If you go
What: Trinity Episcopal Church’s 55th annual Dried Flower Sale and House Tour
When: Oct. 15-16
Where: Three homes are on the tour (11 to 5 Saturday, 1 to 5 Sunday), with tea served at the Middleton Inn, Main Street in Washington.
Tickets: $30 (includes tea), available at Trinity Parish Hall, Gay Street, Washington. Individual houses can be visited for $10. Call Helen Williams at 540-937-4279 for more information.
By Helen Williams
Special to the Rappahannock News
The Inn at Mount Vernon Farm is the third house on Trinity Church’s 55th annual Dried Flower Sale and House Tour – and, though a recently opened B&B, is the oldest house on this year’s tour.
Cliff Miller IV, the youngest in the long line of Millers, has been the driving force behind the recent changes, and is shepherding the development of the bed and breakfast, which sits amid the rolling pastures Mount Vernon Farm, the family operation principally run by his father.
The original house was built in 1827, the very picture of an early 19th-century Rappahannock farmhouse. Like Rose Hill, another of this year’s house tour sites, the home was built from brick fired on the property and with wood cut and milled on site. And what a site – 550 acres overlooking the Thornton River and the mountains!
As built, it had a basement and two floors, with the main floor being two rooms separated by a center hall and staircase. A major addition came in 1883. But changes and improvements over the years since have not changed the timeless look of the home as it sits above the barns on the Miller property in Sperryville. For 184 years, it has been home to the Millers.
“Poplar John” Miller (born 1802) built the original home. His grandfather Heinrich Muller had emigrated to Germantown, Pa., from Germany in 1750, and eventually made his way down to Madison County, Va. John Byron Miller, the fifth son of “Poplar John,” inherited the home and lived in it with his wife, Rebecca Smith. Their portraits are now above the mantle in the inn’s living room. His release papers from a Union jail are preserved in the dining room, and his grave is located in the family plot just uphill from the home.
John Clifford Miller (born 1871) was the second son of John Byron Miller. The portraits of Clifford and his wife, Mary Lucile Nelson, are on the south wall of the living room. John Clifford build the large dairy barn (considered at the time to be the largest east of the Mississippi), and planted the apple orchards across the road. Portraits of Mary Lucile’s parents are in the living room and the music room.
All through the house are family pieces, such as secretaries, occasional tables, chests of all sizes, game tables, corner chairs, and the like, most from the early 19th century, but some earlier. Original oils and watercolors, and limited edition prints, reflect generations of the Miller family’s admiration and collecting of artists’ works.
There are five bedrooms in the house, two on the main floor and three upstairs, and all of them offer vistas of the sunrise, sunsets, mountains or woods. All have brand new bathrooms, each more elegant than the last, with clawfooted tubs, walk in showers, and granite counters. Downstairs are the Brief Bedroom, with portraits of Pleasant Haynes and his wife over the original mantle, and the Queen’s Room, with a portrait of grandmother Lezora Miller.
The upgrading of two original sleeping porches has provided a suite combination for one of the upstairs bedrooms, named the Owner’s Suite. And the old carved wooden decorative moldings of the porches have been ingeniously turned into two headboards for one of other bedrooms.
The traditional dining room and kitchen are below the main level. The kitchen is new and shiny, and the 1827 original hearth provides a wonderful contrast to the modern appliances. Five windows light up the large table in the center of the room, and smaller tables in the corners. The original deed to the property, dated 1827, as well as the original plat are displayed in this room. Cliff Miller III’s portrait, dressed in his foxhunting clothes, is over the fireplace.
“Temperance Cabin,” a log cabin just beside the main house, will soon provide a private alternative for guests. It originally was the summer kitchen for the main house. Original flooring, a fireplace with built-in shelves and comfortable seating provide and intimate space. Up a steep staircase, a generous bedroom under the eaves was once the coveted sleeping place for young Millers over the years.
Other outside buildings of stone and wood, such as the old smokehouse, the well and well house, add to the 19th-century feel. The gardens and surroundings have been completely redone with some new brick paths to complete the old ones. Jan Perrot designed and installed the gardens this summer, and nurtured them through the record-breaking heat and drought. A bocce court is nearly complete, and there are plans for a pergola, outdoor grill, other outdoor seating, and plantings to provide outdoor ambiance that matches the interiors.
If the past 184 years is any indication, the Miller property will remain a landmark in Rappahannock County into a foreseeable (and maybe unforeseeable) future. Whichever it is, the home will always speak of traditional values, love of country, a dedicated work ethic, admiration for beauty, respect for craftsmanship and a strong community involvement.