Giant Bear of a Friend Flies Home

A Natural Curiosity: Norman Fine On Microwave Radar In WWII

A Natural Curiosity: Norman Fine On Microwave Radar In WWII By Stephen Willingham With 2019 marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day, it would seem that everything there was to know about WWII would be known by this time. However, the natural curiosity of Millwood resident Norman Fine has proven this to be a mistaken notion. As […]

Clarke County Historical Association Bids Farewell to Mary Morris

Longtime archivist retires after three decades

By Rebecca Maynard

Clarke County Historical Association (CCHA) archivist Mary Thomason Morris has retired after more than 30 years, but her infectious enthusiasm for preserving local history has not diminished. She has been with the organization since 1987, during which time she has seen incredible changes.

“One thing I love to focus on is how the dissemination of information has changed from 1987 to today,” she said. “When I look back, when I came on board, there was no computer and I was working on index cards. Everything had to be written out unless I typed it on the typewriter, and there was no way to get information out about what we had unless people came in.”

“Today, it’s all online and accessible through the Google index,” Morris said, noting that people as far away as Dublin, Ireland, have accessed the information she has archived.The CCHA archive, found at www.clarkehistory.org, contains church and burial records, historical photographs, newspaper files, maps, drawings, and other materials. A large portion of their archives is available to search online, and the search function is intended to be user-friendly even for those who are not computer literate.“K.I.S.S.,” Morris quipped when referring to the ease of the search function. “Keep it simple, stupid.”

In the late 1980s, Morris worked for the CCHA, Handley Library, and the Warren Heritage Society in Front Royal all at the same time before the CCHA became her sole employer in 1990.

“It was good that I was able to tap into all three of those county histories, because Warren and Clarke are the last two daughters of Frederick County,” she said, explaining that Clarke County was founded in 1836 and a number of planters from the Tidewater area sent their sons and enslaved people to the county.“

One of the first people I had contact me was a lady from Georgia who said she knew her great-grandfather was in Virginia during the Civil War,” Morris said. The man had deserted and was sent back to a different regiment, but after July 1864, the family never knew what became of him.

Morris wondered whether he had been killed in Berryville’s Battle of Cool Springs. She was able to verify her hunch thanks to a book with the list of names in the Confederate section in Mt. Hebron Cemetery in Winchester. “I was able to write these folks to tell them, after 130 some years, and they were able to put a marker on his gravesite beside his wife saying where he died and his death date, after generations of no one knowing,” she said.“

At that time, I was still working with pencil and paper,” she recalled. “To me, watching the progression from then to now is the biggest thing, to see things go from boxes on a shelf that maybe no one would look at for 50 years, and now they’re catalogued and indexed online.”

Local history doesn’t have to be grand or of great interest to those outside Clarke County for it to be important, Morris believes. “History can be people enduring their lives, for good or for bad,” she said. One of her goals in her 30 years with CCHA was to make sure that everyone in the county, regardless of circumstances or family history, was included.

“Mountain people, small farmers, people who came here after 1900, their history is as much Clarke as the Tidewater planters,” she explained.Morris also hopes that young people realize the importance of genealogy and local history and over the years enjoyed having fourth graders visit the CCHA office, where she would show them photographs on microfilm. On one occasion, she showed the children a photograph of a basketball player. “One little boy looked at me and said, ‘There’s my daddy!’ He figured out that his father and he were both history, and that people make history every day,” she said.

“Think of kids getting out of  high school today, how many wars they’ve been through,” Morris said. “They don’t think they make history, but they do. Children are like trees: They need roots before they can stretch to the sun, and having a sense of belonging to a place are the main roots for a child, knowing that they are part of the history of a place.”

“Mary is so dedicated,” said CCHA director Nathan Stalvey. “Every historical association needs someone like her, who loves what she does. She’s inspiring, but she’s humble.”

“As for proud moments, my highest is when I passed the miller’s class and became a legal, bona fide grinding miller for the Burwell-Morgan Mill,” Morris said. ”You wear many hats in a small organization, including sometimes potty cleaner!”

Morris received CCHA’s Professional Achievement Award in 2004, and was awarded the Heritage Hero Award by the Mosby Heritage Area Association in 2016. She also helped Clermont Farm in Berryville catalog its collection and created a database of more than 3,000 people associated with the property over the years.

