Farmer's Delight Plantation's Buildings and Grounds
Farmer's Delight Plantation consists of fourteen buildings and a pump house on 90 acres of historic farmland. The buildings include the Manor House, the McGhee Library, the Archives and Research Facility, a garden cabin, the Chapel, seven separate barns and workshops, and the Tenant House. The grounds also include a pond with earthen dam, a formal arboretum, and approximately 20 acres of gardens.
The Manor House
The focal point of Farmer's Delight, the Manor House is a two-story brick structure in the Georgian style of colonial plantation houses of the Tidewater region. Nearly a smaller mirror image of the George Wythe House in Williamsburg, the Manor House is one of the few brick dwellings constructed in Loudoun County before the turn of the 19th century. Notable features of the house include Flemish bond brickwork, a wide front hall, and handsome interior trim.
Shortly after purchasing the property from Jacob and Ann Reed in 1791, Joseph Lane began constructing a five-bay, two-story brick dwelling house measuring twenty-four (24) by forty (40) feet. The brickwork consists of Flemish bond, with a single belt-course running the length of the front elevation. The floor plan follows the traditional single-pile format of a central hallway and staircase, with one room on either side, on both floors.
The choice of brick, while in keeping with Georgian architectural style, was a unique one for the area, as most homes were constructed of stone and wood. Lane most likely obtained the bricks from the Pot House located a little over a mile down present-day Mountville and Pot House roads. He completed work on the Manor House prior to his death in 1803. An insurance document from 1805 reveals that a wood and stone kitchen was added some 28 feet from the Manor House.
Other additions were made to the primary structure over subsequent generations. The exterior kitchen was razed and a smaller two-story wing was added to the south side sometime in the 19th century, most likely when the Leiths owned the property. Upon purchasing Farmer's Delight, Henry Frost and his family added a north wing, complete with two-story porch, and a portico on the front face. However, recent renovations to the North Wing revealed an earlier stone foundation which predates the existing wing.
When Ambassador McGhee bought the property in 1948, he too conducted a major renovation to the historic home. The front portico and shutters were removed to restore the home's historic integrity. The north porch was enclosed in glass, and the South Wing was expanded by the addition of a service wing.
The McGhee Library
This building, reported to be the oldest one on the property (circa 1750), is built in a bank-barn style with the rear roof at the top of an earthen bank. Originally this structure, with its front area open to the outdoors, served as a barn, and later became a carriage house and a garage. Research into the evolution of the structure is ongoing.
Shortly after the McGhees purchased the property, they renovated this structure to provide a playroom for their children. The hay loft was removed, exposing the metal rods still visible today, and the fireplace was enlarged. The McGhees enclosed the front by installing two large picture windows and two doors, and added dormer windows in the front and rear to provide additional light.
After the children were grown, the Ambassador converted the playroom into a formal library to house his vast book collection. He added floor-to-ceiling bookcases and cabinets to display volumes and artifacts, and installed a separate HVAC system to regulate temperature and humidity. Mindful of the need for reflection, the McGhees installed a Japanese rock garden in front of the large windows of the Library.
Comprised of books, prints, and objects collected over a lifetime, the Library reflects the McGhees' complex interests: art, fiction, gardening, geology, medicine, music, oil exploration, philosophy, and of course history, in particular Virginia history, Middle and Far Eastern history, and historic preservation. The collection contains numerous rare and unique volumes as well as several first editions inscribed to Ambassador McGhee by the authors.
Archives and Research Facility
The McGhees first constructed this small brick building, located across the drive from the Manor House, as a two-car garage. The McGhee Foundation renovated the building in 2006 to create an Archives and Research Facility to house the McGhees personal papers, art, and artifact collections. Like the Library, this building is climate-controlled to facilitate in the long-term preservation of these collections.
The Foundation was able to employ a full-time archivist in 2008 and 2009 who helped to preserve, arrange and describe these materials. The facility now features library shelving and other necessities for the proper housing and maintenance of the collections.
