from teenagers enjoying an afternoon swim with friends, to parents soaking up some rays while their little ones frolic under their watchful eyes. Gypsy Hill Park Pool, centrally located and brimming with activities, is unsurprisingly a must for any Staunton summer.

Even in photos it looks refreshing.1

However, Staunton’s favorite pool was not always so welcoming. Eager to earn additional money during the trying times of the Great Depression, workers began construction on Gypsy Hill Park Pool in June of 1932 and completed their project by July of that same year. “Marked by the blare of bugles, short talks by four speakers, and appropriate swimming and diving exercises,” reads the Staunton New Leader from July 22nd, 1932, “the swimming pool in Gypsy Hill Park, named Gypsy Hill Pool, was formally opened yesterday afternoon at three o’clock with a crowd of more than 300 persons present.”2 People of Staunton enthusiastically thronged the place that was to become a jewel in their esteemed Victorian park grounds. A new social hub had been born, but unfortunately, one not one shared by all.

Something seems to be missing in this Staunton postcard from 1930-1945…3

Like many other public spaces in Staunton and Augusta County, Gypsy Hill Park—and everything within it—restricted access to African Americans, a product of Jim Crow laws and a murky history of racial discrimination. “For Colored” signs dotted Staunton, designating the supposedly “separate but equal” schools, restrooms, water fountains, seating areas, and parks accessible to those who happened to bear darker skin.4 Instead of relishing in the grand opening of Gypsy Hill Park Pool, African Americans were limited to Montgomery Hall Pool, a place that could be fairly judged as “separate and lesser” in comparison. For much of 20th century American history, in fact, pools across the country were the breeding grounds of racial tension, segregation, and oppression. According to Staunton councilman Ophie Kier, “Once a year, on Labor Day, blacks were allowed to swim at Gypsy Hill. The next day, the pool was drained so whites wouldn’t swim in the same water.”5

Signs similar to this were once seen in Staunton.6
Montgomery Hall Pool remained a common haunt for Staunton’s African American residents for many years.7

In recent years, Staunton has worked diligently to diminish the impact of this discriminatory past on the modern era. Not only do Staunton citizens embrace minority groups with annual events such as the African American Heritage Festival, but they also have increasingly acknowledged the bleak realities of Staunton’s Jim Crow period. With the earnest backing of Kier, Montgomery Hall Pool (which had fallen into disrepair and disuse with time) has been resurrected as a functional monument to African Americans in Augusta County. “The black community of Staunton helped change Staunton to what it is today, so we need to be respectful of that history,” says councilwoman Andrea Oakes. “Opening [Montgomery Hall Pool] to me is the first step.”5

Today, people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, and ethnicities freely enjoy both Gypsy Hill Park Pool and Montgomery Hall Pool—after an entrance fee, of course. Regardless of skin color, Staunton residents now intermingle as equals, a testament to the resiliency of the black community and their hard-fought social victories. Gypsy Hill Park, once the privileged playground of the elite, currently represents inclusiveness, a restful spot loved by all within a city that feels the same love for its inhabitants. Thanks to brilliant local activists like Rita Wilson and Ophie Kier, the laughter of both black and white children bubbles from beneath the sprinklers of Gypsy Hill Park Pool.

Now, a true community hub at Gypsy Hill Park.8

 If you would like more information about hours of operation or other beautiful Staunton attractions, visit https://www.ci.staunton.va.us/departments/parks-recreation.

Sources

  1. https://www.ci.staunton.va.us/departments/parks-recreation/community-pools
  2. https://www.ci.staunton.va.us/home/showdocument?id=344
  3. https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:pk02cf185
  4. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/local/history/2017/01/24/remembering-segregation-staunton-and-augusta-county-historical-society-bechtel-jim-crow-era-black-history/96987148/
  5. http://www.newsleader.com/story/news/local/2015/07/02/fate-of-montgomery-hall-swimming-pool-debated/29430773/
  6. https://sunnynash.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/rosa-parks-montgomery-bus-boycott-jim-crow/
  7. http://www.newsleader.com/story/news/local/2016/07/17/new-pool-montgomery-hall-draws-swimmers/87220848/
  8. https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=images&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwjzms-Yo4TUAhXDuBQKHUtVDKQQjRwIBw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fstauntonparksrec.wix.com%2Fstaunton%23!__pools%2Fghpp&psig=AFQjCNG7XBLMbuw3AUt7EnOrnChILE4lng&ust=1495569073648629

United We Stand

Diversity, Inclusion, and Queen City Concepts 

In the wake of current events, we all have the opportunity to state our thoughts and feelings about this beautiful country of ours. This melting pot. This lovely and large piece of land that we all share as Americans – which we share with each other and the world.

I will keep this brief, but let me say that there is no way that we could do the projects that we do if we allowed ourselves to be ruled by fear. We are able to tackle what we do because we deliberately break the system apart, and hold each aspect in our hands. We unravel the steps. We do inventory.

Despite the fact that many people would be afraid of what we do, and further try to discourage us because of their own personal fear, we examine the reality – we take all of the pieces and we analyze them. It’s like counting the cans of soup on the wall.

