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Secrets of Old Valley Homes–Riverlawn

by Carol J. Alexander

 

In an age when machinery performs most of our manual labor—from washing dishes and clothes to cutting hay and plowing fields—one struggles to imagine a 4,800-square-foot brick home made completely by hand. Such is the story of Riverlawn.

Slaves began forming the brick used to build this impressive Federal-style plantation house for Jacob Price’s family in 1842. Not surprisingly, it took them five years to make enough brick, fire them on-site, and construct the home with exterior walls four bricks deep.

 

Secrets of Old Valley Homes: Riverlawn | Shenandoah Living Magazine

Photo by Mark Segreti

One step through the front door of Riverlawn, located just outside New Market, and you can almost hear the rustle of women’s gowns, tinkling of the piano and merriment from the parlor as the Price sisters entertain—a skill women in the mid-1800s were expected to acquire.

The expansive entryway at Riverlawn boasts an elegant staircase of white pine. Today, quilts hang from the second story railing and historical photos of this southern plantation house sit proudly amongst photographs of the Shumway family. A chandelier hangs from the center of a plaster medallion, common of the era.

Approaching retirement from a nomadic military existence, Jim and Jane Shumway chose the Shenandoah Valley for their family’s permanent residence. But buying an antebellum house in need of more than tender loving care was not what Jane had in mind for their first home purchase.

“It was very overwhelming,” Jane said, speaking of that first year of overseeing remodeling projects while husband, Jim, continued to commute to D.C. as an Army officer.

“Although we got an incredible deal,” she said, “we’ve sunk a lot of money into the house.” For what, exactly? Jim rattles off a long list of projects they have accomplished since they purchased Riverlawn in 2010: a new first-floor bath, kitchen, well, and laundry room are just the beginning. They refinished all the tongue-in-groove white pine floors and removed yards and yards of wallpaper. Jane’s brother, a drywall and plaster expert, re-did the first-floor walls and repaired others as needed. They also removed century-old boxwoods that were swallowing the house alive, added landscaping with flowers for color and planted a grove of fruit trees.

Originally, the home had five rooms on the main floor and five rooms on the second story, including a formal parlor, library, dining room, and winter kitchen. The three rooms in the dirt-floored basement include a slave’s fireplace. The walk-up attic runs the length of the house.

The interior woodwork at Riverlawn was constructed of white pine and walnut. Skilled slave artisans fashioned everything by hand and fastened it with wooden pegs. The eight fireplace mantels—each of a different design—and the main staircase railing reflect the artistic ability of the craftsmen. (There are three staircases at Riverlawn, two behind doors resembling closets.) The original door locks, from England, and the windows with wooden latches remain.

“We’ve been told they built the house around the windows,” Jane said. “So, to replace them would be an incredible undertaking.” The Shumways eventually plan to replace the windows, however, because many of them no longer open.

The original estate included outbuildings of stone and hand-hewn beams. A springhouse with a trough to keep food cool is all that remains. Once, a summer kitchen with a huge fireplace and slave quarters stood behind the springhouse.

Both Jacob Price and his only son, Berryman Zirkle Price, served as captains in the Confederate Army. Although there is no documentation to prove it, locals say that Riverlawn escaped Union destruction because it was used as a hospital for injured soldiers.

Jacob Price paid $10,000 to have this house built on 600 acres. After his death in 1880, Berryman became the master of Riverlawn. It remained in his family until 1962 when Berryman’s daughter, Lulu, sold it out. Today the estate includes only 15 of those 600 acres.

Only the fourth owner of Riverlawn since the Price family, the Shumways would do it all over again. “It has been a joy,” said Jane. “We consider ourselves caretakers of history. While it is our home, we feel honored to be able to take care of this house until we pass it on to the next person, when the time is right.”

 

Harrisonburg Fire Department Museum | Shenandoah Living Magazine
Community and BusinessHistory

Harrisonburg Fire Department Museum–Sparking Interest in Public Safety

by Jean Young Kilby

 

Forty-five years in the making, the Harrisonburg Fire Department Museum sits perched on the third floor of the city’s Public Safety Building like a cat in a tree, the pet project of Harrisonburg Fire Chief Larry Shifflett.

Harrisonburg Fire Department Museum | Shenandoah Living Magazine

Photo by Matt Schmachtenberg

An impressive collection

Since he began volunteering at Hose Company #4 as a young teen, Chief Shifflett has collected hundreds of items from fire brigade buckets to fire extinguishers to a brassy fireman’s pole. “A lot of stuff was just laying around the firehouse. I picked a lot of it out of the trash can,” he said. “I never thought it would turn into this.”

His prize display is a mammoth hose reel with wheels big enough to move a covered wagon. “This was made in Harrisonburg in 1894 by John Morrison, who was at one time the mayor,” he said. “This was the earliest piece of fire equipment owned by the city. It took 8 to 10 men out in front pulling it to wherever the fire was. The bigger the wheels, the easier it was to pull it over gravel and stone. The problem was going downhill.”

Wandering through the circular museum gives one the surreal feeling of stepping back in time. A cough-drop red fire alarm box stands at the ready. At one time, Harrisonburg had seven of these alarm boxes posted around town for folks who didn’t have telephones. Cold War-era gas masks and Chemox masks are relegated to hanging on a wall, while mannequins showcase outdated yellow rubber fire suits. Vintage uniforms linger as testaments to the courage and pride of local firefighters down through the decades, beginning with the earliest professional firefighter, the Keeper of the Apparatus—the man responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of firefighting equipment.

 

A brief glimpse into the past

Not all fires are caused by faulty wiring or chimney sparks. According to the museum’s 1943 Record Book, at least one fire that year was sparked by a mislaid cigarette. Another fire broke out when someone struck a match close to rubber cement. One person’s curtain burst into flames from a nearby jack-o’-lantern; while one industrious woman started a fire while scrubbing her floor with gasoline.

Flipping through the pages of the 1943 Record Book can leave one with more questions than answers: How did a fire ignite at Wetsel Seed Company at 11:00 one night? Why did Harrisonburg’s Main Street School sustain a fire on March 28, while on the next day, Harrisonburg High School on Grace Street also reported a fire? Was an arsonist afoot? Several familiar names pop up in that book. On April 25, for example, Mrs. George Grattan sustained an estimated loss of $250 because of “unnecessary loss due to delay getting water on fire.” Why the delay? Fodder for speculation.

 

A museum for all

The fire department museum offers visitors a unique perspective on Harrisonburg’s history. History buffs will appreciate rambling among the exhibits, while children can enjoy a hands-on experience. They can don rubber suits and fire hats, pick up a real fire hose, and pretend to squirt water on a blazing fire. To top it off, they can shimmy up and slide down the fire pole.

Chief Shifflett will be retiring soon. He plans to continue collecting for the museum, but he hopes he won’t have to scour the trash cans for his next prize—the 1948 GMC pumper truck he’s had his eye on for a while.

Museum hours are 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. Entry is free and open to the public. If you’re lucky, you might catch Fire Chief Larry Shifflett, a modern-day “Keeper of the Apparatus, inspecting the equipment.