A Clermont Childhood – Trouble with the Law

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: Trouble with the Law

by Donald R. Royston

In 1945, my brother Bill and I received our first visit from the law. With the war’s end, Pop sent our oldest brother, Gilbert, to Winchester to “get the boys bicycles and some other type of playthings.” Gilbert came back with two shiny bicycles and two replicas of a US Army rifle. Boy, were we in good shape now! Those play guns used caps, which produced the sound of a rifle when it was fired.

The Royston family at Clermont circa 1939 - Photo courtesy Clarke County Historical Association (click to enlarge)

One day Bill and I rode our bicycles to the back gate, which exited on the Springsbury Road, hid our bikes behind a rock break, and hunkered down behind the gate to ambush the next car as it slowed down to make a sharp turn. Soon we heard it coming, heading toward Berryville. Once we got it in our sights, we began pouring the lead into our unsuspecting victim. Those play guns sounded like the real thing, too.

We watched the car’s driver — Mr. Russell, the butler and chauffeur for the Greenhalgh family, who owned Springsbury Farm — speed through the turn and continue toward Berryville. Then we settled down to wait for our next prey. It didn’t seem to be very long, either. But this one was coming from town. The car slowed down, stopped in front of the gate, and out stepped Mr. Pete Carper, Berryville’s town policeman.

We spoke to Mr. Carper, and he asked how we were doing — just small talk. Then he asked to look at our rifles. Naturally, we handed our guns to Mr. Carper. He took one, looked it over, put it to his shoulder and sighted down the barrel, and remarked about it being a fine rifle. He then handed it back and said, “Boys, you know you can hurt or kill something with a real rifle. So always be certain when you aim a rifle you are sure you want to pull the trigger.” Then he got back into his car and headed back to Berryville. I’ve never forgotten his words.

The bicycles we were given had user restrictions. We were told we could not ride them on the highway. We had to stay on Clermont land, or if we wanted to go fishing at the Taylor-Milton farm, which Pop and Mom had purchased in 1945, we had to ride through the Warden apple orchard, located between the two farms. One day when my friend Clifton Price was visiting, we decided to go fishing. Cliff didn’t have a bicycle, but no problem — he could ride the handlebars in front of me. So off we went through the orchard to the Taylor-Milton farm with Cliff on the handlebars, holding the fishing rods.

We didn’t catch any fish and soon became bored. We decided to go home, but I was not too keen about doing all that hard pedaling through the orchard again. Instead, I had Cliff help me lift the bicycle over the fence, so we could ride easier on the hard-surfaced road. I know, I was not following instructions, but we were going along just fine until Cliff allowed the fishing poles to droop. With that, one of those fishing hooks caught the spokes and down we went although “down” is not the proper description. I distinctly remember seeing the back wheel coming up over my head as we did a tumblesault, head-over-heals.

When we landed, I was on top of Cliff, who was lying in the middle of the road, and the bicycle was topsy-turvy with the front wheel as an odd angle. The front fork was broken, the fender bent, and the spokes on the front wheel broken and ruined. What a disaster, and that wasn’t all of it. Cliff was bleeding from the head, and my knees and hands were skinned up, too. I suppose you could not have seen a more pitiful sight than Cliff and me as we carried and dragged that bicycle to the house. I don’t remember if I was punished, but I do know my lesson was learned — don’t be disobedient!

Somewhere in the general vicinity of the bike incident, Bill and I decided we would do some trapping. We had heard that skunk hides were selling for dollars, so we found some likely looking skunk holes and set a half dozen or so of Pop’s traps beneath low-hanging rock breaks in the bluegrass field. Every morning on our way to the bus stop, we’d walk by our traps to see if we had caught anything. One morning a trap was gone, which meant that some animal had tripped the trap, got one or more legs caught in it, and dragged it back deeper into the hole beneath the rock break. Being the big game hunters we were, we now had to retrieve the trap with the dead animal, so we could then take the hide off and sell it.

Bill quickly lowered himself to the ground and, reaching in the hole, found the trap chain and began pulling it out. Well, sad to say, there was a live skunk fastened in the trap who didn’t appreciate what had happened and sure didn’t take kindly to being dragged out of his hole. He began defensive maneuvers — or should I say offensive ones? — and sprayed Bill really good.

We abandoned our trapping plans for that morning, but we couldn’t get on the school bus that way, either. So back to the house we went. Mom would know what to do, or so we must have thought. Bill was quickly undressed on the back porch and told to take a bath. He still smelled horrible afterwards, so Mom used some of her personal perfume called “Evening in Paris” on him and then hustled us off to the school bus. The other kids gave us all the space we wanted that morning — they even tripled up in the seats. Bill’s teacher, Miss Garnett Levi, didn’t appreciate Bill’s odor, either. She made him go home.

Next: A Clermont Childhood — Thrashing Time



  1. DAWN PRICE says:

    thanks for sharing that story .. cliff price is my father in law

  2. Reading these stories reminds me of a book I read by John Grisham (sp?) “A Painted House”. It tells the story of a young boy living on a cotton farm with his parents and grandparents in the South during the Depression. It’s a great read!

  3. Cheryl Levi says:

    Thank you! I , as well as my family enjoyed reading the memories of my father. What a blessing to start my day!

  4. Butch Price says:

    Thanks for this story. I remember many stories from my father’s childhood and dad talked fondly of the Royston boys. I think there were many shenanigans on Springsbury Rd and the Shenandoah River when they were growing up. Thanks to Donny for sharing his experience and bringing back how great Berryville and Clarke County were for kids to be kids.

  5. I really look forward to the rest of the story. Knowing the Royston gang only as adults, I’m happy to know that the Boys we’re just as lively back when as they are today.

  6. Nice story. Thanks! 🙂

  7. Dorothy Price says:

    Cliff Price was my husband of 38 years. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this wonderful article. Donnie Royston and Cliff were good friends and I am sure they got into a lot of mischief together. Thank you, Donnie for writing such an informative article.