Unison - 1938
A Walking Tour of The Village
How it all began…
(from the Register of Historic Places research documents)
In 1741 a Major Richard Blackburn was issued a grant by Lord
Fairfax (who at that time owned all of Northern Virginia as a grant from England’s King Charles) for 2,628 acres in Northern Virginia. It does not appear that Blackburn ever lived on the property. Instead he may have rented portions of it to Quakers who lived on surrounding tracts.
After Blackburn’s death the land passed to his son Thomas, who in turn gave 150 acre parcels to each of his two daughters and in 1785 sold the remaining 2,328 acres. The land on which Unison is located was part of the parcel Thomas Blackburn deeded to his daughter Sarah and her husband Nathaniel Crawford.
In 1802, Sarah and Nathaniel Crawford sold 120 acres to William Galliher (also spelled Galleher, Galligher).
Ten years later, Galliher subdivided 5 acres of that purchase into 10 ½-acre lots which he devised to his children and grandchildren. He described the gifts as being “in the Town or at the place called
Greenville.” These 5 acres comprised the core of what would become Union the following year by an Act of the General Assembly. That act added 15 acres to Galliher’s original “Greenville” and called for the laying out of “twenty acres of land, at the village called and known by the name of Union.”
Lots and streets were to be laid out and minimum building requirements included a “dwelling house theron equal to twelve feet square with a brick or stone chimney.”
According to architectural evidence, six properties date to the first three decades of the nineteenth century, and five from the 1830-1865 period. Five resources survive from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, including a school and store. One dwelling in the district dates from the World War I to 1952 period and two modern dwellings were constructed after 1952.
There are also some examples of buildings exhibiting elements of the Federal and Greek Revival styles. Log, brick, stone and frame are the most common construction materials and are sometimes used in combination with each other. A distinctive element of many of the earliest historic buildings in Unison is that they feature two front entrances, suggesting that part of the structure was used as a dwelling and part for commercial purposes.
Unison Merchants and Early Residences
A History of the Unison Store
Prominently located at the junction of Unison and Bloomfield Roads, the Unison Store is a fine example of commercial architecture from the 1880s era. Constructed by Lycergus E. Hutchison, the two-story, three-bay, gable-end frame store rests on a stone foundation. To the side is a one-bay, two-story frame addition with parapet. A four-bay porch with square posts and sawn brackets extends across the front of the entire store uniting the two sections.
The store remained a popular and prosperous mainstay of the village, and gained widespread notoriety when it was the site of a 1937 robbery/murder of its 83-year-old owner, Henry Saffel. The building passed through several owners, continuing to operate as a country store for the next half century while expanding to add a gas pump (Phillips 66) for the growing number of cars now traveling the local roads, and a pool table in the back room for some of the "local boys" who wanted an evening's diversion.
By the early 1990s a failing economy plus the influx of nearby bigger towns drawing the clientele away, finally forced the struggling store to close.
The building remained vacant and deteriorating for several years until, with the threat of it being purchased to be torn down, several locals decided to form an organization called the Unison Preservation Society to protect and preserve the building and the village. The building was purchased by a local couple, the Eldridges, who renovated the old structure and converted the interior to a private office.
An economic recession in the mid 2000's forced the offices to close, and a year or so later the store was again put on the market for sale.
The UPS once again rallied to find a buyer that would continue to preserve the store, and also began to explore the idea of purchasing the store through the society for use as a community center. A number of benefactors came forward to help fund the purchase, but without the intervention of a local resident, Dr. Betsee Parker, a preservationist and owner of nearby Huntland estate, the road to acquiring the store would have been long and difficult.
The connection between Unison, the Unison Store, and Huntland goes back a century to a meeting around the store’s pot-bellied stove by the area’s avid foxhunters, members of the historic Piedmont Hunt and the smaller Unison Farmers Hunt, which had a well known pack of foxhounds. The two joined forces and Unison’s hounds joined the Piedmont Hounds at the newly built Huntland and its kennels, owned by Joseph B. Thomas, master of the Piedmont Hounds and president of the American Foxhound Club. After restoring those kennels in 2011, Dr. Parker, a strong supporter of the Piedmont Hounds, presided over the 100th anniversary celebration of their construction.