“Mary has never, ever been about attention grabbing,” Stalvey said. “She genuinely just loves what she does and people see that. It reflects back and that’s why people love to listen to her stories.”

Morris is stepping down for health reasons, but has been involved in the interviewing and hiring of her replacement, whom she plans to help become acclimated to the position. She also hopes to remain involved with CCHA on a volunteer basis.

“It’s all going to depend on health, but over the years I’ve said there’s a plank in the office for them to carry me out, because I always figured I’d never leave,” she joked. “I’m keeping the plank around. I can’t give up the CCHA and I can’t give up learning. If I stop trying to help, I stop living.”

Clarke County Historical Association is hosting a retirement party for Mary Morris Sunday, July 21, at 2pm, at the CCHA headquarters at 32 E. Main Street, Berryville, VA 22611.

Oak Hart Farm Expands Produce and Pantry

Shawna Hartsook sums up the aim of her family farm in simple terms: “I want to keep people shopping in their community.” Oak Hart Farm, which expanded this year to offer a larger store with an expanded variety of goods from spices to grains, to coffee and kombucha, serves as a curator of local and regional produce and pantry items.

They also farm rows and rows of their own chemical-free vegetables, herbs, and flowers, an enviable sight alongside the gravel road leading to the store. Oak Hart sells fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs (chicken and duck), and dairy items from several local and regional farms – including sauerkraut and kombucha to appeal to the pucker-lovers.

And their “low waste” ethos permeates the store, where shoppers are encouraged to bring their own bottles, jars, and bags. Bulk items for sale include olive oil, vinegar, and a host of cleaning supplies. All products are carefully researched and vetted for sustainability, and Hartsook stands strong in her insistence on chemical free products across the board.
On a recent visit to the new store, I felt a nice, slow-down vibe hit me, as apparently did several customers who wandered in and out of the store and shared in conversation. It’s as if someone opened up her own well-kept pantry, with so much to please the senses, and said, “Come on in and stay a while.” You might find something tasty if you do.

Each week Oak Hart’s website posts available produce offerings from their market. This week you’ll find kale, chard, beets, potatoes, turnips, and lots more. Hours of operation and offerings can be found at https://oakhartfarm.com/market.

Oak Hart Farm is located at 822 Shepherd’s Mill Road, Berryville, VA 22611.

Hanging with the Presidents

If a visit to Mount Vernon is in your summer plans, be sure to take a close look at the pictures hanging in the full-scale restoration of the grand Front Parlor. Curators painstakingly recreated the room down to the smallest details. The gilded frames holding the Washington family portraits were handmade by Berryville’s own Peter Miller, a highly skilled carver, gilder, conservator, and restorer. He creates one-of-a-kind frames using the same traditional methods used by 12th and 13th century craftsmen.

Miller was contacted by a Mount Vernon curator to craft 13 historically accurate frames. These replicas were essential because some paintings are too valuable to be put on public display, some original frames did not survive, and some paintings are owned by others. After extensive research and trips to photograph and take exacting measurements, Miller and his apprentice and assistant Christian Ferrante produced the ornate hand-carved and gilded frames.

Miller has also crafted frames for pictures in the George W. Bush Presidential Library. They hang in a floor-to-ceiling recreated Oval Office, the only recreation of the Oval Office in the world.

Originally from Connecticut, Miller learned to work with wood as a child, serving as his father’s eyes and additional hands. His father was a wood shop teacher in the 1940s–50s as well as a hobbyist, but lost his sight when Miller was just a year old. “He continued to work in his home shop,” Miller recalled. “My first tasks were sanding for him and cleaning his brushes. Eventually, I learned to use a drill press.”

Miller didn’t do any woodworking in high school, and gave no thought to a career in the field. In fact, he had no idea what he wanted to do, so his guidance counselor advised him to go to a business college. “I got a bit of business, accounting, economics,” he said. “It wasn’t for me.”

He gave woodworking a second look and switched to another college, where he majored in teaching woodworking, in what was called industrial technology. However, he never did teach, deciding that, “I couldn’t teach in the public school system and build birdhouses for the rest of my life!”

After college, he went to work drafting and engineering for New England Log Homes, then for a millwork company doing cabinetmaking, drawing, engineering and estimating. However, it was a family business and he could advance no further with them. He started thinking of what he could do on his own, and framing was a viable option. A family member had a framing business and he went to work for them.

