There’s nothing like owning a little piece of history to make you intensely curious about what happened here and how it all came to be. Seems like the more we learn though, the harder it is to imagine what life was like here.
Pre-Manor House Days
The first house at Vaucluse was built by William Strother Jones, the first of four generations of William Strother Joneses to occupy the house and property. The first Strother Jones (WSJ-1) acquired the original 775 acre parcel from his father Gabriel in 1785 and presumably built his house sometime in the five years before his death at age 32. He left behind a widow and an 8-year old son (WSJ-2).
WSJ-1’s father, Gabriel Jones, did not live at Vaucluse, but had a law office on the grounds that pre-dates the house. Gabriel, known as the “Valley Lawyer”, was appointed King’s Attorney (prosecuting attorney) for the newly created Frederick County in 1744, his salary being 2,000 pounds of tobacco. All that remains of his Vaucluse office is the fireplace chimney, which still stands today.
Gabriel was undoubtedly involved in the running of the estate at least until his grandson WSJ-2 came of age. When Gabriel died in 1806, he expressly disinherited WSJ-2 on the basis that “…he is an idle, dissipated young man and is now left to live upon the rest of a miserable fortune … now almost spent by his extravagance.”
The Golden Age of Vaucluse
Despite Gabriel’s negative opinion, WSJ-2 managed to do very well for himself, and probably was responsible for building (and possibly naming) the current Vaucluse Manor House sometime in the 1820’s. The tutor for WSJ-2’s children gave a detailed description of the house in 1827 that corresponds to the current house, making it likely that the house was completed at some time well before 1827.
The tutor described two driveways leading to the Manor House. The north driveway started up the hill in front of today’s Cabin on the Pond and cut diagonally up the wooded hillside coming out beside the Cottage on the Hill. (You can see the current layout of The Inn at Vaucluse Spring grounds here.) According to the tutor, the north driveway crested the hill and became “a straight avenue in front of a noble portico the top of which is supported by large round pillars, made rough and white thus presenting the appearance like coarse sandstone.”
The south driveway followed the edge of what is now the lawn on the east and south sides of the Manor House. Although this was the “back” driveway, it appears that it was the more ornamental approach to the house. The tutor described gardens nearer the house “entirely devoted to fancy … laid out in beds of various forms, circles, squares, hearts, etc., all bordered with grass and filled up with shrubs and flowers.” These ornamental gardens plus the “culinary” garden required two persons to maintain. The grounds included a large summer house with a ten pin alley, fancy seats on the lawn, “and at a distance where the rocks are not removed some of them, the more to variegate the scene, are painted.”
Whitewashed presumably, but it’s fun to think about painting the protruding rocks. Today’s driveway leading to The Inn at Vaucluse Spring was created during the 1996 restoration of Vaucluse and lies roughly midway between the old north and south driveways.
Life at Vaucluse would seem to have been very good indeed for WSJ-2 and his family. An 1833 letter reported several people speaking of Vaucluse as “a perfect paradise” and WSJ-2 and his wife as “the most hospitable and delightful people in the world. He [WSJ-2] was evidently the Lord of the Manor in those parts.” A real estate description from about 1870 when Vaucluse was sold after the war refers to the area as being in “the centre of an educated and refined society…composed chiefly of descendants from the old families of Lower Virginia.”
This gracious way of life was to change forever as a result of the Civil War, which will be described in a future blog post.