Dr. Betsee Parker generously purchased the store as a gift for the Unison Preservation Society, and in April 2013 the store was formally gifted to the UPS by Dr. Parker.
"Henry Saffel House"
Located on the NW corner of the junction of Unison and Bloomfield Roads, and conveniently across the street from the Unison Store is a c.1820 residence, a lovely two-and-one-half-story frame dwelling featuring two exterior-end brick
chimneys on the west end, and a full-height two-story portico on the east gable end.
The house was renovated in around the later part of the 19th century to reflect more Victorian-era designs. Because of its location, it is one of the most visually
prominent buildings in town. During the early twentieth century, it was the home of H. W. Saffel, who ran the Unison Store next door, and later the home of
Miss Margaret, the head riding instructor of the Foxcroft School for Girls in Middleburg. She named the house "Glatton Folly" and resided in it until her death from a carriage driving
accident in the 1990's.
The “Lancor House” aka "The Saddlery"
Situated next to Henry Saffel's house on the main Unison road, this ca. 1830 dwelling was formerly the home of Charles Osbourne, a postmaster and saddlemaker. Charles Osbourne purchased the property at public auction in 1904, the same year he was named postmaster of Unison. Osbourne may have been enticed by the newspaper advertisement that offered the lot of about 3/4 of an acre and ...
"...a good Frame House containing eleven rooms with garret and cellar, good frame stable and carriage house, hen house, a filtered cemented cistern and other outbuildings. There are also a lot of fruit trees on the premises in good bearing condition."
During Osborne's residence in Unison the famous Osborne fox hunting saddle was produced and sold for about $25from the late 1890s until his death in 1925. The stuccoed 2-story gable-roofed dwelling features a gable roof of standing-seam metal, 2 interior-end brick flues, gable-end returns, two front doors, 2/2 windows, and a modern 3-bay front porch with square posts. Attached to the main house is a diminutive 3-bay log house with interior-end brick flue.
It is uncertain which section is earlier, but it appears that the two parts of the house were constructed fairly close to each other sometime during the first half of the 19th century. The log section appears to have been used for commercial purposes. Both sections have undergone a fair amount of alteration since Osbourne's time.
The "Mary Phillips House"
Built ca. 1810 with later additions, this charming 1 ½-story was constructed of stone, now overlaid with stucco. The house originally had an exterior-end stone chimney that was later replaced with the current semi-exterior-end brick one. Details include 6/6 windows, a 1-bay pedimented portico with square posts and a 2-rail balustrade, and a 6-panel front door.
The house was originally a 3-room plan but an interior partition was removed creating a hall-parlor plan. The woodwork, including double-architrave trim framing 6-panel doors and chair rail with a pattern of alternating reeding and X motifs, is fairly sophisticated for such a small and unpretentious dwelling.
It is always interesting to note features of a house that incorporated elements necessary to the time - especially those that related to the farming customs at the time. Before our modern livestock laws demanded fencing in of farm animals it was common practice to allow them freedom to wander and graze on common lands. Thus, the owners of nearby houses would erect fences to keep the livestock out, and their gardens safe. The elevated entry with steps up was a common construction in rural towns to prevent this ever present wandering livestock, most notably pigs, from making a sudden appearance in the parlor, as most houses had open doors during the warm months to allow better air circulation. Since pigs cannot climb steps or walls, just two or three steps leading up to the dwelling entrance was enough to deter the most determined porcine, cow, or sheep. This dwelling shows that classic raised entryway, along with a covered entrance porch.
A shed-roofed rear brick wing (also stuccoed) appears to date to the mid-19th century, while the exterior-end stone chimney on its west side is modern. The large 2-story rear wing with semi-exterior-end chimney is also a modern addition.
