The Rappahannock Food Pantry celebrated its annual Pantry Day last Saturday (May 10) with day-long festivities that included a Norman Rockwell-like pet parade — with dogs, horses and even baby goats — along with coordinated bake sales, a Mother’s Day Flower Sale and a Stamp Out Hunger Drive sponsored by the local post offices.
The piece de resistance was a Saturday evening fundraising “Italian Feast” at the home of John Anderson, Rappahannock’s favorite native son, who generously offered his beautiful Jessamine Hill as the venue. The place is so reminiscent of Tara; surely Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’hara were leaning over the balustrade as the throng of generous donors and volunteers mingled and working diligently to make Rappahannock a showcase for caring about one’s community.
Volunteers served up a signature main course deliciously prepared by Sylvie and Keith Rowand, along with foods donated by various local farms and vendors. Logistics were orchestrated by the ever-competent Terri Lehman of Sperryville’s Corner Store. Washington Mayor John Sullivan and his wife Beverly were in attendance, along with myriad residents and guests, as well as Sperryville’s own whiskey maestro Rick Wasmund serving up his newly concocted Vir Gin, along with his smooth applewood-distilled whiskey. About 130 revelers happily polished off the hors d’oeuvres, devoured the main course and enjoyed the generous number of bottles donated by Little Washington Winery.
Departing, guests descended the magnificent stone front staircase to savor the panoramic Blue Ridge view, smiles on their faces, knowing they’d had a special evening.
Susan Hoffman and Mike Biniek have run the Belle Meade Bed and Breakfast in Sperryville since the early ’90s, and they are no strangers to the folks around Rappahannock. They also run the Belle Meade School, which they’d purchased a bit later, adjacent to the Victorian farmhouse that serves as the B&B.
Unlike the B&B, the school is set to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
Belle Meade’s Victorian main house, the school and cottages are painted in hues of bright blue and yellow, helping make the property a landmark for drivers along beautiful F.T. Valley Road. The property houses not only a B&B and schoolhouse but also a thriving farm, a place where cattle and free-range chickens reside, as well as horses and pigs. It’s a place where the children of Belle Meade School learn not only the words found in book-lined classrooms but also from their own hands-on land stewardship.
At the time of purchase, the school had been vacant and boarded up for many years. In the early 1900s, it was a two-room grade school, later expanded to four rooms with two years of high school until the early ’20s, when it no longer held high school level. Its doors closed for good in the 1950s. Asked what possessed her and Mike to purchase a boarded-up old school house, Susan said: “Chris, it just sat here, and . . . well, the windows told me that they wanted to be open again.”
After the building winked at her, she and Mike took an even crazier step and bought it. And moved it. And added a floor. “We’ve been crazy at every stage,” she laughed. “It was a labor of love.”
Susan said Mike took on the project full throttle; it took three months to move it back from the road to its current location in 2001 (it opened in 2003). While the lower-floor addition was built, the schoolhouse “was literally hung up in the air,” she said.