hometown history

Mom & Dad gave me a great Christmas present this year: a day-long historical tour of Orange County, Virginia (where I grew up) and surrounding areas. Mr. Frank S. Walker, Jr. guided me for this one-on-one Civil War-themed tour.

Connections are the “hook” that draw me to history, and there were quite a few personal ones for me on this day. Mr. Walker’s wife, Mrs. Bernice Walker was my science teacher through most of my formative years at Grymes Memorial School. Truth be told, I never was Mrs. Walker’s best student. My interest in growing the biggest crystals in the class had far more to do with a crush I had on lab partner Ms. Phillips than it did with any true interest in science. I also remember Mrs. Walker calling me aside after class one day and telling me that she didn’t care whether I sat in the back of the room not listening, passing notes, and throwing spitballs. She did insist, however, that the peers with whom I was distracted truly did need to pay attention.

Mr. Walker’s grandfather, Captain Robert Stringfellow Walker founded Woodberry Forest School (my high school) in 1889. But on this day, our tour didn’t take us across the Rapidan into Madison county. Instead, we traveled east to Fredericksburg, and then south to a place some consider to be the spot where the Confederacy died. But I’m jumping a bit ahead of myself.

In preparation for this day, I thought it might be proper for me to read Mr. Walker’s book, “Remembering: A History of Orange County, Virginia.” I took politeness a bit to the extreme by staying up reading until 1am the night before. The history proved so rich, no politeness was called for. I learned more of Dolley Madison. She shone as First Lady, but failed tragically as a mother who should’ve given Payne a healthy dose of the tough love he never got. Payne’s excesses caused devastation to President Madison’s personal library and greatly strained Dolley’s dignity in her later years.

I’ve always been awed by the accounts I’ve read of the Marquis de Lafayette’s service to our infant nation. Reading “Remembering” gave me a personal connection. I learned in Mr. Walker’s book that Marquis de Lafayette visited the Peliso House (one of the oldest standing houses in Orange) during a courtesy call he paid to President Madison on a return visit to the United States in the 1820s.

The Peliso House

The very day I learned to ride a bike, my Mom & Dad took me to a party at the Peliso House, which sits on a hill in the west side of Orange. I surely was bragging about my newly acquired skill. One of the older boys loaned me his bike, and pointed me down the hill. I quickly discovered that this bike had no pedal brakes when I saw a car coming on a larger crossing street (Peliso Ave.) below me. That wouldn’t do – driveway, left! Boxwood bush, or window well basement? Window well basement. Next memory I have is looking up at Whit & Johnny Faulconer, Harrison Bresee, and a bunch of other kids staring down at me as if I were lying on the ground in the middle of a football huddle. I spent that night in a Charlottesville hospital.

In later years, Dad and Mr. Ober purchased the Peliso House to renovate it. Not their proudest business decision, I’m sure they’d both admit. But thanks, Dad, for preserving a small connection to the birth of our country. As we left Orange after our Christmas visit, I drove my family by the house, and shared the connection. I had fun reliving the bike wreck for the family on the drive back down.

My tour with Mr. Walker truly was an early morning to pitch dark, all day affair. When I picked up Mr. Walker at his house, we were blanketed in a fog that didn’t burn off until mid-morning. Highlights of the day included retracing the path Stonewall Jackson led his men during his famous flanking maneuver at Chancellorsville; Mr. Walker leading me to the top of Marye’s Heights in Fredericksburg where he explained the National Cemetery’s grave numbering system; visiting the house at Guinea Station (west of Fort A.P. Hill) where Stonewall Jackson died; and finally following (in reverse) the grueling country road that Jackson’s ambulance traveled from his friendly fire casualty in Chancellorsville prior to the days of modern medicine.

Thank you, Mom & Dad. Thank you, Mr. Walker. I highly recommend Mr. Walker’s TourGuide, Ltd. for anyone with even a passing interest in the rich history of central Virginia.

1 comment so far

  1. Aunt Nancy on

    Thanks so much for letting me read this. I have enjoyed it so much and realize more and more that you are not missing your calling as a writer. Keep up the good work!!


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