To date several collections of papers have been relocated to the Archive & Research Facility: Ambassador McGhee's correspondence and business papers from the 1950s and 1960s, family scrapbooks and photo albums, framed photographs of notable acquaintances of the McGhees', and the large family slide collection containing nearly 50,000 slides documenting the family's world travels over five decades. A small number of artifacts are housed in the facility, most of which were removed from the Library to accommodate more books.
As materials are cataloged and properly preserved, The McGhee Foundation will open the Archive and Research Facility to the general public in the near future. However, the facility will remain closed until more collections have been secured.
Throughout its history, several smaller buildings have been added to Farmer's Delight to support its various farming and animal husbandry endeavors. The McGhee Foundation is conducting ongoing research into each building's history, which will help to place them into their proper context within the Foundation's mission.
Barns and Workshops
There are seven separate barns and workshops on Farmer's Delight and the remains of a grain silo. These include two stables, a large feed barn, a farrier's shed, a small dairy, a tool shed, and a tack room. Most of the barns were built by the last owner, Henry Frost, to house his horse breeding and racing operation. However, the construction of the large feed barn suggests that it may pre-date the Frosts.
Ambassador McGhee converted two of these buildings to house his artifact collections. The second floor of the large stable features a fascinating collection of African artwork, masks, wood carvings, furniture, implements, weapons, and other artifacts. The feed barn contains two exhibits: the ground floor consists of Latin American folk art, textiles, masks, icons, and Day of the Dead artifacts, while the loft features Middle Eastern, Near Eastern, and Western Pacific artifacts.
The workshops are still used for farm maintenance and hold an extensive array of tools, equipment, and hardware. One barn also contains several antique pieces of horse-drawn equipment, particularly a large plow, as well as wagons and a buggy.
Little is known about the Tenant House and no records have been uncovered at present to substantiate its history or evolution. The house is a fairly "standard" 3 bedroom, 1 bath, two-story building originally covered with clapboard siding and standing tin roof, probably built between 1880 and 1920. The McGhees conducted an extensive renovation of the Tenant House in 1948, and it was partially restored again (new siding, plumbing, kitchen, windows, gutters and downspots) in 2006-2007. It is the home of the principal farm hand and his family.
Ambassador McGhee "rescued" this small log cabin from near Leeds Manor Road just outside of The Plains, Virginia. It was reconstructed to house tools for their small English garden. The rough-hewn logs used for its walls appear to be similar from a larger log cabin which the McGhees also "rescued" and transported from Leesburg, Virginia to Farmer's Delight to serve as their lake house. The garden cabin is reminiscent of what a small, one-room slave cabin may have been like on the Plantation.
Arboretum and Gardens
The Arboretum and gardens cover nearly one-third of the Farmer's Delight Plantation property. The remaining acreage is open space and used for some farming. The gardens consist of four main areas: the boxwood maze, a formal park, the terraced gardens, and a small formal garden opposite the garden cabin.
Ambassador McGhee often spoke nostalgically about his time in England as a Rhodes Scholar. While there, he visited many of the country's great estates surrounded by expansive parks with trees, shrubbery, garden features, and lakes. The effect was not lost on the Texas native.
Almost immediately after acquiring Farmer's Delight, Ambassador McGhee laid out his plan for an arboretum - a series of twelve circles of trees, each with a small stump at the center so the trees could be observed in seated comfort. He decided to emphasize conifers because their evergreen foliage could be enjoyed year round. With more than 162 trees representing 122 species, nearly all of them conifers, the McGhees had no shortage of greens at Christmas time. Today local garden clubs come every December to collect greenery.
The layout is quite unique and advantageous: by standing in the middle one can view a large number of trees at one time and appreciate the differences between them. It was part of the McGhees morning routine to walk in the arboretum, trimming dead branches, pulling weeds and vines away from the trees and listening to the breeze blow through their branches. The Ambassador believed the pines made the best sound.
Four continents and seventeen countries are represented in the arboretum; of those native to the United States, almost all are from states other than Virginia. Most were purchased from East Coast nurseries that specialized in exotic trees, in particular the Princeton Nurseries in Princeton, New Jersey, and a nursery in Kingsville, Maryland (no longer in business) owned by the late Henry Hohman, a man renowned for his collection of unusual plants and for his reluctance to part with them. Twenty-three of the original conifers in the Arboretum are from the Hohman nursery; at least five of them were new cultivars that Hohman developed.
