For the Love of Greenwood

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By Kathy Johnson

Langhorne Gibson, Jr.
Langhorne Gibson, Jr.

“Greenwood’s ‘modern’ history begins almost three centuries ago as the first white settlers traveling down the Shenandoah Valley turned east and crossed over the Blue Ridge Mountains,” said Langhorne Gibson, Jr. in an introduction to his latest book, For the Love of Greenwood.

Gibson has written a number of books, primarily dealing with Virginia history, but this book is a little different. He brings his focus to the Greenwood of his early childhood.

“Who am I to write the history of Greenwood?” he said. “I was there for 20 years. All I did was play or go to school. I never had a job in Greenwood. I never paid any taxes. So who am I to write a history of Greenwood? I salute the people who have lived in Greenwood and who have paid taxes and who have raised children. The only reason I do it is because no one else has ever done it.”

Gibson sat relaxed on one of the matching loveseats in the living room of his home in Richmond. Nearby on the wall above the fireplace, a breathtaking portrait of the Gibson Girl looked down as her grandson explained his love of Virginia and in particular the small community where he was raised. Gibson’s grandmother was Irene Langhorne Gibson, known as the original Gibson Girl as painted by her husband Charles Dana Gibson.

“Besides how it molded me,” he continued, “Whatever good parts there are of me, I think I got from my exposure in Greenwood. It was a combination of all the people in Greenwood and that’s why I have called it For the Love of Greenwood. I look back and there was such a huge, obvious disparity between the people who had money and the people who didn’t. I mean you had the huge houses—Tiverton, Blue Ridge Farms—and then you had other people at Newtown and the men and women who did the work for the—I hate the word estate—for the bigger places.

“But there was, in so many ways, no class distinction. I might have been naive then, and now, but I can’t remember my parents or my parents’ friends ever saying anything negative about anybody just because they didn’t have as much money or just because their perceived social standing wasn’t as high as somebody else’s was. And that, to me, was a wonderful lesson for me to learn. And this lesson, played out every day, is that money has nothing to do with class.

“You see those families—the old time families, the Foxes and the Shirleys—and the wonderful roots that they had relative to ours. My father moved there in 1938, or whatever, a newcomer, and, although he had some roots there in Mirador [home of the Langhornes], you had all these people who had been there and how well everybody blended together.  How wonderfully everybody respected one another. It was just a fact that the people who had the money and the big places hired the people who didn’t have the money. And so it worked out beautifully for everybody.

“That consciousness of being better than somebody else was just not there,” he said. “I could see how respectfully my father treated everybody, not because he said, ‘I’m going to be respectful of this person,’ but it was just normal. It was just natural, with the men that came to get in the hay and the farmers who worked on the place, and that to me is just so, so important.”

Gibson explained that book starts with earlier material than that about the families he was describing. “I love research. I rooted and rooted and rooted for a little nugget here and a nugget there and there is so much you can’t find. Like, I have no idea who the first person who lived in Greenwood was. You can’t get that out of plaques and things. And there was so much speculation going on. In the early days in the 1700s, so many of those people were just moving on. They would come, they’d move on. They’d end up in Tennessee or wherever.  Some people stayed, but of course you didn’t have any institutions in Greenwood.  The first institution was really Lebanon [church] and that was like 1854.

“I researched from about 1740 onward. One of the things that interested me so much was the town of New York. I had never heard of New York.” Gibson described the area behind the current Rockfish Gap Country Store near the intersection of Rt. 250 and Rt. 151. “Right in the back of that, in the field behind it, was the town of New York or York or Little York. It was a bustling community around 1800. It had a post office. It had 70 houses. It had a tanyard. It had a few business establishments. I got a lot of information from the Mutual Assurance Company. It was doing business back then and they only stopped writing insurance there about 1820, 1830, but you can see all these policies. And so you had that bustling little community and I couldn’t find out what happened to it. It just faded away. I think it had faded away before the Federal Army came through in 1865.”

Early Greenwood had a farming economy based on slavery. “To me it was interesting because Greenwood was such a backwater. Then the big places started to be built in the 1840s; Mirador was 1842, I think, and some big land owners came in later. So you had the big land owners with lots of slaves—I mean like 4,000 acres—and then the train came. Greenwood was a western terminus.”