The property also has c. 1880's Blacksmith Shop - a single-story, frame building with the classic Virginia tin roof and an interior-end brick flue.
Henry Saffel owned the property in 1894 and was listed in a state gazetteer as a coach and wagon builder. It is worth noting that the diary records of J. L. Kibler, a circuit preacher of Loudoun County during 1904-05, reveal that
a Capt. Price Jacobs owned the first carriage in Unison.
A Blacksmith Shop
Horses and ironwork were the mainstays
of a society back in the prior centuries,
and every town and village had their own
“smithy”. This building stands as a
reminder of the importance of the local
farrier/blacksmith for creating all kinds of
metal implements from horse shoes to
farm tools and household goods.
The old blacksmithing shop has since been converted into an artist’s studio by the current owner who uses the facilities now to make decorative tile.
The "Henry Evans House"
It is believed that Henry Evans constructed this house shortly after he acquired the lot from Samuel Dunkin in 1815. Built as a small 2-story, 3-bay, brick (currently overlaid with stucco), gable-roofed Federal-style dwelling, it featured 6/6 windows, mousetooth cornice, and 2 interior-end chimneys. To the rear is a 1-story shed-roofed modern wing.
According to an architectural survey conducted in 1982 by David Edwards, this building was not covered in stucco at that time and had exposed Flemish bond on the front and 5-course American bond on the sides and rear, and flared brick jack arches (see photo above).
A ca. 1900 photograph (see above) of the house shows it once had a late-nineteenth-century, two-story frame store attached to its east end. This was one of two stores operating in Unison during the last decades of the nineteenth century, and was owned and managed by Lycurgus Hutchinson in around 1895. The store was also the local Post Office for Unison. In later years the store was owned and operated by Thomas A. Baker. At one time there was a road to the side of the store that headed towards the back of the store, and also the field behind the village. That road is now gone. It is unknown when the store was torn down, but all that remains in the 21st century is the foundation footprint next to the still standing house.
"The Mildred Shackleford House"
Four dwellings in the Village date from the mid-nineteenth-century period. The Mildred Shackelford House, located along Unison Road caddy-corner from the current Unison Store, next to Butterland, is a two-story, six-bay, Federal-style brick dwelling, one of only four dwellings in the district to date from the mid-nineteenth century. The house is composed of two three-bay sections each with its own central door flanked by a window. The brick is laid in 5-course American bond and an obvious seam between the sections indicates two distinct construction periods. It appears that the left section may have been built a few years earlier than the one on the right.
The house may have had a commercial use since it is one of only four buildings in the district with two front entrances.
Butterland is an early 19th century two-story stone dwelling that was constructed in at least three phases, the earliest of which is the large two-story, three-bay central portion with a semi-exterior-end chimney on one end and an interior-end chimney on the other. It is believed that this was the home of William Galliher’s son William Jr. The side, two-bay, two-story wing with exterior-end stone chimney was added shortly after and currently features a one-bay pedimented portico and stucco scored to look like ashlar. When this section was built, the house would have had two front doors, perhaps indicating another use for the side wing. Later the original front door was removed and replaced with a window, and the front of the house hedged in with greenery. The photo above shows the current entry which faces the stable and pasture behind the property.
In the late nineteenth century Butterland was the home of Dr. Hoge, a well-known local physician. During that time additions were made to the rear wing of the house. Historic photographs show Dr. Hoge's office once sat right along the road, bu the office was later moved to its current location in the southeast rear yard in the twentieth century.
"The "Thornton Walker House"
Situated across the road from Butterland is another early Unison dwelling - the Thornton Walker House.
Walker, once a postmaster of Unison, purchased the lot in 1814 from Caleb Galliher who had received it from his father two years earlier. In the deed from William to Caleb, the property is described as ½ an acre and was designated as lot 7. Thornton Walker probably built the house shortly after he purchased it in 1814. Loudoun County tax records of 1820 show that Walker’s house was appraised at $1,400, one of the most valuable properties in the village.
