Recollections from Cool Spring Farm

Cool Spring Farm, now Holy Cross Abbey, has played an important role in Clarke County’s history for generations. Louise Cummins Dye’s book, “Memoirs of a Steelmaker’s Daughter”, 2004, chronicles the history of the Cummins family and its ties to Audley and later Cool Spring Farm. The following text was reprinted from a pamphlet titled “Louise Cummins Dye’s recollections of her childhood at Cool Spring, Honoring the 220th Anniversary of the Building of Cool Spring House, 1784; Holy Cross Abbey, Berryville, Virginia”.

Reprinted with permission.

From the chapter “My Cummins Heritage”

The author is speaking of her Great-uncle and Great-aunt, Archibald Cummins and Anna Williams Cummins, married early in the twentieth century. Archibald Cummins was a land-lease agent for mineral rights (coal and oil).

WHILE EXPLORING FOR THESE PRODUCTIVE FIELDS, Archie met a young lady from Lynchburg, Virginia named Anna Williams. They fell in love and Anna took him home to meet her mother and eight siblings. He was thirty years older, a Yankee, a Republican and a Presbyterian, but they still adored him and so Anna and Archie were married.

Archie had promised to buy Anna any house she wanted. She said her home must be in Virginia. After the wedding Archie and Anna, traveling in a horse-drawn carriage, looked for a home. Near Berryville, in Clarke County, Virginia, they found Audley, a grand plantation George Washington had built for his stepdaughter, Nellie Custis. The historical marker I remember at the entrance to Audley listed Archibald Cummins as the fourth owner. It is a gorgeous house, one floor, built in a ‘U’ shape. It sits about a half-mile back from the Berryville Pike, with a beautiful row of trees on either side of the road going to the house. Also included were about a thousand acres of land, making Audley truly one of Virginia’s beautiful working estates.

Louise Cummins Dye - Photo reprinted with permission from "Memoirs of a Steelmaker's Daughter"

As far as I know, Uncle Archie had no farming experience before he settled in Clarke County. He was always a student, experimenter, scientist and developer. He was soon raising beef cattle and developing his land in new ways. He introduced alfalfa to Clarke County.

About 1926 a Mr. Jones came calling on Uncle Archie and offered him an unholy large amount of money for Audley. He wanted to raise racehorses. Uncle Archie was a businessman, a Yankee and a Republican. He could not refuse Mr Jones’ offer, so he sold Audley to a horse trader. Aunt Anna never stopped missing Audley, even though Uncle Archie built nearby Caryswood for her, as beautiful a house as I have ever seen, even larger than

Audley. He also bought three adjoining farms: Cool Spring, Westwood, and Waterloo. We always spoke of them as one farm, Cool Spring. These farms were all in Clarke County, just a few miles east of Audley and north along the Shenandoah River.

I do not know where Uncle Archie’s money came from, not from his father, a minister. It was never discussed. I am sure he operated the farms profitably and he did consulting work for gas and oil companies. I do not remember his ever traveling, except when he went to Washington to have his haircut. He did not drink at all. He bought many, many books. Caryswood had books in every room. Many of those books are now in the Berryville

Library, which he established.

I think Uncle Archie is best described as a philanthropist. He helped many people in his life …. I particularly remember Frank Tappen. Uncle Archie met Frank in Florida when Frank was in his early twenties. I do not know anything about Frank’s family; they may not have been living. Uncle Archie was impressed by this young man and brought him back to Caryswood to help him on the farms and in his lab, and of course to drive him. Frank proved to be a special person and Uncle Archie sent him to the University of Virginia not only for his bachelor’s degree but also for his medical degree. One reason Uncle Archie did this was that Berryville needed a doctor. He next bought a big building (The Hawthorne Building) in the center of Berryville and set up not only an office for Dr. Frank Tappen, but also a clinic. In this building he also established a public library. Dr. Frank Tappen served the ill of Clarke County all his life and named his daughter “Cummins” for Uncle Archie. She was always called “Cummie.”