We at Queen City Concepts actively reject baseless fear and propaganda. We understand that our role as Americans in the International community is to be a stabilizing force, and a leader in the world community, just like we strive to be that in the world that we occupy. For our workers, for our buyers and sellers, for our neighbors, for our friends, and for our fellow business owners in this beautiful Valley.

We believe in courage and abundance. We believe that there is enough for all. We believe that it’s always the right time to make a humanitarian choice, and we take pride in this as being a way of life. It is our company culture. It is the way we are.

We embrace diversity, and we will continue as a company, and as individuals, to reject fear based doctrines and any policies – internal, local, national, or international – which would limit the level of love that we can express for our neighbors. No matter what they look like, what language they speak, and where they come from.

We firmly believe that this is the land of opportunity, and that the propaganda that is being delivered to make us afraid is incorrect factually, and detrimental to the health of our communities, both local and larger.

We will continue to speak out and resist racist policies, and will never discriminate based on race, sex, religion, disability, or sexual orientation.

We feel that all businesses should take the time in this current climate to speak out in support of inclusion and appreciation for this amazing country, and what she stands for.

We appreciate all the brave women and men who have served to defend our freedoms of expression and opportunity, and believe that the best way to pay homage is to speak in solidarity with our sisters and brothers struggling to keep the fear mongering out of our everyday lives, and to love all of our neighbors. All of our neighbors.

We are kind. We are courageous. We are informed. We are intelligent. We are proud Americans, and we are not afraid.

Thanks for reading.

United we stand.

Shannon

LOCAL PROFILE: The Incredible Susan Weeks

Owner: The Bard’s Nest

Proprietor: Bonfire Begonia Jewelry

Front of the House: The Shack

Formerly of Pretty Pretty and Rock, Paper, Scissors

Susan Weeks has been a steady fixture on the downtown Staunton business scene for the past 20 years. A talented artist, Susan creates captivating one-of-a-kind jewelry pieces that can be found locally at Made, and in several neighboring cities.

In addition to being a working artist, Susan currently owns and operates The Bard’s Nest, a boutique apartment on E. Beverley Street in Downtown, and can be found on weekends working front of the house at The Shack.

We met with Susan at The Bard’s Nest, and had the opportunity to check the space out. It’s beautiful!

In business for the past 5 years, The Bard’s Nest renovation was a labor of love and one for which Susan is very proud.

Susan purchased the properties at 106,108,110 W. Beverley Street 20 years ago, they have housed several of her businesses such as Rock, Paper, Scissors, Pretty Pretty, and is currently home to Fluffy Fannies, which recently reloacted to Downtown Staunton from Fishersville.

Susan is an original staff member at Staunton’s infamous The Shack and works the front of the house Wednesdays through Saturdays. Susan enjoys the opportunity to multi task and says her job there is “super pleasurable…there are no shortcuts taken, there is an execution of each element of the dish…people are excited to be there.” Susan said the best thing about being at The Shack is that she, “feels good about the food, it is astoundingly delicious.”

(photo from The Shack’s website, credit Sara Peters)

As an artist, her true passion, Susan creates one of a kind jewelry pieces. From found vintage jewelry that she deconstructs, to random beads found in her journeys, Susan finds special combinations that are designed for creative impact and appeal.

Susan began making jewelry in 1989 while living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and says it is a driving force for her. Inspired by her time in New Mexico, Susan is also inspired by her creative friends and says she has developed her own style over time.

She is visually influenced by color, antique photo-books and vintage textiles. Often Susan will just spread out her beads and findings until the pieces find each other or the colors pop out at her. Susan likes to name her pieces as they often evoke words and language for her.

Susan enjoys coloring, as well. She finds it relaxing, and it is part of her morning routine. She says that she highly recommends having some coloring time with coffee to get the day started in a creative way. We think Susan certainly has some creativity flowing!

Look for her jewelry in Staunton at Made By the People, For the People.

A LOOK BACK! 619 W Frederick St in Historic Newtown, Staunton

According to Staunton’s Newtown – Portrait of a Historic District, by Dr. Katharine Brown, 619 W Frederick Street was constructed between 1877 and 1884. Dr. Brown describes this property as follows: “This is a 2 story, 2 bay frame house with Italianate details. Details include a simple bracketed cornice, sawn millwork on the porch, two over two double hung wood sash windows, and lap siding.”

Queen City Concepts acquired 619 W Frederick Street in late 2013, and took about a year and a half from start to finish. Having been vacant for a decade or more, and missing a rear wall on a crumbling addition, we had our work cut out for us! This overhaul was exacerbated by several factors, but the biggest one was the lack of access to the site.

619 is located on an elevated area in the Newtown section of Staunton’s downtown, with a substantial retaining wall and handrail between the street and the sidewalk. Because of this, access to and from the property was a huge issue.

While the home was already gutted of its plaster, all of the exterior walls contained stacks of bricks within the old framing, known as nogging, from top to bottom – an old method of insulating offering an R factor of about .1. (Yes, that is point-one. BRRR!)

Nogging also adds a massive amount of weight to the structure, which is no longer necessary (or beneficial) in this day and age.