The house consists of four distinct units: a two-story brick section, a two-story log section, a one-story frame wing, and a rear 1½-story log wing. The rear and front log portions are the oldest parts of the house. The brick section, laid in 5-course American bond, was built onto the west end of the front log section in the mid-nineteenth century. The house is another example of a dwelling in Unison that originally had two front entrances: one in the log section and one in the brick section. Since Thornton Walker was the village’s postmaster, it seems quite likely that he devoted a portion of his house to a post office.
Turn of the Century Dwellings
As the Village moved into the 20th century, the building architecture changed to reflect the new, simplier style of home construction such as the
unadorned two-story frame house located next to the current Unison Store. This is typical of the type of residence appearing around 1910, leaving behind the ornate
lines of the 1880's style home,
replacing guady with a utilitarian simplicity of line that favored the square form over acute angles. The buildings of the early 1900's were less about incorporating a business in the residence, and more
in keeping with it being strictly for the family. Extended families of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and children were falling out of favor, and more homes were now
seeing only the immediate family as residents. Thus, the early 1900 homes were being built smaller and more compact, helped along by the advancements in electricity, heating, and plumbing. Several of
the houses across from the Unison store are indicative of the cottage style homes that would flourish up to the present day.
Another style that was becoming prevalent was the so-called "shotgun" house that was longer than it was wide. The unique nickname came from the fact that the house was
constructed as one story with a straight line of sight directly from the front door through the house to the back door. This style favored the smaller lots of land, and utilized internal and external
Everyday Life - Unison Through The Decades
In the early 1700s, Quakers settled much of the area of western Loudoun County between Leesburg and the Blue Ridge and above Welborne Road. They came to Unison, then called Butterland at that time, and farmed the area and worshiped in local homes. In 1771 the local Quakers bought a 10 acre tract of land about a mile south of the village for a meeting house and burial ground (which still exists today and is well worth a visit). The Quakers had strong feelings about many social issues and would not participate in military service or vote.
During the Civil War they became part of the Underground Railroad helping escaped slaves reach safety in the North.
The South Fork Meeting Quakers were, however, a rowdy lot, cited by one traveling Quaker preacher as being only interested in cock fighting and horse racing, and by others as “drinkers to excess, fighters, gamblers, and in general, lax morally”. The following is excerpted from a petition to the Virginia General Assembly dated December 22, 1817
“The memorial and petition of the undersigned inhabitants of the town and vicinity of Union in Loudoun County respectfully represent: That the practice of horseracing which as prevailed in the lanes and public roads near the said town is attended with manifest danger and inconvenience to the good citizens thereof . . . . . . . Your memorialists therefore pray that an Act may be passed to prevent the said practice within one mile and a half of said town, in any public road, by imposing on those concerned therein adequate penalties.”
The above petition contained 29 signatures of local residents in and around Union (Unison).
By the mid 1800s the number of Quaker families in the area had diminished considerably, and by 1889 the South Fork Meeting was abandoned. By 1900 the building was in ruins and in 1916 the property was sold.
The Methodist Church in 1920
Methodists began meeting formally in the Quaker village of Unison in the late 1700s, about 50 years after the village was first settled. After meeting for several years in a private house, they built their first chapel here in 1785, 4 years before George Washington became President. That first 1785 chapel, known as the Old Bethesda Church, was built of rough-hewn oak logs and poplar boards about 300 yards from the current building. Men and women, blacks and whites all worshiped in the same building, but sat separately as was the custom. The early names associated with that chapel are familiar today in Loudoun County – Gallaher, Beavers, Plaster, Seaton, Brown, Taylor and Lovetts. In 1832 the Unison Methodists built a new large brick building. constructed using slave labor, under the direction of William Benton, President Monroe’s business manager and a well known brick mason, who also built Oak Hill, Monroe’s home, and other Loudoun County buildings. That building is still in use today.