Gibson said he did not want to focus on the Langhorne family. “I had one little blip in there about the Langhornes.” An English biographer of Nancy Astor, one of the Langhorne daughters, asked Gibson to help him. “I said I would help him if he would take what I’m saying and prove that I’m right. There were five sisters and their father was the one that was supposed to get them going, get them into society and all that. It wasn’t him! He was a rough cob of a guy.” Gibson explained that his great-grandfather was a miller, a workman, not a gentleman farmer.

“If you were a miller in the antebellum South, you weren’t anybody. The mother’s father had a plantation. He had money, he had slaves and he was in the state legislature. So she was an absolutely incredibly beautiful person who had all the style and all the class. She was the one that got those girls going.

“My great-grandmother wouldn’t have let anybody go near any of those girls unless they had a lot of money.” He rubbed his fingers together and laughed. “She was all about the cash and position for her daughters.”

Then he pointed to the oil painting above the fireplace. “See the Gibson Girl? That’s the only oil portrait of a Gibson Girl.  He [Charles Dana Gibson] did that in 1905 or ’07. “Then he threw them all away (except the one on the wall) because he didn’t like them. My mother is there,” pointing to a bright and colorful oil painting done with heavier brush strokes. “That’s the oil. He might have done about 300 oils and the family owns 290 of them. We’re not about to sell them.” In addition to that painting, the room is filled with small and large oil paintings and in an adjacent room are two of the sketches for which Charles Dana Gibson was well-known.

“I mention the big houses and things, but I don’t go into it. Then I talk about Greenwood High School and the Community Center. I went to a little private school in Charlottesville—for whatever reason.  The lady died and so I went to Greenwood in the 7th grade. And then I went to Albemarle High School for 2 years and then I went away to school.  I say in [the book] ‘we lived a weird existence.’ I mean we had nannies.”

“I stopped my history at 50 years ago. I talk about Fox Brothers and I talk about Mr. Wolford and Lightning. Mr. Wolford lived up in the rafters on one side. And Lightning, this black guy, also lived in the rafters. That was their home.  My point is I talk about what Greenwood was like from a child’s point of view. I didn’t know what was going on—I was playing.”

Gibson recalled a favorite memory from Tiverton. “Mrs. Boeing [lived there] and then her son went off to found Boeing Aircraft and all that. Then she died. She was married to a doctor who later married Aunt Mariska—back then we called all our parish friends aunt and uncle. I talk about going over to Tiverton after church, this huge, incredible house. You would walk in and you’d take a couple lefts and you would turn in to a nightclub.  It’s all been torn out now, but it was a miniature nightclub. You know with booths and a bar, and pictures of scantity dressed women flying all over the walls. And there were slot machines;  you’d think you’d died and gone to heaven. Aunt Mariska gave us a handful of nickels and we played the slot machines.”

Gibson will sign copies of his book December 5, from 2-5 p.m. at Stone Soup Books in Waynesboro. Copies can also be ordered from Langhorne Gibson for $15 plus 75 cents tax and $2 for shipping. Email [email protected]

20 COMMENTS

  1. Mr Gibson. You may recognize my last name from your childhood. My sisters, Carolyn and Carla, certainly remember you and your sister (I believe). We owned Nocamelli (I know I misspelled that), now called “Sunny Brae” from about 1950 to 1959 and our summers from Florida to Greenwood each year were wonderful childhood experiences. As you noted, I also played as a child and did not see a “class” distinction. My sisters rode horseback all over the area, often visiting “the Gibsons”. I have forwarded a copy of this article from the Gazette to them and I hope to get to Waynesboro for your book signing. I moved my own family here, to Batesville, in 2001 with the hopes that they could enjoy some of the experience I had as a child. So, much has changed and I am not a child anymore, but living in Central Virginia has many wonderful advantages. Thanks for the memories, and the history lesson. Ross Weesner

  2. Hi Lang!

    I read a magazine article about you and your family several years back. Lots of pictures of you, your wife and lovely daughters. Sounds like you’re doing well… and now an author! I wondered what Mark & Parthy were/are doing.

    Do you remember our “trail riding” adventures – occasionally with Preacher & Dopy & the Pugh brothers? (WAS there a social level difference???) We were just an odd assortment of kids having fun. I recall thinking Parthy was OK but old and very sophisticated. I think we tried to avoid Mark at all costs! You had the dearest little donkey. I’ve wanted one ever since!