This nogging needed to be removed in order to properly re-frame, install brand new electrical, and insulate to modern standards.

That was a lot of brick to dispose of! And the access made that quite challenging.

Also, because of the elevated sidewalk, much of the large material had to be boomed in, up and over the rail. Sheetrock, especially, and there was a lot of that! This was a huge task which required restricting access on this narrow one-way street more than once.

Keeping the job site clean and clear was also quite a feat, as a dumpster was not feasible with this site’s specs. Lots of person-labor was expended at 619, and we appreciate every single individual connected with this. No small thing!

Completely updated to modern standards, we installed totally updated electrical from scratch, all new plumbing, all new HVAC including a new gas-line from the street. We used a high efficiency gas furnace, and a dual zone heat pump system, allowing the buyers maximum control for energy efficiency. We also utilized spray-foam insulation in the walls, increasing the strength of the structure as well as promising the most reasonable energy bills possible.

All of the original windows were salvaged and re-built, making them not only Historically correct but functional. Heart pine floors were maintained throughout the downstairs, but needed replacement upstairs as the flooring had been ripped out and replaced with plywood under carpet during the many years and incarnations.

We opted for a lovely light maple colored flooring throughout the upstairs, and it came out beautifully.

The overall original floor plan was maintained here, for the most part, despite the fact that the home had most recently been used as a duplex. The upstairs master received an additional seating area, additional closet space, and a luxury bath where the previous 2nd apartment kitchen and pantry were.

We were thrilled to work on, and complete, this extremely challenging project in 2015, and we feel that this made a massive contribution to the neighborhood, not only architecturally, but by bringing a wonderful new couple to the block!

And for full disclosure, this matters extra to me because 619 W Frederick is located practically in my back yard.

Queen City Concepts is ecstatic about all aspects of this one, and just wanted to share.

** And huge and hearty thanks to Frank Strassler and his team at at the Historic Staunton Foundation for always being so responsive and helpful with our research! It takes a village, and here in beautiful Staunton, Virginia we have a very wonderful village, indeed!

LOCAL STAUNTON SPOTLIGHT, featuring Pennywhistle Provisions

LOCAL PROFILE: Katie McCaskey

Owner: Pennywhistle Provisions and George Bowers Grocery

Founder: Lush Farms

Katie is one of my favorite Staunton people and I always look forward to our conversations when I stop in Pennywhistle for a bite.

I have been painting the interior of a Queen City Concepts Restoration at 31 S. Coalter for the past 3 months, and Pennywhistle has been my go-to lunch spot several times a week.

Located at 10 S. New St in the heart of Downtown Staunton, Pennywhistle provides quality, pre-made sandwiches and salads from George Bowers Grocery, as well as snacks, sweets and a large selection of wine and beer.

The concept of George Bowers (to go) came to Katie as she saw more people moving into Downtown, and a need for convenient, quality, premade foods. Quick eats!

Pennywhistle uses Boar’s Head meats, local seasonal produce and bread from Newtown Baking, another local favorite.

Katie and her husband Brian moved to Staunton in 2008 from New York City. While Katie grew up in the area and wanted to be closer to family, she also saw tremendous potential in the large inventory of reasonably priced homes within walking distance of the Downtown area.

Katie and Brian purchased a stone cottage built in the 1860’s on Green St in the West End of Staunton. Renovating the home has made them feel a part of it’s history, and they enjoy the diversity of their neighborhood and its easy access to downtown.

Katie’s love of her neighborhood inspired her to create Lush Farms – a community beautification project in an empty lot that has been used as a dump. Please check out her website for chronological updates on progress, but in the meantime…

Lush Farms is a permaculture project located at 329 Green St on the corner of Green and Stuart. Katie saw this lot and project a an opportunity to build community, clean up the neighborhood and create “beautiful ecosystem the whole neighborhood can enjoy.”

Here are a few questions asked Katie:

Me: What is your current favorite Downtown Staunton business?

Katie: Made for the People, By the People because they incorporate the community by selling their art – and that is important. (Visit the website for Made here. We love them, too!)

Me: What is the latest thing you made?

Katie: The EAT sign for Pennywhistle.

Me: Lunch or drinks with anyone, who would it be?

Katie: President Obama, to pick his brain.

Me: Your perfect day in Staunton?

Katie: Doing just about anything at Gypsy Hill Park.

Me: Any band you could see, past or present?

Katie: Johnny Cash in any of his eras. (Us too, Katie!)

Both of Katie and Brian’s businesses are located in beautiful Downtown Staunton, VA.

George Bowers is housed in the Historic Stonewall Jackson School House at 219 W. Beverley.

Pennywhistle is at 10 S New St., on the ground level of one of Staunton’s oldest Historic buildings.

Please visit their websites at Pennywhistle Provisions and George Bowers Grocery, and stop by and grab lunch or a snack!

You won’t be disappointed.

Guest spot by Morgan Claborn, Queen City Concepts local story contributor, and Buyer Specialist for Shannon Harrington‘s real estate team, serving the Valley, Charlottesville, and all of the beautiful rolling hills in between.