In 1862, on Sunday morning, November 2nd, the Civil War swirled around the Methodist Church as infantry and cavalry of the Federal Army of the Potomac clashed with JEB Stuart’s Confederate forces in the streets of Unison. Shells from both sides exploded all around as the worshipers fled. As the large Federal Army continued its march southward, they took over the church as a hospital. When the Methodists returned they found the pews stained with blood and the loft covered in graffiti from the soldiers recovering there. One example dated November 7th, 1862 is by Ellsworth Packer, Co H, 21st Connecticut Infantry Regiment: “In some lone hour of bliss, When sorrows are forgot, Then cast a happy glance at this, And read forget me not.”
In the 1862 Civil War Battle of Unison the Confederates set up their artillery at the Meeting House to resist the Union advance south from the center of Unison. Later, when the Union forces had overtaken the site, the Confederates shelled the Union soldiers milling about the Meeting House. Later, fallen soldiers were taken to the South Fork burial ground to be interred temporarily until they could be turned over to their respective sides.
During two weeks of August each year from 1850 to 1928, the Unison Methodists moved up Bloomfield Road to the annual Camp Meeting at Benton’s Woods. This major event attracted many thousands of attendees from all over the region. Prominent visiting preachers led services in a tent tabernacle seating 2000 people. Businesses of all sorts serving the attendees were run from the Camp Meeting site during the 2-week period. A close by “dirty camp” sold liquor.
The Ordinary (aka The Tavern)
In the slower days of travel by carriage or horseback it was common to find "Ordinaries" - later known as Taverns - in every town or village, on conveniently set along the main thoroughfares. Early Ordinaries were often merely residences that were large enough to accommodate travelers needing food and drink, and a bed for the evening. They also were used as local meeting halls for village, local, and district matters.
The county took great care in ensuring that Ordinaries were properly licensed, and that the prospective inn-keeper was of good repute. It wasn't uncommon to see a petition to the county to deny a prospective applicant the right to a license - this being similar to the case of Robert Adams of Middleburg when it was recorded in the court records there was a .."Petition signed by Middleburg residents requesting the court to deny Robert Adams his ordinary License as being "unfit" to keep a tavern."
Below are the Loudoun County Archives records (alphabetical order) for the following prospective Ordinary applicants of Union/Unison. Apparently all appeared to be all of upstanding virtue, and their licenses approved by the county.
Ordinary Licenses, Loudoun County, VA – Union
|Last Name|| First Name|| Year License|| Location|
|Cummings|| William ||1848-1850 1852 ||Union[sic]|
|Miller||William C.|| 1834 1835 1860 1867 1869|| Union/Unison|
|Monroe|| James|| 1852|| Union[sic]|
|Taylor|| Franklin|| 1860|| Union[sic]|
|Weedem ||John|| 1807 1822 1827 1828|| Unison|
Below are the Loudoun County Archives records (alphabetical order) for those individuals in Unison applying for, and receiving, a liquor license:
Liquor Licenses, Loudoun County, VA – Union
|Last Name|| First Name|| Year License Issued|| Location|
|Adams|| George|| 1830|| Union[sic]|
|Cornell|| Stephen|| 1858|| Union[sic]|
|Fred|| B. P.||1846, 1847|| Union[sic]|
|Hutchenson|| Lycurgus|| 1866|| Union[sic]|
|Plaster|| John H. ||1860|| Union[sic]|
|Swenny|| A. R.|| 1869|| Union[sic]|
Photo of the 1910 school class
Martin’s 1835 New and Comprehensive Gazetteer of Virginia indicated that at that time Unison had one "common"
(ie: open to all students) school, although its exact location is unknown. After the adoption of the Underwood
Constitution of 1870 which mandated public education in Virginia, Unison built its first public school.
According to deeds, it was originally located on the southwest corner of the Methodist Episcopal Church South lot.