He started his own business in 1983 in a small frame shop that had been established a few years before. “All they had been doing was typical ‘walk into a frame shop and see the stuff you would order from distributors.’ Then one day a client asked, ‘Do you ever get or work with closed corner frames?’”

Miller explained that with ‘closed corner’ or ‘finished corner’ frames, all of the work—the joinery, carving, etc.—is done prior to any finishing, resulting in a frame that looks seamless. “That was the kickoff point for me,” he recalled.

He began seriously learning more about hand-made frames and became enthralled with gold leaf. “The community I got involved with, The International Society of Gilders, is primarily in the USA but with members around the world. These are the people who taught me to gild. I went in there as a newbie and took workshops and studied with some of the finest gilders in the United States for many years, and I still take classes.”

He added that most of the work he does is focused around frames, but he also does furniture. In addition, he does architectural gilding—he gilded the crosses at the Episcopal Church in Berryville.

Christian Ferrente, 22, was working on an ornate wall bracket that will be gilded. “I’ve been working here a little over a year. I’ve been doing woodworking since the summer after high school, taking whatever cool opportunity came my way, and I’ve been lucky enough to do some pretty awesome jobs. I did a little bit of gilding, but just very basic. I got referred to Peter. There are very few people around that know gilding like Peter does, so I’m here, learning.”

“Christian doesn’t boast,” added Miller, “but he has done timber framing at Mount Vernon, and a little over a year working at the National Gallery in the Conservation Department.”

Miller explained that they use very old traditional techniques. “One of the things I’m most passionate about with gilding and this entire art form is that virtually nothing has changed since the Renaissance.” He pulled out a translation of a book on techniques and materials written by an Italian craftsman in the 15th Century. “Our tools are the same, nothing has really changed, even the formulas and recipes.”

Miller offers occasional classes and workshops on frame-making and gilding.

P.H. Miller Studio is located at 1 East Main Street, Berryville. For information, visit www.phmillerstudio.com or call 540-955-3939.

Praising The House Centipede

by Doug Pifer

I was one of the boys in charge of stacking the books in the back closet of the school room on the last day of second grade. That’s when my first house centipede ran across the floor and under a bookcase. Girls shrieked. Boys whooped. Our teacher, a gray-haired lady wise to the ways of children, patiently explained this was a house centipede, and that it was completely harmless and simply disturbed because we invaded its secret hiding place.

Since that day I’ve been a house centipede fan. Its angled legs carry it gracefully across a wall or floor. The long legs move in waves like synchronized dancers. The creature is a wonder of engineering. The delicate antennae and the hindmost pair of legs of a house centipede are extremely long, so neither prey nor predator can be sure if the centipede is coming or going. Its movements are lightning fast and can change direction in a second.

The animal is tough and resilient, yet so delicate it’s almost impossible to catch one without breaking its legs and destroying it. Its love of darkness and its ghostly transparency add an air of mystery and fantasy. As a wordsmith, I appreciate the scientific name, Scutigera coleoptrata. A tongue-twister, the species name defies both autocorrect and spell check. It’s not coleoptera, the order of beetles, nor Cleopatra, queen of Egypt.Despite my fondness for this creature, I’ll admit there’s an undeniable creepy factor that freaks many people out. With 15 pairs of legs, accentuated by dark and light banding, a house centipede can be imposing.

I’ve heard brave people call it the scariest thing they ever saw. The biggest adult females are four and a half inches long, the legs contributing to almost half that length. Shy and retiring as it acts in the open, the creature is a voracious predator on small invertebrates such as crickets, spiders, and beetle larvae. After running its prey down, it gathers it up in the segmented tips of its legs. Then it injects venom into its prey with tweezer-like fangs to immobilize it. The fangs of a house centipede are too weak to penetrate human skin.

Having lived in a succession of old houses, my wife and I have always been at peace with house centipedes. If you have a house with a cellar or crawl space, you’re likely to harbor a few of these characters there. Their presence is not harmful to the house or your belongings. If you can seal all cracks in walls and floors between your damp cellar and the living area of your house, you’re less likely to encounter these leggy creatures.Centipede, meaning “hundred legs,” is a charming exaggeration.

A house centipede adult in perfect condition has only 30 legs. Immatures just hatched have four pairs and somewhat resemble crickets. As they grow, their leg pairs increase from 6 to 8 to 10, until they are adults. 

