There were different ‘tribes’ among 200 hippies in Rappahannock
An attentive crowd gathered at the Rapp at Home office at the Washington Schoolhouse to learn about a curious slice of Rappahannock history: Cheri Woodard, Vinnie DeLuise, and Linda Heimstra reminiscing about life as “hippies” in Rappahannock.
All created lives that were unconventional, albeit joyful, carefree and apolitical, with other like-minded young folks.
Cheri, who grew up in College Park, Maryland, arrived in 1973. She was working at Beautiful Day Trading Company, a natural foods store in College Park when she met the “Valley Women.” They told her that she and her toddler son could move into a house on Black Rock Farm in Flint Hill rent-free and live there with others of her “tribe.”
She remembers it as a time of great upheaval in the country and wanting to make a difference — to be part of a kind society.
Cheri later moved to the Woodville area into one of many “very old” little houses with no running water. She recalled that there were enough small children among her group that they turned the Old Hawlin Post Office into a daycare center. There were no telephones, she said. It was like going back in time. Rappahannock natives were welcoming and happy to teach them how to grow food and use tools.
“Older folks in the county were great mentors,” she said. She remembered Flossie Williamson, an herbalist, fondly. Flossie would grow herbs and take them for sale to the Washington National Cathedral. Flossie’s philosophy about growing old impressed Cheri.
“You have to be active. You have to have a reason for people to come see you,” Flossie would say.
Like Cheri, one reason Vinnie moved to Rappahannock was his love of the mountains and Shenandoah National Park. A law school graduate, Vinnie left his federal government job, took a lump sum of $9,000 and bought nine acres of land in Amissville. Photos from that time reveal a very different Vinnie — a full head of dark blond hair and an impressive beard. Vinnie built two houses on his land with hand tools, since there was no electricity. He learned on the job with advice from locals and the help of friends, some of whom built on adjoining land. He remembers cold “showers” in the river, lots of free time and parties with friends. They became a family, he said.
Vinnie spoke of playing volleyball at the Hillsdale Drive In, which held about 50 cars, and swimming nude in Chris Bird’s pond. The Community Center in Washington was the site of many parties and dancing, usually with the band the “Okays.” Small kids would be laid down to sleep underneath the piano during the dances. Cheri remembered “full moon parties.” Without street lights, moonlight became a big deal, she said. “The importance of moonlight was one of the biggest discoveries when I moved out here. Coming from the city, every day was a new experience,” Vinnie said.
Linda learned about the area from her boyfriend, whose father had a home in Orleans, and began visiting Rappahannock while in high school. In 1975, a week before turning 21, she hitchhiked to Hawlin to live in a group house with no running water and an outhouse.
“We were cutting edge,” she said. Some aspects of how she and her friends lived, like organic gardening, are now mainstream. An advantage of living in Rappahannock, Linda recalled, was that the hippies could grow their own pot. The sheriff and deputies looked the other way, she said.
“As the joke goes, if you remember anything about that time, you probably weren’t there,” Linda said to chuckles.
Linda told of embracing a lot of obsolete practices, like maypoles and “prairie woman”-style long skirts. When asked why Rappahannock attracted hippies, Linda replied “It has cosmic energy.” Vinnie said, “And Shenandoah National Park.”
Per Linda, being a Rappahannock hippie was an honorable thing. “It was important work — to live clean, be really good, moral and honest.” Linda brought photos from the hippie era, including many of her good friend and fellow hippie, musician Bill Abernathy, who died in February. Cheri thinks the early 1970’s to mid-1980’s is more accurately called the “back to the land movement” than the hippie movement.
All three speakers agreed there were different “tribes” among the two-hundred or so hippies in Rappahannock. They mentioned the Spyders in Old Hollow and the Finders on Nethers Road at the Madison border. Rappahannock hippies often lacked transportation.
“Getting around wasn’t easy. There was a lot of hitchhiking,” noted Vinnie. “It seemed safe,” Cheri said.
Cheri talked about “partial re-entry” — the point at which hippies realized they had to earn a living. “People found niches, or they moved on,” audience member Bob Trainor said. In 1977, Cheri opened Faith Mountain Herbs and Antiques on Main Street in Sperryville, where Haley Fine Arts is currently. She and her husband, Martin Woodard, lived in the back of the rambling circa 1790’s old home and ran the business out of the front four rooms.
Cheri said businesses were welcomed because they created jobs and locals didn’t want their children leaving. When Faith Mountain, which at one time had 150 employees, was sold, Cheri opened a successful real estate business. Vinnie and his wife, Heidi, owned the Flint Hill restaurant Four and Twenty Blackbirds, and later, 24 Crows. Linda, who early on picked apples for a dollar an hour and later had a business making Pennsylvania Dutch hex signs, became an established jazz musician and portrait artist.
When asked why young people aren’t coming to Rappahannock now, Cheri said, “They have the same dream but it’s harder because there are no cheap houses like there were then.”
Audience member Mike Mahoney said that he and his family also felt welcomed when they arrived in Rappahannock in the 1980’s even though they weren’t hippies.
“That’s because we could work for you,” Linda said. Later, she explained, “Actually we welcomed newcomers to Rappahannock because we were open to knowing and learning from all types of different people. Being offered work was just a result of being friendly and having the skills that were needed.”