The front of the current building in that general location architecturally appears
to date to the 1890 period, although the rear section could be the 1870 portion. The building has undergone quite a
bit of modern renovation and features 1/1-sash windows, a formed and parged concrete foundation, overhanging eaves,
a plain frieze board, and an enclosed three-bay hip-roofed front porch. The school closed around 1915 and was then
converted into a dwelling.
In the 1910 photograph: the teacher in the back (left) is Catherine ("Miss Katie") Gill and (right between two students) Miss Ida Dowson, principal. The names of the students are as follows:
First Row - left to right: Robert Hodge, Roger Manuel, Hasel Lacey, Madison Nichols, Karlton Monroe, ___ Mock, and ___ Mock.
Second Row: Thomas Wharton, Walter Lacey, Adrian Saffell, Dainy Wiley, Joseph Lacey, Roy Carpenter, and Lucille Carpenter.
Third Row: Louise Carter, Lottie Reid, ___ Mock, Frances Carter, Marian Furr, Minnie Hurst, Joanna Wiley, Virginia Carpenter, and Mary Wharton.
Fourth Row: ___ Mock, Virginia Embrey, Maidie Embrey, and Susan Nichols.
Fifth Row:(Girls) - Pauline Piggott, Della Wharton, Bessie Tavener, Bertha Wiley, Rebecca Manuel, Florence Keen, Catherine Piggott, and Mattie Monroe (at top next to teacher). (Boys) - George Hoge, Carlton Wiley, Edward Dishmarr, Charles Monroe, Ludwell Beavers, Douglas Miley.
In 1816 a new school was built on a rise just 1/2 mile west of the Village on what is now known as Bloomfield Road. This school was designed to serve the needs of the surrounding countryside, most notably Unison and Bloomfield.
Unison became the seat of a “respectable seminary” as seen from this 1917 advertisement:
Union Academy in Union (Unison), Loudoun County, VA, Dec 13, 1819 .... “John M. Monroe, Principal in the Union Academy acknowledges with pleasure,
the handsome and very liberal encouragement he has received, for the two years past, from gentlemen patronizing the institution.
He would, likewise, express his sense of the obligations he is under to several gentlemen of talents and abilities, who, feeling interested
in “the right education of youth” have united their experience with his to render the Academy a seminary of public utility. He assures them,
and the public generally, that it has ever been and still continues to be his intention to make the Union Academy “a permanent literary institution”
and as his third year will commence on the twenty seventh of the present month he solicits and by assiduity and strict attention hopes to merit the
further patronage of a generous and enlightened public. Mr. Monroe pledges his honor to those who may place their children or wards under his care, that no exertions on his pat shall be wanting to forward them in their various studies; he will likewise be equally attentive to their morals and deportment. The terms for board and tuition will be $180 per year, payable quarterly. The terms for tuition only, are – For Spelling, Reading, Penmanship and common Arithmetic - $3 For English Grammar, Geography, & c. - $4 For the higher branches of Mathematics - $5 And, for the Languages - $6 per quarter, payable quarterly”
The school was in existence until the middle of the 20th century when it, too, gave way to a more consolidated school system, and eventually closed its doors. The location is now the
site of a private home built on part of the foundation of the old school.
The Unison Farmer’s Hunt, organized at the old Unison Store in the later part of the 1800's was merged around 1900 with the Piedmont Foxhounds, the nation’s oldest hunt, which acquired Unison’s hounds and members, and moved to Unison. Piedmont still hunts the area around Unison and their kennels are located just south of the village. Around the turn of the last century Unison was the location of Charlie Osborne’s Saddlery where the famous Osborne fox hunting saddle was produced and sold for about $25, or half a month’s typical wages. Osborne produced his saddle in Unison from the late 1890s until his death in 1925.
Unison also fielded their own highly successful championship baseball team during the mid 1900's. The photo above dates from 1957.
Old Unison Village Roads – a short history of one road
When Loudoun County was created in 1757 as an east/west separation of Fairfax County, there were already many towns and villages thriving along the western boundary line of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Union/Unison was one of several prosperous western communities, aided by the easy movement of people and trades via a secure and healthy road system overseen and administered by the county’s Roads Commission.