From the chapter “Cool Spring in Berryville, Virginia”

DADDY INHERITED COOL SPRING from his Uncle Archie in 1934. His father also died in 1934 and left him some money. I remember Daddy saying that without the money from his father he would not have been able to keep Cool Spring. That would have been terrible for he loved Cool Spring and farming so much.

When we inherited Cool Spring it was nearly 150 years old, having been built before 1792. The original manor house of Cool Spring was still standing; and, though the tenant farmers who had lived in it had not cared for it, it was still in good condition. When Uncle Archie bought Cool Spring there was a pane of glass in the living room that had been etched with a diamond: “Danced tonight with Suzanne Wormley. May peace and plenty bless our Isle. Captain Kendall, 1793.” Uncle Archie had removed the pane and it was framed at Caryswood. The day that Aunt Anna brought it over and presented it to Hy [the author’s mother, Harriet Donaldson Cummins] was a great day. Hy felt accepted by Aunt Anna as the mistress of Cool Spring.

Drawing of Cool Spring House by Mathilda M. Cox - Courtesy Mathilda M. Cox

Cool Spring sits on the top of a hill and appears large as one approaches it. It is built of limestone from the  limestone outcroppings everywhere on the farm. There is a one-storied pillared porch in the front that has a porch above it. Across the back of the house was a porch that I remember being thirty feet by twenty feet. It was a wonderful porch, no matter what the exact measurements were.

I would describe the house as a center hall colonial. Actually it is only four-roomed, but what wonderful rooms! It has a large center hall with a beautiful stairway, and a room on each side. One was the living room and the other, I imagine, was the original dining room. The rooms are equal in size, each with a lovely fireplace and each with four big windows. The woodwork in all the rooms is beautiful, looking much like the woodwork in the homes in Williamsburg. All the windows in the house  have inside shutters as well as outside shutters. There are two rooms upstairs of the same size as the first floor rooms. One of these rooms was the girls’ room. There were four beds and four bureaus in it and still space enough for chairs, et cetera. The floors were all beautiful hardwood and in excellent shape.

Directly in back of the main house was a second house that reminded Hy of Robert Burns’ birthplace. This  house matched the big house, as it was also built of limestone. This was the original kitchen of Cool Spring, a very pretty building with a big chimney at either end. One of the chimneys even had a big outside fireplace.

The earth (soil) at Cool Spring is bright red. I was always told that it was very good soil, and I believe that is true; however, when it rains, the soil sticks to shoes and is hard to clean. Hy wanted some way to keep our feet out of the mud, so she had one of the farm hands bring the tombstones from the old cemetery on the hill across the road. Thev made perfect stepping-stones. We knew that the McCormicks had once owned Cool Spring and had been buried there; we also knew Uncle Archie had moved the bodies to the cemetery in Berryville years earlier. We were surprised that the ladies of Clarke County criticised Hy for  using the tombstones. They were most practical!

When the war was over Daddy did talk of retiring but he was only 58 and so put it off. On July 10, 1947 he  died, having worked all day …. An interesting side note: The day before he died, Daddy had signed papers to have electric power lines brought onto the farms.

Daddy died without a will; so, what to do with the farms? There was not a good person on the farms to help us. We saw no way of keeping the farms and sold them three months after Daddy died to a man from Washington for much less than they were worth. Within a year he sold the farms to the Trappist monks for twice what he had paid us.

The Trappist monks have a bakery and their bread is sold in the supermarkets in Washington, Mainly, however, the monks are known for their fruitcake, which is good and advertised nationally.

The Trappist monks have taken a vow of silence [a mistaken idea, held by many even now} and may only speak when guests are there and then they never stop! Roy and I have visited Cool Spring several times since it became a monastery. Brother James is the monk who talked to us the most. He wants to know the history of Cool Spring and wanted all the background I could give him. He has researched the Battle of Cool Spring … has used a metal detector and has found shell fragments and other relics.