    Little brother Ross did mispell Nockamellie! How could he?! Those were some great summers. Carla & I both somehow got trapped in Atlanta – not by choice but circumstances at the time prevailed. Now, we’re kinda stuck. Obviously we’ll both have to buy your book. It sounds fascinating. I add my thanks to Ross’s, for the memories.

    Best regards,

    Your old saddle pal, Carolyn

  3. Carolyn, how delightful to hear from you. Carla and I have checked in with one another a few times. I did mention our horseback rides with you two, Dopey and Preacher, Hale Rittenhouse, and Billy and Carl Pugh. Write me! My e-mail is in the Crozet Gazette article. Would love to catch up. How many years??? Lang

      • Dopey and Preacher’s last name was/is?? Sims. Not sure if they are still living. They lived up in New Town on the mountain side above what was “downtown” Greenwood. They were the regular “pin monkeys” at the two duck-pin bowling lanes downstairs at the community center.

  4. Lang,
    Rolfe sent me this article about your newest book, which I will be getting as soon as I finish writing this comment to you. I so enjoyed your book about your grandmother.
    Delighted to read that you are keeping up the good work!
    Corinne (Rolfe Langhorne’s sister in CA)

  5. My grandmother’s family lived at the The Cedars house in 1880s. They were the second owners of the house built by John S. Cocke. James H. Bailey and Mary Hays were their names. Mary Hays was a granddaughter of James Hays who founded the town of New York in the early 1880s. Mary Hays father John Hays lived at Locust Dale house just west of Brooksville which they sold to the Goodloes in 1847. Robert Brooks of Brooksville house was married to an aunt of mary Hays Bailey. They also had a connection to Joel Wheeler who lived at Monticello 1860-1878.

    I helping research Willis Carter, a former slave of the Goodloes of Locust Dale. Debbie Harding in New York has his original diary/journal. Willis was taught to read and write by the Goodloes and after freedom he went on to be supervisor of schools and founded a newspaper in Augusta Co.

    • Mr. Towler, I wish that I had been able to have you as a source. All your interconnections are most interesting.

  6. I meant to say New York was founded in 1790s+-. After the Baileys bought the Cedars, John S. Cocke’s widow died and the house itself was sold to pay off Mr. Cocke’s widow. The rest of the farm was then called Bird Haven. The Baileys sold the rest of the Cedars (Birdhaven) after 1900 to William Byrd Harrison. Mr. Harrison is buried near the front of Emanuel Church as you drive up to it. In the 1800 census with James Bailey is Henry Coleman and Jefferson Monroe (hired help) both are belived to have come with the Baileys from Monticello. Henry Coleman is very likely related to Thomas Coleman the longtime gate keeper of Monticello (see Monticello’s web site)

  7. I grew up in Greenwood. where my father was chief agent for the C&O RR and we lived across from the station until he was moved to Charlottesville as chief agent. My parents were very close to your relatives and many times I would play on the steps at Mirador. We belonged to Emmanuet Episcopal church and my parents and brother are buried there- and sister , Nancy married there. My brother “Sonny” was in the air force during the war and many times was invited to Lady Astor’s homeI. I live in Luray and when the locals speak of Luray as” God’s country”, i alwys tell them that “God’s country” is Greenwood. We played with Mary B. Goodloe,( who lived at Tucked-Away) Zanne ,Marston, David Smith, Betsy and Chil lPerkins, Ann and Frances Munn, Mary Lee , Bourne, and Charles,(who lives in Richmond) Wayland , Theo Shirley and her sister(can’t remember her name)Margaret McCue , Helen Mensing and on & on. Most important– I have the article from the Richmond paper of August 17, 1997- and the #1 and #2 volumns (“Eleven Gibson Books in 2 volumns”) that my mother left to me. My daughter( Anne O’Connell, who lives in Charlottesville) ) has ordered your book and called me – to get your information on the internet.from the Crozet Gazette . Sorry to write so much, ( I could go on and on) but what a nice snowy day to bring back memories.!!??

    • Good morning, Ms. Henderson. I haven’t checked this web site in months, so I apologize for the apparent rudeness. The Scotts no longer own Mirador. A woman of the Busch family and her husband take beautiful care of Mirador. I’m glad you enjoyed your short stay in Greenwood.

      Take care,

      Lang Gibson

  8. Mr. Gibson,

    My ancestor was William Ramsay, who owned the property upon which Mirador sits and had a mill there called, Millburne. It was sold after his death to James Bowen in 1835.

