Bear's Den Rural Historic District

May 13, 2009

From the Winchester Star, Archive Edition: Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bear’s Den dwellings declared historic

By Laura Oleniacz, The Winchester Star

Bluemont — On a bluff of the Blue Ridge Mountains overlooking the Shenandoah Valley, Maral S. Kalbian found herself thinking about the past.

“People have obviously been enjoying this view. Whether it’s from Bear’s Den Rocks or the front porch of this house, they’ve been enjoying this for well over 100 years,” she said this week.

Kalbian, a Berryville-based architectural historian, was visiting a property on Raven Rocks Road, where a stone house called Joannasberg was built in 1897.

The house is one of a collection of late 19th and early 20th century dwellings in the newly created Bear’s Den Rural Historic District, an honorary historic district that encompasses 66 properties and about 1,855 acres along the spine of the mountains.

The Virginia State Review Board and the Virginia Board of Historic Resources of the Department of Historic Resources voted to create the district during a joint meeting Thursday, said Randy Jones, department spokesman.

The district will be listed in the Virginia Landmarks Register, he said. The register is a list of properties important to the state’s history.

The boards also recommended that the director of the Department of Historic Resources forward the nomination to the National Park Service — part of the federal Department of the Interior — for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, Jones said. The register is a nationwide listing of places worthy of preservation.

The creation of the district and its listing on the two registers are honorary, and do not place restrictions on property owners.

However, the owners can receive state and federal tax credits through historic rehabilitation projects, Jones said.

Kalbian said she drove into each driveway of the district as she researched the properties’ architecture and history.

She found Joannasberg and its 15 surviving buildings — which include a barn, library, pool, pump house, pool house ruins, and shed — architecturally intriguing.

“In that situation, you have so many of these buildings that still survive and are well taken care of, and I think that’s really remarkable,” she said.

The house was built in 1897 by Frank C. Carpenter, a noted author and world traveler, according to her nomination for the district.

Many of the properties were constructed as summer homes by wealthy Washingtonians, Kalbian wrote in her nomination. They were “attracted by the mountain’s cooler summer climate.”

One structure, Bishop’s Gate on Blue Ridge Mountain Road (Route 601), was built around 1900 and sold to Charles C. McCabe, a bishop in the Methodist Church who had served as a chaplain during the Civil War.

McCabe built a clapboard house on the property, which was renovated by Washington residents who had lived in the Georgetown section of the city.

The district also includes Hohenheim, at 18715 Blue Ridge Mountain Road, built for Charles G. Smith, a Washington merchant and New York native who lived in Georgetown, according to Kalbian’s nomination.

In her 1930s diary, visitor Laddie Fisher wrote that one of the “diplomatic visitors” to the home was Cardinal Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, who was vacationing nearby, according to Kalbian, citing Joseph M. Davitt’s book “Mountain Lore.”

Kalbian said she was struck by the architecture and the history of the district. “The architecture is just so unique from anything else that I’ve documented in the area. I’ve been doing this for 20 years”

Kenneth Lawson, a 14-year resident of The Poplars, constructed in the 1930s in Loudoun County off Mount Weather Road (Route 606), said the historic district gives the region dignity.

“It encourages people to pay attention to history,” he said.

Lawson, a founding member of the Blue Ridge Mountain Civic Association, said the property has many poplar trees, and that they block the view off the mountain.

“Which is fine with me, because I don’t like looking down into all that development,” he said. “We’re mainly here not for the history; we’re here for the privacy and the wildlife and the quiet.”

The Bear's Den, Bluemont

The Bears Den, Showing Shenandoah Valley, by Moonlight, Bluemont

Among the Rocks at Bears Den, Bluemont