Of course, with public roads being the lifeblood of the village, there
was always pressure to build new byways to link to other roadways to
allow for quicker transportation and to help take pressure off overused
roads. Before any new public road could be built, however, there was an
administrative process that needed to be followed: a presentation of the
prospective byway, written permission from the adjoining landowners, a
detailed blueprint (or map) of the road itself, and finally the presentation
of the petition to the county court during one of the quarterly sessions.
Looking back into Loudoun County’s Road Cases, we find that the first
mention of a road petition being made for Unison was on Aug 2nd 1817.
This petition was presented on behalf of Sarah Humphries for a road
“…leading from Union to Pumpkin Town”. The distance from Unison to
Pumpkin Town (later Snickersville, later Bluemont) encompassed 6 or
more miles, however, the petition actually only asks for a “causeway”
(bypass or shortcut) of an old road in town near the old Unison
blacksmith shop, the proposed route going through a corn field … “and a
small piece of Woods…” that would apparently materially benefit Sarah
by eliminating her need to install “...a line of Fence 100 poles in
The byway was subsequently approved, helped by the fact
that the old road was currently under repair, and the new causeway –
which was extolled as being on ground every bit as good as that of the old
road - would allow traffic to continue uninterrupted.
The “old road”, now a mixture of gravel and paved, continues to this day
to support traffic both motor and hooved. Sadly, all traces of the bypass
have been lost with the exception of the 1817 road case paperwork, now
filed away in Loudoun County’s historical archives.
We hope you have enjoyed this Unison Walking Tour
as part of our Unison Heritage Day festivities.
Below are a few more notable places to visit that are just outside the main village, but still within walking
distance (if you have the shoes for a mile long stroll out and a mile back). But if you are happier to just relax and listen
to the wonderful bluegrass music for Heritage Day, and simply read about the historic places, we invite you to enjoy this addendum to the tour:
Although located on the far south end of the village and rural in nature, Bonnycastle visually delineates the westernmost boundaries of Unison and the historic district. The two-story, five-bay, random-rubble stone, Greek Revival-style dwelling features paired semi-exterior-end stone chimneys on each gable end and a raised stone basement. The house, constructed by John Keene, was originally plastered on the exterior and scored to resemble finished stone blocks. The house also originally had a very shallow-pitched gable roof, typical of the Greek Revival style, which was raised in the 1990s to a more standard pitch. The front of the house is dominated by a two-story, full-height, three-bay portico with giant Tuscan columns, broad pilasters, and a modillioned cornice. A small balustrated balcony supported by consoles projects from the second floor under the portico.
The house appears on the 1853 Yardley Taylor Map and is identified as belonging to "J. Keen," perhaps indicating it was under construction at that time because the Loudoun County Land Tax records indicate the house was completed in 1855, as it was first assessed the following year for a value of $4,000. John Keen was the son of George Keen, an extensive landowner who lived in what is now knows as "Far Away Farm", 1 mile south of Unison on what was then called "the Unison to Bloomfield" road, now known as Bloomfield Rd. George himself owned land stretching the entire length of the road from Bloomfield to Unison.
In the middle 20th century the property was purchased by the well known equestrian artist, Jean Bowman, who gained international recognition for her oil painting portraitures of famous racehorses. Her paintings hang in many prestigious collections including that of the HRM Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain.
The property also features a nice collection of late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century farm outbuildings including a board-and-batten bank barn on a stone foundation
South Fork Burying Ground
The burial ground, which is adjacent to the now vanished site of the old South Fork Quaker meeting house, is approximately 1 1/2 miles south of Unison along Unison Road, past the Methodist Church and Bonnycastle, just at the bend of the road past Taproot's driveway. While it is no longer
an active graveyard, it is still maintained by the Goose Creek Friends Meeting House (Philomont) and is open to the public. A listing of the gravestones, and the burial records, can be found on the
Unison Preservation Society's website on this page: unisonva.org/genealogy-cemetery.html
On the far eastern edge of the Village about 3/4 of a mile away sits a quaint farm owned by early Unison settler Henry Plaster. The house commands a high knoll overlooking a meandering creek and the road that leads from Unison to Philomont. The dwelling is a comfortable blend of old and new, with the oldest section constructed as a small tenant house built around 1800.