    William’s father was one of the original settlers in the Beverley Manor section of Augusta County.

    William was married to the daughter of Andrew Wallace of “Springhill” in Ivy, Va, and grandaughter of Michael Woods of “Mountain Plains” in Albemarle, now called “Blair Park. Jarman’s Gap was once called Woods Gap for Michael Woods.

    William Ramsay’s son, John, (4th great grandfather) married into the Black family with ties to the Seven Oaks Farm, also in Albemarle, (Black’s Tavern) and the Rev. Samuel Black, an early Presbyterian minister.

    A small world has many paths!

  9. Uncle Lang, It has been several years, several years too many really since I have spent time with the Gibson family.
    I would love to have some contact info so that I am able to introduce some of Daddy’s Grandchildren (HTG) to you and other Gibson relatives. The last time Ty, Tad or I visited Ramsey it was a strained yet happy meaningful time for me being with all of you.
    I speak of Gramps and Aunt Parthy and Ramsey often to my 5 children though I have few stories to tell. My daughter Dana is so proud of her name and heritage. As with me would be so appreciative if were able to sit and listen to you talk, learn who we are and where we descended.
    I would be elated if you would contact me at my email address and that would help find a way of giving us the opportunity to say hello, meet my children and become reacquainted.
    My best to you and your family. If you please send my hellos and hopes of seeing everyone.
    Best,
    Joy

    Joy Gibson
    203.257.2345
    [email protected]

  10. Mr. Gibson,
    My name is David Sparks and I grew up on Tiverton. I would like to know more about Mrs Owsley and any photos of the farms history. I know of the Bar room you are talking about and as a child found many interesting passages through out the house. Tiverton holds a special place in my heart and I miss it. Any information or guidance is helpful.

    Thanks,
    David W. Sparks

    • Mr. Sparks my Grandmother Lillie Bell Washington also lived on the Tiverton Farm in one of the 3 little houses in the field behind the manison. She worked as a houskeeper inside the manison and I remember her telling me stories about the Big House with all of the unique stuff inside of it including the bar room and I think a elevator. I remember my Mom telling me stories about running across the big field to catch the school bus and missing it most of the time. I would say about 12 years ago I drove my Grandmother back behind the Big house (that is what I use to call it) to see the three little house that my family use to live in. I was amazed at how small the are. But I loved listening to my Grandmother’s stories!

    • Mr. Sparks, I also grew up on Tiverton from 1947 to 1957. My dad was the head gardener, John Walton. During what time period did you live there? I remember Lillie Bell Washington also. There was a Russell ?? Washington who helped my father work in the gardens. I have many wonderful memories of growing up there and was so happy to hear from someone who shares those memories. I have pictures I could share and would love to exchange information also. Fran

  11. Hi
    I read with interest your article about Greenwood. I am English and for a short time I left England and lived in Mirador House . I worked as a PA/Nanny to a Mr Scott who at the time owned Mirador this would have been 20 years ago, he owned an oil company. I adored Mirador and the beautiful countryside surrounding Mirador . I worked there for one year before returning to England and on my return took a great interest in the Langhornes. The area reminded me of Scotland and I truely fell in love with the beauty of the blue ridge mountains. Whilst at Mirador I attended a local baptist church.
    I would like to know who the present owners of Mirador are and indeed if it is still Mr Scott, his children who I adored and missed very much when I returned to England were Meredith and William and lovely children they were. They will now be in their 20’s.
    If anyone who reads this can enlighten me regarding Mirador or if the church is still going I would be please to hear from them.
    E.mail is [email protected]

  12. All of my relatives aare from Crozet, Greenwood and Batesville. My grandmother’s maiden name was Martin. She married George Robinson, who passed away when my father, James Alfred Robinson was two, and then she married James Farish. They owned a farm on Clifton Trail. It is now called Lil Clifton. I spent every summer growing up in Greenwood working my grandparents farm. They had a fruit stand on route 250. My moters family lived in Crozet and had a fruit stand on Route 250 also. Thurston’s. My mother sadly passed away in 1996. She is survived by her brother Donald Thurston and her sister Anne Lane. I have been looking for information about my grandfather, George Robinson and about the land,farm, that they owned. I was told it was the Clifton Plantation. I have not been able to find anything about it.
    My mothers side of the family was Via, and Thurston Let me know if you have any imformation about any of this. I would gretly appreciate it. My sister and I are trying to do our family tree for or children..

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