This is the second of three articles on the Rappahannock houses that will be open for the 56th Annual Dried Flower Sale and House Tour Oct. 20-21. Tickets for all three houses, including tea from 2 to 5 at Middleton Inn, are $30 and available at Trinity’s parish hall on Gay Street in Washington and at each of the houses. Admission to a single house or to the tea is $10.
On the third weekend in October, picked long ago to be the perfect weekend for bright sunshine, dazzling leaves, crisp air, ripe apples and spectacular views, the women of Trinity Episcopal church present three houses for touring, providing knowledgeable comments to visitors on their history, significance, style and furnishings. Unique dried flower arrangements, made of all natural materials – planted, raised and dried by many Rappahannockers – are sold at the Parish Hall on Gay Street. A cowboy lunch is available on Saturday, across the street from the Parish Hall. All the proceeds go to charities, local, national and international, as they have for 56 years, from fire departments and rescue squads, to schools in Haiti and central America.
This year’s houses span three centuries and highlight much of our history. The second oldest is Caledonia, celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, an event that will also be celebrated later in the month by the Rappahannock Historical Society at their annual meeting on Oct. 27.
Two miles of dry stone walls encircle the 135 acres that is Caledonia Farm. On these Dearing Road acres, cattle graze, fish ponds and wildlife areas are specially protected, and the views in every direction are unique and breathtaking. At the center of it all is a perfect fieldstone home, constructed in 1812, for Capt. John Dearing, a Revolutionary War veteran. The 200 years since then, however, have seen many changes.
William Pullen bought the house in 1963, saving it from ruin. The house had been derelict for 15 years; the renters moved out in 1947, calling it “unlivable.” He salvaged all he could – the woodwork, paneled windows, six operating fireplaces and ceiling beams – replaced the gathering room floor with an even older one from a house in Georgetown, moved and set tons of rock for new walkways, and designed a stone portico that connects the house with the summer kitchen. A dining room and kitchen were added to the main floor in 1965.
Then, international broadcaster Phil Irwin saw the restoration on a house tour in 1965 and bought it two years later. Since retiring in 1985, Irwin has hosted guests at the area’s second oldest traditional bed and breakfast, Caledonia Farm 1812.
Visitors now enter through the dining room, which is furnished with Ethan Allan reproductions, and portraits of George Washington and Robert E. Lee. A spinning wheel, dry sink and open hutch provide storage as well as eye appeal. Irwin’s collection of pewter – steins, large pitchers, chargers, candlesticks and other serving pieces – decorate the long dining table. Crystal and pewter beer steins from his time with the Armed Forces Network in Germany sit atop the windows. The trim here is painted Raleigh Tavern Beige, an authentic Williamsburg paint color.
The original part of the house consists of the gathering room, two upstairs bedrooms, a sewing room turned into a bathroom and the winter kitchen below. In the gathering room, with the trim painted Apothecary Shop Blue, upholstered sofas and chairs provide comfortable spots to view the original fireplace, leather covered coffee and side tables, and a copy of Rembrandt Peale’s portrait of Thomas Jefferson. Civil War mementos found on the site – a .57 caliber bullet and a 12-pound shot – attest to the home’s continuous history. The two bedrooms upstairs, with the original floors, doors and trim, are furnished with pine chests, colorful quilts, wardrobes and prints suitable to the early 1800s. Two period dresses, trimmed with lace, decorate the wardrobe in the larger bedroom.
The winter kitchen boasts a large fireplace, its original burnt out lintel replaced by two large fieldstones. Here the eclectic furnishings, inherited from family, give the room a comfortable feeling. Over the fireplace hangs an original Revolutionary War Pennsylvania Valley rifle, originally a flintlock. It was given to the house by a member of the Dearing family, in thanks for saving it from dereliction.
The summer kitchen and house servants’ quarters is a separate stone dependency, built in 1807. Irwin has turned it into a honeymoon suite. The fireplace cooking tools were fashioned by Nol Putnam, of Rappahannock County, to 1812 specifications. More antiques, such as an old flax spinning wheel, and reproductions by Sperryville’s Tom von Fange, make the place a perfect romantic hideaway, enhanced by a wood fire in the winter, but air conditioned in summer.
Irwin granted the first open space easement in Rappahannock County. He founded the Rappahannock League for Environmental Protection, co-founded the Piedmont Environmental Council and has been active in environmental affairs since 1970. Caledonia stands as only one of the projects for which he is known, but is certainly the oldest, and perhaps, the most personal of the many treasures he has helped preserve in Rappahannock.