ABOUT HISTORIC CLERMONT FARM, CLARKE COUNTY, VA

Elizabeth Rust Williams, a farmer, preservationist, lawyer and judge in Clarke County (1945-2004), wanted this 360-acre agricultural landscape (which her family had owned for 185 years) and its historic buildings preserved permanently and given to the people of Virginia as a place to connect with their history and land. 

 At her death in 2004, she gave it to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR), and her other assets to The Clermont Foundation which she created to help support and manage the site in partnership with DHR.  No state funds are appropriated for Clermont’s preservation or operating costs.  The value of her $15 million in gifts includes the significant historical equity created over 110 years by possibly 200 enslaved African Americans.   Some Clermont land became, in 1870, the largest freed-peoples’ community in Clarke County, Josephine City, named for Josephine Williams, a woman formerly enslaved at Clermont.  That community, now part of Berryville, is also home to the Josephine School Community Museum and African American Cultural Center,  the only African American museum in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.

Clermont, managed and funded by The Clermont Foundation, is now a state-owned research and training site in agriculture, history, and historic preservation, whose land and buildings are teaching tools.  A five year study of the historic buildings has been completed, as well as research on the history of the site in topic areas including agriculture, architecture, African American life, women’s roles, military history, legal and medical history, and Clermont’s role as a public history site (see nine commissioned papers from Virginia historians on these topics in the ARCHIVES section).   

 Clermont,  personally surveyed by an 18-year old George Washington on Oct. 19, 1750, from Lord Fairfax’s 5.2 million acre Northern Neck Proprietary, and owned by just four families from then until 2004 (Vance, Wadlington, Snickers, McCormick/Williams), encapsulates the history of the Great Valley and of early national development, including the extension of slavery.  The first three families to own Clermont were active in the founding of the nation, from the French and Indian War through the Revolution and its aftermath.

The land was shaped by Native Americans over at least 10,000 years for game production and harvest, and after contact was inhabited by a community of European- and enslaved African- Americans who built on it and tilled it.  The farm’s timber-frame buildings represent a span of construction of over 200 years, from the initial house in 1755-6 to a major addition in 1970.  

Clermont is still a working farm.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was a champion wheat growing farm supplying international markets.  It currently raises Angus beef cattle and Katahdin (hair) sheep, plus supporting research and training.  Three families live at Clermont.   The Foundation has partnerships with the Clarke County Public Schools and Farm Bureau to provide a training site for Clarke agriculture students, and with Virginia Tech, JMU, and others for student training/faculty research purposes, and with Virginia Extension for working farmers.

 The buildings at the farm are undergoing a long-term process of stabilization.  Given Clermont’s purpose, the treatment mode chosen under the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards is “Preservation” (preserving all layers, all periods), as opposed to “Restoration” (to a specific point in time), “Reconstruction” (from little or nothing), or “Rehabilitation” (for modern adaptive re-use).  The buildings are basically empty, all dendrochronology dated, and their fabric has been opened for research and to assist the teaching of students in several historic disciplines (see Historic Structure Report in ARCHIVES section).   The site is on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

 In a devastating fire in 2018, the working 1917 timber-framed barn and 1849 corn crib were lost, along with one of the largest wooden archaeological artifacts excavated on land in Virginia, the forebay and turbine box of a " tub mill" (horizontal water wheel) from Woolf’s Mill in Fauquier County, VA, a grist mill like those used to grind Clermont wheat.  While there was never a mill at Clermont, the tub mill was a reminder of the fact that Clermont has always existed in and is inseparable from a much larger labor, production, transportation and market context related to regional, national and international conditions.

Clermont is open by appointment and for specific scheduled public events.  Contact us at mlrhodes@clermontfarm.org or at 540-955-0102.   See our website at www.clermontfarm.org OR www.facebook.com/Clermont-Farm-392107077469801/