A new lease on life: Seven generations later, Smithfield Farm descendents revive the family home
Smithfield Farm, a stately nineteenth century manor house located on the West Virginia state line near Berryville, Virginia, holds the distinction of being one of the few local homes that has remained in the same family since 1816. The sixth and seventh generation descendants who now care for the house have nurtured it back from a lonely 35 years when it sat ghostly vacant.
And shortly after the 1988 restoration began, Smith descendant Betsy Pritchard, a geriatric nurse and Smithfield’s innkeeper, may have disturbed some freely roaming ghostly inhabitants, although she’s not fully ready to admit that the encounter was spiritual in nature.
Her strange experience began shortly after she moved into the summer kitchen/farm office, one of two dependencies that flank either side of the big house and mirror each other in design. This building was to be the first phase of the property’s renovations. One of the two stairways recently had been removed in order to convert the building into a guesthouse. Pritchard was sleeping soundly that night in her bed, which was situated where the rear stairs previously had been located. At about 2:00 a.m., she was suddenly awakened by a mysterious man dressed in old-fashioned farm hand’s clothes. “Where are the stairs?” he asked a startled Pritchard. Oddly, Pritchard claims that she didn’t feel at all threatened by the presence and calmly responded, “I’m sorry, but they’re gone.” The man turned and walked away, and Pritchard claims that no other similar occurrences have happened since.
Centrally located on 350 acres, the home was built by Edward Jacquelin Smith, who had come with his father, Edward, and his uncle John and their families to the Shenandoah Valley from Northumberland County in 1773. The first “Smithfield” was actually built by Smith’s father and was located in Winchester. It burned and was rebuilt in its present location along with two overseer’s houses, a stone stable and brick barn. The twin dependencies, a summer kitchen/farm office and a schoolhouse, were added sometime around 1847. An 1830 census reveals that Edward Jacquelin Smith owned 20 male slaves, 15 female slaves and one free black man between the ages of 24 and 36.
In 1988 Ruth Smith Pritchard of Jefferson County inherited the home which had sat unoccupied from 1956 to that time, and she and her family, along with family friend Edward Palczewski of Hedgesville, began a ten-year renovation of the house and its dependencies. It is now a Bed and Breakfast and special events center, as well as a working farm, producing all natural, free-range beef, pork, goat, chicken and eggs. Betsy Pritchard says that the quality of Smithfield’s produce “exceeds Virginia’s organic standards by tenfold.” Ruth’s son Forrest, daughter-in-law Nancy and daughter Betsy all participate in its operation.
The exterior of the five bay, Federal style brick manor house features a Flemish bond pattern forming fourteen-inch walls throughout the dwelling. Most of the 12-over-12 windows are left unadorned, beautiful in their simplicity while allowing for maximum natural lighting. The three floors of the house include a fully restored basement, which had been a kitchen with a meal room where slaves were fed. Ceiling heights on the first and second floors range from 11-and-a-half feet to 14-feet.
While many of Smithfield’s furnishings were sold at a 1957 auction, some pieces have been bought back in recent years and several have been reproduced by local artisan Larry Crouse of Kearneysville.
Renovating Smithfield, according to Pritchard, “has truly been a labor of love, but we did want to open it and share it with the public.” Smithfield’s holds an annual Christmas Open House. Information about and directions to Smithfield Farm Bed and Breakfast can also be acquired by visiting www.smithfieldfarm.com.
“Saved by a single crop of wheat”
In 1981, poet laureate Charles Wright, a distant cousin of the Smiths, recorded a dark period in the history of Smithfield Farm in the opening lines of “Virginia Reel,” a poem that appears in “Charles Wright: The World of the Ten Thousand Things, Poems, 1980-1990.” When the poem was written, Smithfield stood vacant and haunting, making it easy to imagine this difficult period in its history.
In the 1840’s, the Smiths nearly lost Smithfield when Edward Jacquelin Smith faced financial hardship. After overextending himself, the farm was temporarily transferred to the noteholder. In order to escape his embarrassment and shame, Smith fled to Missouri with several slaves, leaving his wife and family to fend for themselves. Smith’s son, William Dickerson Smith, borrowed $40,000. He and his mother, Elizabeth Macky, along with many of the neighbor’s slaves, were then able to raise a good crop of wheat that was hauled on oxcarts to Alexandria where it was profitably sold. They once again earned free and clear title to Smithfield Farm, and William D. Smith traveled to Missouri to fetch his father.
Wright’s poem appears here.
In Clarke County, the story goes, the family name
Was saved by a single crop of wheat,
The houses and land kept in a clear receipt for the subsequent suicides,
The hard times and non-believers to qualify and disperse:
Woodburn and Cedar Hall, Smithfield, Auburn and North Hill:
Names like white moths kicked up from the tall grass,
Spreading across the countryside
From the Shenandoah to Charles Town and the Blue Ridge.
And so it happened. But none of us lives here now, in any of them.
Though Aunt Roberta is still in town,
Close to the place my great-great-grandfather taught Nelly Custis’s children once
Answers to Luther. And Cardinal Newman too.
Who cares? Well, I do. It’s worth my sighs
To walk here, on the wrong road, tracking a picture back
To its bricks and its point of view.
It’s worth my while to be here, crumbling this dirt through my bare hands.
I’ve come back for the first time in twenty years,
Sand in my shoes, my pockets full of the same wind
That brought me before, my flesh
Remiss in the promises it made then, the absolutes it’s heir to.
This is the road they drove on. And this is the rise
Their blood repaired to, removing its gloves.
And this is the dirt their lives were made of, the dirt the world is,
Immeasurable emptiness of all things.
I stand on the porch of Wickliffe Church,
My kinfolk out back in the bee-stitched vines and weeds,
The night coming on, my flat shirt drawing the light in,
Bright bud on the branch of nothing’s tree.
In the new shadows, memory starts to shake out its dark cloth.
Everyone settles down, transparent and animate,
Under the oak trees.
Hampton passes the wine around, Jaq toasts to our health.
And when, from the blear and glittering air,
A hand touches my shoulder,
I want to fall to my knees, and keep on falling, here,
Laid down by the articles that bear my names,
The limestone and marble and locust wood.
But that’s for another life. Just down the road, at Smithfield, the last of the apple blossoms
Fishtails to earth through the shot twilight,
A little vowel for the future, a signal from us to them.