Conservation Groups Meet At Cool Spring

Nearly 30 area conservation groups and land trusts met June 20 at Shenandoah University’s Cool Spring Campus for a summit of the Blue Ridge Conservation Alliance. They gathered to explore more cooperation and collaboration to protect what is considered one of the most threatened mountain landscapes in the Eastern Seaboard, the Blue Ridge and surrounding area from Front Royal, Va., to the Potomac River in Harpers Ferry, W.Va. 

The Blue Ridge Conservation Alliance, or BRCA, is a network of partners working to protect the natural, scenic, and historic values of this landscape, and to conserve land, safeguard watersheds, and preserve the historic landscape along the Appalachian Trail corridor and the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. Its steering committee includes representatives from Appalachian Trail Conservancy, Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Land Trust of Virginia, Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy, Piedmont Environmental Council, Virginia Working Landscapes, and Berryville-based The Downstream Project.

Guest speakers at the event included Trail Conservancy (ATC) staff members working on two initiatives with direct impact in Clarke County. Dennis Shaffer, ATC’s director of landscape conservation, described how partnerships like BRCA are collaborating along the trail’s 2,180-mile corridor to conserve land and become more connected with the towns within the trail’s view-shed — Berryville, for example, is a recognized Appalachian Trail Town. Anne Baker, ATC landscape partnership manager, invited local groups to tap into Wild East, a promotional campaign that highlights the role of the Appalachian Trail as a vital natural corridor for wildlife, plants, and quality of life for people. 

Dan Holmes, policy director for Piedmont Environmental Council, gave a presentation on utility-scale solar energy farms cropping up in the Shenandoah Valley. He urged partners to work with local planning agencies to develop ordinances that protect agricultural lands and scenic values while enabling expansion of solar energy. Learn more about BRCA at BlueRidgeConservation.org

Working Toward A Green & Prosperous Future For The Shenandoah

What comes to mind when you think about what makes the Shenandoah watershed so special? What images do you conjure when you imagine the river? That’s what dozens of people gathered to discuss at three meetings and three public forums this spring. Hosted by Shenandoah Riverkeeper Mark Frondorf and the Potomac Riverkeeper Network, the Green and Prosperous Shenandoah meetings took place in some of the places that are icons of the Valley: Front Royal, Harrisonburg, and Woodstock. The idea is to find common ground on a vision for potential futures for the river and its watershed. 

The Shenandoah couples with the long spine of the Blue Ridge Mountains to form the defining landscape feature over its length — each fork is about 100 miles long, and the main stem, which forms in Front Royal, is about 55 miles in length. It’s a popular recreation river that is often plagued by water quality issues like high fecal coliform counts. Over the last 15 years, the river has seen occasional fish kills, along with seasonal algae blooms that occur each summer.

It’s also the drinking water supply for Berryville and Charles Town, W.Va., and several other communities upstream. It passes through agricultural counties, industrial zones, many small towns, shopping centers, and huge shipping and warehouse facilities. Runoff and pollution from each of these sectors plays a role adding pollution loads to the river. Residential growth also is putting a strain on the Shenandoah’s ecology.

Stormwater runoff from towns and developments, and from the highways that serve them, is a major 
contributing factor.

Arriving at a shared idea for the future may have been the easy part. Not surprisingly, many people identified some cornerstones in their vision for the Shenandoah: a thriving farm economy and working landscapes, continued and expanded access recreation on the river, vibrant communities where people cherish their connections with the river, and a Shenandoah River that is much cleaner than it is today. The big questions folks grappled with centered around the steps, or milestones, that would bring about that future.

Participants included farmers, business owners, outfitters, conservation organizations, county and regional planners, and people who live along or just plain love the Shenandoah. They bandied around ideas that, if adopted or strengthened, would help restore the river and retain the rural character of the region.

Now volunteers are taking the feedback from all of the meetings to compile their ideas into that roadmap. “Potomac Riverkeeper Network is honored to host these sessions,” said Mark Frondorf, the Shenandoah Riverkeeper. “Ultimately creating a roadmap to a Green and Prosperous Future for the Shenandoah watershed will take many people from many backgrounds and interests.”

Frondorf says the volunteer team will work through the summer and unveil the roadmap in the fall.