During his travels, Ambassador McGhee made excursions to each country's arboretums, often seeing specimens he had in his own arboretum but growing in their natural habitat. He attempted to bring seedlings home, but after losing a shipment of saplings assembled in England which died while waiting to be cleared for entry into the United States, the Ambassador went back to buying from commercial nurseries stateside.
While the Ambassador completed his circles and the trees are now fully grown, unfortunately several trees have died, leaving gaps. Other losses include two beautifully shaped lacebark pines from northwest China, which were growing near the road but disappeared mysteriously 22 years ago at Christmas time.
As funds permit, The McGhee Foundation will have an arborist identify all the remaining trees, provide any necessary care to insure their survival, and if possible, replace any specimens that have died or disappeared.
When they purchased the property, the McGhees undertook major renovations to the landscape surrounding the Manor House as well. One of the largest changes was the addition of a three-tiered back garden section extending out from the wings of the Manor House. Washington landscape architect Boris Timchenko designed a series of brick-lined terraces leading successively down toward the small pond below the house. Originally the design called for a fourth terrace, but for unknown reasons only three were brought to fruition.
The top terrace, which is composed almost entirely of a brick patio area, is anchored by a water fountain in the center. A large brick fireplace complements the south corner. Brick steps lead down to the second and third terraces which feature rounded hedges. Theses began as small knot gardens planted in geometric patterns. The Foundation is working to reinvigorate the terraces; these gardens may come to resemble their original designs.
The final feature of the back terraces is the wisteria arbor located on the south edge. The stone columns lining one side of the arbor, said to come from a 13th-century French abbey, were purchased by Ambassador McGhee from the estate of William Randolph Hearst. Hearst supposedly had intended the columns to be used on his estate in San Simeon, California.
Ambassador McGhee's travels to England also inspired him to install a classical English-style park at the front of the property adjacent to the Arboretum. The open lawn lined with trees was designed for the McGhees in the early 1970s by landscape architect Meade Palmer of Warrenton, Virginia. A wooden gazebo at the top of the park, nestled in a grove of magnolias, affords a breath-taking vista of lush green grass and small conifers.
While the Ambassador developed his circular design for the Arboretum, he also devised a plan for a boxwood maze consisting of 300 boxwood plants. Recently discovered landscape plans indicate that the maze was to be located closer to the Manor House, but ultimately the feature was placed at the end of the pine grove.
The boxwood maze became a special event at social functions; often goodies were placed at the center of the maze to encourage participation. All six of the McGhee children and their friends learned to navigate the maze, and later the five McGhee grandchildren took up the challenge. Adults also journeyed to the center and back; if they went the distance there was a prize waiting at the center - a nicely chilled bottle of champagne.
The largest memento from the McGhees' travels is this small stone chapel with a slate roof and a belfry. The chapel was built in a grove of towering pines replicating a German forest, whose bright orange needles created a bright orange carpet in fall and winter. Almost all the pines have fallen victim to disease and wind damage, particularly from a severe storm in June 2011. Replanting this area has started and will continue .
During the five years that McGhee was ambassador to Germany (1963-1968), tiny St. Mary's Chapel down the street from the Ambassador's residence cheered and comforted him as he saw the faithful pass through its doors by day and witnessed the glow of candlelight at night. As a 53rd birthday present for her husband, Cecelia McGhee made a gift of architectural drawings of the chapel. Several years later, they built a replica at Farmer's Delight. The white stucco exterior, copied from the original, was later replaced by stacked stone, the latter being more suitable for the Virginia climate.
The chapel includes a portable communion service and seating for the entire family: two large wing chairs for Ambassador and Mrs. McGhee, and assigned seating on two pews to accommodate the six children. Each child's name is displayed the back of his or her designated space.
Both the Middleburg and Fairfax Hunt have gathered outside the chapel for the Blessing of the Hounds, which many foxhunts use to open their formal hunting seasons. The blessing is extended to riders, the horses, the hounds, and even the fox (in absentia).