CCHA Honors Local Historians

The Clarke County Historical Association historian laureate inaugural class was recognized at the Clarke County Historical Association’s Annual Membership Meeting on Sunday, December 4, at the Barns of Rose Hill.

The four inductees were presented with a certificate and a polished wooden gear tooth from the Burwell-Morgan Mill that included a personalized plaque on the tooth. Award recipients Dr. Matthew Mackay-Smith, Don and Mary Royston and Nancy St. Clair Talley then spoke about their projects and interest in Clarke County history.Matthew Mackay-Smith and Jennifer Lee with Lucia Henderson in the background - photo Michael Hobert.

The Clarke County Historical Association established the Historians Laureate program this year to honor people who have greatly contributed to the historical record, research, and education of Clarke County.

“We are fortunate to have so many people dedicated to Clarke County’s historic preservation and scholarship and this is a small way to show our gratitude” said CCHA executive director Jennifer Lee.

Lee said that CCHA president Howard Means came up with the idea, explaining “while we do much here to honor history — and to generously support its preservation — I worry that we honor too little the historians who have done so much to unearth and clarify the record for the rest of us to enjoy. I’m not talking here about professional historians, though they deserve our admiration as well. Rather, I’m thinking about the gifted amateurs among us, women and men for whom historical research is an avocation — a calling, in many cases, that they can’t resist. These are the people who deserve great credit and too often don’t receive it.”

Howard Means (l) and Trigg Talley, son of honoree Nancy Talley with Maral Kalbian in the background - photo Michael Hobert

Matthew Mackay-Smith spoke about his close relationship with the land since he was a young boy and his life spent as a “noticer” and encouraged people to contribute to his ongoing project of identifying and researching colonial roads in the county because, as he said, “I’m not gettin’ any younger or stronger.”

Don Royston spoke about his family ties to the county, going back to the 18th century, and how the books he and his wife have produced grew out of his own genealogical research.

Nancy Talley was unable to attend the meeting, but her son Trigg Talley accepted the award on her behalf and said she was “shocked and deeply honored” to receive it.

Following are profiles of the recipients:

Dr. Matthew Mackay-Smith has doggedly been working over the past six years on identifying, mapping, and recording colonial roads in Clarke County. With his parents, Matthew moved to Farnley Farm near White Post as a young boy and thus began a long love affair with the county’s land, its history, and its culture, fostered in large part by his father, Alexander Mackay-Smith, one of the founding members of CCHA. He has spent a lifetime on the back of a horse so is intimately aware of the contours of the county’s land. Matthew’s determination, unwavering stamina, and intense curiosity for life has resulted in a substantial body of work, in writing and through images, of the county’s oldest roadbeds.

Don and Mary Royston — In 2003, Donald and Mary L. Royston published a book compiling the tombstone inscriptions in the Green Hill Cemetery in Berryville. Two years later, they published another, nearly 100-page book that describes the remaining family and church cemeteries throughout the county and lists who is buried there. They combed through historical records at the Clarke County Archives and the Handley Library Archives as well as consulted with several groups. They also visited 14 of the church cemeteries that had never been catalogued. This valuable tool is a great help for those researching their genealogy or trying to locate a person’s final resting place. They are constantly working on updating the publication.

Nancy St. Clair Talley— As a resident of Clarke County for close to 40 years, Nancy Talley’s numerous activities over the years have benefited the community in many ways. Not only has she been involved in many local historic organizations including the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, Belle Grove, and Historic Long Branch, but she has also served as the President of the Garden Club of Virginia, and on the Board of Directors of the Virginia Historical Society, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, and The Garden Club of America. A lifelong journalist, she has contributed greatly to the historical record of this community. Her first article was for the Nashville Tennessean, her hometown newspaper, at age 9, and she went on to contribute many articles in this area’s publications. Some of the many things she has penned include the first brochure on the Burwell-Morgan Mill which was used for several decades; an historic account of the development of the Clarke County Courthouse at the time the new courthouse was being constructed (in a CCHA Proceedings); and of course her wonderful descriptions of the local homes for the Garden Cub tours. Her avid interest in garden preservation and restoration has been applied at the Burwell Morgan Mill and Belle Grove. In addition to all this, she and her late husband, Dr. Lilburn Talley lovingly preserved their home Spout Run, near Millwood.

Mary Lou & Don Royston and (l) Mary Morris - photo Michael Hobert