Located an hour west of Washington, D.C. in the rolling hills of Virginia horse country, the park includes many expected components of a state park: hiking trails, fishing and camping. Several miles of the Appalachian Trail traverse the park. But its core is a historic area – several house ruins and a federal style brick house and outbuildings built in the 1840s standing on a hill with a commanding view over the valley below. Abner and Mary Settle built the house and named it “Mount Bleak House” (meaning exposed to the weather). They raised nine children there during the turbulent years of the mid-1800s. Their niece, Amanda Edmonds, kept a journal from 1857-1867 which offers historians a picture of life on the property during the Civil War.
The Settles’ oldest son, Thomas, studied medicine and was at Harpers Ferry during John Brown’s raid. At Brown’s subsequent execution, Settle checked his pulse and pronounced him dead. Thomas later served as a surgeon in the Confederate Army and finished the war a prisoner in Fort McHenry in Baltimore.
The park sits in the Crooked Run Valley, rich agricultural lands intersected by streams. No major Civil War battles were fought in the area, but troops on both sides regularly moved through. General Stonewall Jackson’s troops camped in the valley on their way to the first major battle of the War in Manassas, Virginia.
The agricultural censuses of 1850 and 1860 provide lots of information about the farm’s activities – main crops were wheat and oats; the Settles owned fifty swine, twenty-seven cattle, seven milk cows, eight horses and two oxen and ten slaves; several hives produced beeswax and honey.
The park includes architectural elements from four plantations with thirteen well-preserved agricultural buildings dating from 1843 through World War II. While the park does not interpret the 20th century history, the Mount Bleak house was used as a summer retreat for the Robert Hadow family during the WWII years. They lived in Washington as part of the diplomatic corps. Hadow, a British subject, named the property “Skye Farm” after the Isle of Skye in Scotland.
No one famous lived there, no major historic event occurred there, but the place quietly recalls the days when small farms sustained the Virginia economy. The unspoiled landscape nourishes the soul. Bravo to Virginia for preserving this piece of the state’s heritage and sharing it with the public.
Readers living nearby may want to check out the website for the schedule of programs ongoing in the park. http://www.dcr.virginia.gov/state_parks/sky.shtml