Mount Bleak

 

Background History of the Property of Mt. Bleak

 

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Background History of the Property of Mt. Bleak

 

The following information was provided by Llyod Reitnauer, former Park

Historian, Sky Meadows State Park, Virginia Department of Conserva-

tion and Recreation.

 

The farm and estate known as “Mount Bleak” was originally part of

Lord Fairfax’s extensive grant, which was given to him by the King

of England in the early 1600’s. The first English settler in this Pied-

mont area was, James Ball, who was given a grant in then Prince

William County near the George Washington and Landon Carter

grants near Ashby’s Bent (Gap). George Washington’s mother was

a first cousin to James Ball. James Ball of Lancaster left 5,000 acres

to his daughter and four grandsons. On March 17, 1780 Capt. James

Ball and his wife, Mary, and Winder Kenner and his wife, Molly,

(Capt. Ball’s daughter), sold 1,000 acres to John Edmonds for 600

pounds. John was born in Northumberland County, Va., on August

20, 1737. In 1741 he moved to Fauquier County with his mother,

Catherine, his grandfather Elaes and his half-brothers Elias and

William.  John also became a Captain during the American Revolu-

tion with the Culpeper Battalion. He twice married, first to Francis

Jane Wilder and then to Helen Shepard Hack, who was a noted Eng-

lish actress. John Edmonds eventually had six children, George, Elias,

Ann, William, Peggy and John II. Not much is recorded of his act-

ivities, except that during his 61 years he had accrued 53 slaves, and

considerable land holdings including the acreage that includes Mount

Bleak. John was a very prosperous gentleman as he lived on the Ball

tract that is known today as Belle Grove. The extensive clearing of

fields and fence building may have started with John’s available labor

and capital.

 

When John Edmonds died August 28, 1798, the provisions of his will

stated that his moveable goods were to be sold and divided among his

wife and children. One of his sons, George Edmonds, received his

share of 250 acres on the ridge where Mt. Bleak stands, and three

slaves. George and his wife Mary Sofia Rust of Loudon County set

up housekeeping and began farming. They were married on March 9,

1798. Speculation is that his father may have given him the farm as a

wedding gift because he died only 5 months later. George and Mary

also acquired a number of lots in the town of Paris as well. By 1802

George was acquainted with Isaac Settle who had purchased a lot at

the western end of Paris and built a house and tavern.

 

Isaac Settle was born at Canterbury Farm near the present Fauquier

Springs Country Club in 1779. After settling in Paris, Isaac bought

several more lots over a period of years. In 1804 he married Mary

Humphrey. Isaac had a tavern that was an extension of his home. His

daughter, Elizabeth, known as Betsey, was born in June of 1806. On

January 29, 1808 one day after his son Thomas was born, Isaac pur-

chased 350 acres, that included the Elias Edmonds’ home at Belle

Grove. Isaac’s youngest son, Abner Humphrey Settle, born April 9,

1810, was  named after his maternal grandfather. That  same Decem-

ber, Isaac purchased 171 acres from George Edmonds which included

the homestead of Mount Bleak. This property may have been of par-

ticular interest to Isaac because of its bordering trail along the base

of the ridge that led from Paris to Markham. When Isaac incorporated

the original Edmonds’ home at Belle Grove it consisted of a slave

quarters and kitchen wing. A tin plate above the front door of the

main house is engraved with the year, “1812”.

 

Elizabeth (Betsy) Settle, Abner’s sister, married Lewis Edmonds a

nephew of George Edmonds, on Nov. 10, 1825. Family tradition

said that Belle Grove was given to Betsy and Lewis as a wedding

present. Isaac and the rest of the family had just recently moved

back to Paris, where Isaac was a respected and successful business

man. He was merchant, as well as a tavern keeper and postmaster

for over 30 years. His mercantile store was a combined grocery,

hardware, clothing and feed store, which also housed the post office

and served as a polling place during elections. Public notices were

said to be posted outside . The store and tavern were common places

for people to congregate for news from Winchester, Falmouth, War-

renton or Alexandria, to discuss politics, community affairs or gossip.

