Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Aspen Grove: A Southern Tale of Haunting Part 1 of 3

(Above: From the roadway. Best damn sled run ever, except you ended up in the creek!)

(Above: How it looked when I grew up there)

(Above: how it looked in the 1890s)

(Above: How it looked in the 1860s post Civil War)

(Above: How it looks today)

(Above: The grounds in the wintertime)

(Above: The grounds in the springtime)

(Above: Only a small portion of the artifacts)

A wonderful blogger with a blog about southern spirits mentioned an interest in the story of my upbringing at Aspen Grove. It could be a book, so I'm going to put it into parts each day.

Gather around, kiddies, for a southern tale best told by a gal who grew up in a very idyllic setting, although with a good deal of ghosts and a family that, well, I swear Pat Conroy wrote about in "Prince of Tides." This will be a multiple-part series this week and next week I'll do one about our Victorian summer home on the Chesapeake.

Aspen Grove was built in the mid 1700s. My mother told me it was a fort against Indians and the windows were slanted above to thwart arrows. I'm not sure about that, but the windows were, indeed, at a bizarre angle. (See post Civil War pic above)

It was originally called the "Springfield" because it had the most amazing fresh springs. In fact, those fresh springs fed our well that gave water to our home and the outbuildings which at the time we moved in included two carriage houses, a barn and stables. The water was so good, people often brought containers when visiting.

My parents had 5 kids and my mother was an art teacher and historian. The home was surrounded by property owned by George Mason University in Fairfax. It was a nice decent jaunt from dad's job in DC. All in all, an idyllic place to live. There was a glass-lined room in the front of the house that mother turned into an art studio for her classes. There was a glass lined library, as well. The downstairs contained, a pantry room, kitchen, breakfast room, art room, library, living room, dining room, bathroom and music room. The basement was unfinished and rough with a dirt crawlspace and a storm door to the outside. The upstairs held 3 bedrooms and a closed in porch made into another bedroom, as well as two bathrooms and a linen closet. The attic was a huge unfinished one never used by us.

The front yard was made up of a huge pasture, a creek with a bridge where the gravel driveway sat, an English boxwood maze in front and another in back. There were lilac, a wisteria arbor, grape arbor, magnolia, apple orchard, sour cherry orchard, walnut trees, persimmons, pears, berries, wild strawberries, a vegetable garden, and we owned a horse and boarded others.

In nice late spring weather, mother would have art shows on the grounds.

(Above: One of the artists)

The artists would set their work up within the "rooms" of the boxwood mazes. My parents entertained a lot and we had formal parties, as well as nice outdoor ones with badminton, ping pong, croquet, horseshoes events.

My parents rented the cottages out cheap to students from George Mason University. Everyone who ever visited Aspen Grove or lived in the cottages, came back over and over again and again to wander the grounds, enjoy a glass of sweet tea, and tell stories of the good old days. It was one of those places that was a retreat from all that was suburban sprawl and time actually seemed to move slower on the estate than in the surburbs surrounding it.

It was so idyllic that us children built tree forts, explored the woods and creek.

(Above: Can you blame me for wearing a hole under my favorite swing in the world?)

We made forts inside the boxwoods, built huge snow forts, had amazing sled runs where we would use a heavy weighted roller to make a path from the back door down to the cherry orchard, hose it down, put a spotlight on it and then do sledding all night long.

(Above: My best friend, Reed, and her mom trying out the backdoor to the cherry orchard run)

We lingered around the berry bushes, apple trees and grape arbor munching, played in the barn like it was a giant submarine, enjoyed flashlight tag and catching lightning bugs, camping on the property, and all the things young children adore when they are left to their own devices and no DVD players or computers and game systems.

In fact, it was so beloved, my parents vowed to haunt it...

(Tomorrow, another installment)


  1. That black and white one is creepy!! lol.

  2. Beautiful. I can really tell from reading this that you have a great attachment to this house. Can't wait to read the rest!

  3. It was a most unusual upbringing. When I was a kid, it made me feel different and set apart, but as an adult, I realize it makes me have more substance and depth.

  4. Wow, I can only imagine how great it would have been to watch The Shining or Halloween in that house. I bet even the ping-pong there was creepy, and I love me some creepy ping-pong. You were lucky to have lived there!

  5. My parents made a good choice on that place. When we lived there, at one time, we went looking for a home to move and they looked at a giant castle-like mansion in West Virginia and a 4-story mill on a pond, but they decided to stay there. They liked their unusual homes. I saw "The Haunting" there when I was a kid and I was terrified and studying my doorknob all night long.

  6. if i lived in such lavish setting i'd go hunt it too. But i grew up in slum like place where there was one shower for 5 story building, 2 cooking stoves for one floor (10 families)4 toilets for the same 10 families. I ain't gonna miss or hunt this shit.

  7. R&S;
    Wherever there is strife, there are ghosts. The house was once a hospital for the North and South. It saw a lot of blood and death. In fact, the wood floors still had the stains of their blood. It was an idyllic setting,but the occupants were all quite troubled. That should be another story on here, but no one would believe it.

  8. How beautiful it must have been all the time! I grew up in a damn trailer park in a big city until I moved out. It must feel great to be able to feel your roots in a place like that.

  9. Thanks. It was a very unusual way to grow up. I just wanted to be like the other kids in the suburbs. I went to school and everyone knew each other because they played on their streets together. Me? I had never seen so many kids in one place in my life! I always felt very outside of the crowd. I realize it helped me character-wise and certainly kept me free from peer pressure, but as times goes on, I realize that was a very unusual way to grow up. I think children find their bliss in anything. A cardboard box becomes a rocketship, the woods become a magical forest, and we manage to be entertained by the simplest things. That's a pretty universal characteristic. Hell, my favorite game was to pretend the boxwood mazes were condos and I was a real estate agent. Kids!

  10. I'm jealous, it sounds like a marvelous existance! I grew up in boring suburbia *yawn*. Thanks again for the shout out. I'm looking forward to hearing your stories.

  11. Good. There's one tomorrow and the next day. Then, next week on Tue/Wed/Thur the summer home stories from the Chesapeake. My friends in the suburbs were pretty cool about it. They liked being able to play on all that property. For the brave few who would spend the night, they were golden. Most were just too scared.

  12. Wow! 1700s? Some serious history going on here. Those pictures are eerie.

  13. Is this a national register listed property?

  14. I know it was registered locally in Fairfax County, but I don't know if they took it to the next stage. My mom spent a lot of years digging up the history from Courthouse records, library diaries and all kinds of sources to get it registered, thankfully.

  15. I just love your Aspen Grove stories. I love seeing the old pictures of the place, the artifacts, and your family. I always wanted a tire swing but never had big enough trees.

  16. Sis;
    I don't know how AZ kids can stand the freaking summers. Man, I miss the seasons so much. I just want to pick up and maybe move to Front Royal or something. I wish I could talk my son and his fiancee into going east. She hated Portland, so my favorite state, Oregon, is out of the picture. Bummer. I so love that place. Okay, now I'm getting all sad about sitting in the desert in June. Wah!

  17. Sounds very serene. I am sure you will put that feeling to rest when you get to the ghosty portion of your tale.