As current owner, Mitch Diamond, explains ...
"A few years later, around 1820 or so, Henry Plaster's son Michael Plaster acquired the house and property and added a federal style two story addition. The house appears on the 1854 Yardley Taylor map of Loudoun County and witnessed many of the movements of troops and fights along the road from Philomont to Unison and Upperville.
The Warburg family owned both the house and several hundred acres of surrounding land in the 1940s and 50s. Sometime during the early 20th century porches were added to the side and back of the house. More recently the house was owned by Jim Kamihachi who added a log cabin structure from West Virginia onto it and later by Robin Richards and her husband who added a master bedroom suite and breakfast room.
When the current owner purchased the property from Robin Richards it was called Unison Farm already and we kept the same name. "
George Keen House and Farm "Meadowbrook"
Located one mile west of Unison on the NW corner of the junction of Willisville and Bloomfield Roads, and conveniently midway between Unison and Bloomfield, is the c.1821 two story stone dwelling that is the centerpiece of "Far Away Farm", once known as "Gray Stone" (and prior to that "Meadow Brook"). The name "Gray Stone" came from the very visual presence of a large outcropping of ancient stone just across the road from the house.
The property was purchased by George Keen from William Carter who owned the land prior to 1821. Apparently George lived in a log house on the estate while the handsome stone house was being built. It was finished in about 1821, at which point George began a systematic goal of purchasing up most of the land between Unison and Bloomfield along the Bloomfield Road to become one of the biggest landowners in the area. Upon George’s death in 1873 the property became the residence of his son Jonathon Keen (1873-96) and then upon Jonathon’s death it was passed down to son Harry L. Keen. Harry was currently living in the house when the 1937 photograph below was taken by researcher Elizabeth Morgan (Bluemont, VA) for the VA W.P.A. projects. She wrote in her report (now housed in the Library of Virginia archives) that "the entire farm was surrounded by [field]stone fencing", and the fields were cultivated with crops.
"Gray Stone" - photo taken April 6th, 1937
for Virginia W.P.A. Historical Inventory Project
From family history and documents: George and his younger brother John appeared in Loudoun around 1810. Census records indicate they came from New Jersey. George married Nancy Carpenter, and shortly thereafter was the executor of the wills of his father-in-law and brothers-in-law who were well-to-do landowners and slaveholders. George and Nancy had at least six children, three lived to adulthood – John, Jonathon, and Unity Keen. His fourth child, Lucy Carpenter, was born in 1857 when he was 69. George is found numerous times in the county land records, and held loans and mortgages of many small farmers. As a matter of fact, when George died a sizeable part of his estate was "notes".
The original part of George's house was built in the late 1700’s, and additions were gradually built over the years. The most current additions on the old house were built in the mid 20th century. The property now exists as a private horse farm, but during George's occupancy an orchard was the primary source of farm income.
Of George's children: John Keen eventually left Loudoun [and] moved to another of George's farms near Winchester where he lived until his father’s death. Jonathon was killed in a riding accident in 1890. Grandson Harry Keen was left to manage the farms. A member of the VA House of Delegates from 1922-23, he had married Mary Virginia McCann of Winchester, VA whose father, James Kemp McCann, was a rep in the House of Delegates in 1895-96]. Harry kept the family farm for many years before finally selling it out of the family in the mid 1900's, and moving away.
By the time the current owners purchased the property in the 1970's the prior owner had added the second side wing to the house to match the other wing already in existence, had erected a log cabin (a relic from West Virginia) at the back of the house, and renamed the property "Far Away Farm", the name it carries today. The stone addition to the back was added "sometime during the Victorian period".