 

Isaac’s son, Thomas, lived in Virginia until 1836 when he decided

to move to St Louis. He spent his live there as a merchant, foundry

owner, builder and cotton planter.

 

Abner Settle initially married Isabella S Hixon of Loudon County

on April 13, 1835. Their first and only child was born in 1836. Unfor-

tunately, Isabella died five months later. This child, Thomas Lee, was

named after Abner’s brother.  Abner then remarried in 1839 to his sec-

ond wife Mary Ann Kyle, with whom he had 11 children. The Settles

were said to have been of small stature with dark hair and eyes. 

 

Abner became a gentlemen farmer with slaves that included those

who worked in the house and those that were field hands. Not only

was he a respected farmer but a merchant as well. He often acted as

an officer of the court and served as trustee for his family and neigh-

bors mortgages that were liens on their personal debts.

 

Abner also lent a hand  at his father’s Paris post office. When his

father, Isaac passed away Abner then took over the position of post

master that his father had once held. Abner was said to have had a

reputation as a philosopher and poet and was often called upon to

speak at public meetings. A poem he had written about a lovely pop-

lar tree that was a landmark in Ashby’s Gap was published in the

Fauquier newspaper.

 

After the Civil War, Abner sold Mt. Bleak to Thomas and Emily

Glasscock. In two years the Glascock’s the sold the farm to George

Slater. George Slater and his son farmed Mt Bleak for about 60 years.

In 1916, George Jr., purchased the farm just to the north named Tim-

berlake. Both George and his son died in 1922 and the his son’s fam-

ily was left overextended financially. George Jr.’s wife and relatives

tried to make a go of farming the land and make payments for 3 ½

years. Early twentieth century county maps have the property listed

as the Slater Farm.

 

In 1928 George Strother purchased both Mt Bleak and Timberlake

property. In a deed of trust he signed over the property to Prudential

Insurance Co. When George Strother  died  the properties were put

up for public auction. 

 

At this point,Thomas and Mary Glasscock purchased the property and

tried farming it for 8 years. They then sold the 365 acres (Mt  Bleak

property) to Virginia Wood who owned the property from 1942 to

1946. Ms. Wood never lived at Mt Bleak but she purchased the pro-

perty for a relative Lindsay Wood who was the wife of Sir Robert

Hadow, who was a  British Counsel General during WWII . The

Hadow’s changed the name to Skye Farm because Mr Hadow

thought the area looked like his homeland of the Isle of Skye in

Scotland. After WWII the Hadow’s sold Skye farms to General

Raymond Lee. General Lee, however, believed the farm reminded

him of St. Brandan’s in England so they renamed the farm St. Bran-

dan’s. The Lee’s had electricity and telephone service brought into

the home.  Within two years the Lee’s sold the farm to John and

Carolyn Scott. At this time the property was said to be in bad shape

for the fields had been over grown and buildings were in need of great

repair. Mt Scott arrived in the area when he became President Franklin

D. Roosevelt’s appointee as Special Assistant to the Attorney General,

and then later was appointed a Federal Power Commissioner. 

 

The Scott’s decided to rename the farm, Sky Meadows. The Scott’s

improved the land by mowing, liming, fertilizing and seeding the old

pastures. They also built two new ponds, established a new water sys-

tem and refurbished, repaired and redirected the houses. The guest

house was enlarged and the barns were improved and new fencing

was built around the meadows.

 

In 1963 the Scott’s sold Sky Meadows to James Abrams. On July 2,

1963 Mr. Abrams and Raymond Bates formed a partnership with land

holdings that included Mt. Airy, Grafton, Ponderosa and other estates

in northern Fauquier County. Eventually the corporation would decide

to subdivide Sky Meadows. But the land speculation never matured

because of the affects of the oil crisis in the 1970’s.

 

 At this point, Mr. Paul Mellon initially purchased the Sky Meadow’s

farm and on November 12, 1975 he deeded the property to the Vir-

ginia State Department of Conservation with the directive that it be

dedicated as a state park. Two more subsequent purchases by Mr.

Mellon added additional acreage to the park.

 

The park was officially opened for the enjoyment of the public on

August 23, 1983.

 

 

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