A Clermont Childhood: Going to Town

Editor’s Note: In March 1939, Gilbert and Margaret Royston and their five children moved from a farm on Parshall Lane to Clermont Farm, just east of Berryville, which they continued to rent until 1948. In this series of articles, the youngest of the Royston children, Don, recalls the Clermont of his youth.

“A Clermont Childhood (1939-1948),” by Donald R. Royston, first appeared in  Proceedings (Vol. XXVI, 2008), the Journal of the Clarke County Historical Association. The Clarke Daily News is very pleased to present this five-part series in collaboration with the Clarke County Historical Association.

The 3rd annual HarvFest — a family-centered celebration of local food, farming, and history — takes place at Clermont Farm in Berryville, Virginia on Saturday, June 18, from 11-5. Clarke County has a rich heritage of farming and history that continues to this day. The national movement toward eating local food, practicing sustainable agriculture, and connecting the producer to the consumer is well underway and HarvFest will bring this education and celebration to the public, prepared cuisine, entertainment, and educational activities.

HarvFest is a one-day festival celebrating local food, farming, and history. Clarke County’s rich agricultural and historical heritage will be showcased via local food and drink vendors, farming demonstrations, and historic tours and displays. HarvFest is hosted by and benefits The Clermont Foundation and Clarke County Parks and Recreation.

HarvFest will be held at the historic Clermont Farm just east of Berryville on business Route 7. Clermont was surveyed by George Washington in 1750 and currently sits on 360 rolling acres owned by the Virginia Dept. of Historic Resources and managed by a local trust. Clermont is a working cattle and sheep farm.


A Clermont Childhood: Going to Town

by Donald R. Royston

Main Street, Berryville, Virginia from a 1930's postcard - Courtesy Clarke County Historical Association

We had many horses — the draft type, big and strong, and often very fat and lazy. One spring Pop was using his tandem-horse plowing method (multiple three-horse teams) in a field next to Route 7. As he frequently did, he was breaking in some young horses by teaming them with more mature ones., but when truck on the highway went by loaded with tin, which made a rattling sound, one of those young horses became startled and frightened, and spooked the other two horses. They started to run; and when they began running, the other teams did the same thing. They all ran away, back to the barn.

When Pop, my oldest brother Gilbert, our hired hand Skeeter, and the other man got back to the barn, the horses had gotten their wind back. Pop told everyone to take them back to the field and put them back to work. And he further told everyone they were not to feed the horses from that day forward. Pop said he would do the feeding. Well, he took away the grain and only fed them hay. Wouldn’t you know, those horses became sleek and trim and more manageable. Pop said they had been fed too much corn and grain and had grown “too full of themselves.”

We all knew where Pop went on Saturday afternoons after dinner — to play cards at the Carter and Ashby Garage in Berryville. He would return to help with and ensure the afternoon chores were completed. For all of us, work was minimized on Saturday afternoons. We were anticipating Saturday night in Berryville! Bill and I would go to the movies and see other young folks and have fun.

The whole downtown was two blocks long and had stores of most descriptions to provide the needs of a farming community. There was even a “rest area for the ladies,” an apartment over one of the stores where the women could refresh themselves and engage in conversation while the men and children entertained themselves.

Berryville was the place to be on Saturday night for most of Clarke County’s farm families. Mom would take her eggs to Ramsburgs Grocery Store to exchange for food staples we didn’t grow; Pop would be at either Fred Morris’ IH dealership store or sitting on Mr. Russell’s front wall — a favorite sitting and talking place for the men.

One day Pop went with Mr. Mac Clagett somewhere, probably to look at some stock because Mr. Clagett was a livestock dealer. Since that made for a lazier afternoon than usual, Bill and I went to the creek. It must have been a Saturday because we didn’t have an assigned task. We were just looking for something to do, so we began throwing rocks, at first into the creek and then, when we tired of that, at the windows in the springhouse, an unused old building. I remember those windows had a wavy, unclear look to them. We became so accurate that we broke all of those windows. Thinking nothing of our actions, we spent the remainder of the afternoon getting the milk cows in the barn and taking care of our chores.

When Pop and Mr. Clagett came home and crossed the creek on their way to the house, Pop must have spied those broken windows. His first question to us was, “Who broke the glass windows in the spring house?” Well, of course, we answered, “We did.” Pop said, “I’m going to thrash you for that!” But he didn’t do it. This was totally out of character for Pop. He usually did what he said he was going to do — and I mean, he did it right away.

In the years since, my sister Helen has told me the reason Pop didn’t discipline us then was because Mr. Clagett said to him, “Gilbert, you aren’t going to punish them for telling the truth, are you?” But that was much later, For now, that impending whipping just weighed on my mind. I knew we were going to receive a hurtful time.

The anticipation of that really bugged me, so every so often I’d ask, “When are you going to whip us, Pop?” I wanted to get it over with. This went on for a few weeks until one day Pop must have thought I was being disrespectful or “smart.” That day he said, “Right now!” Bill and I both received our thrashing, and then Bill hit me few times saying, “If you had kept your mouth shut, we wouldn’t have gotten a whipping!”

I think it is important to say here that we were taught to always tell the truth; and even though we admitted our guilt, Pop still felt we deserved punishment for our wrongful act. “You should have known better than to do that” was one of his favorite sayings.



  1. Birdonawire says:

    “You should have known better than to do that” LOL! I heard that saying many times growing up…

  2. I just love that postcard from the 1930’s. I also find the description of Saturday nights in the town fascinating. Even had a “rest area” for the ladies! I wonder which building was the Ramsburg Grocery store? Also, is the creek in the story what we call the “town run” today?

  3. Richie Blick says:

    I found that exact postcard on ebay a few years ago. have a few different ones now.