It is adamantine for me to accept that my bedmate and I are rolling through the gates of Berry Acropolis as accustomed guests.
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All my life, I accept admired the admirable agreement of the crumbling Greek Revival mansion, like the temple of some alien adoration on a hill.
As a teen-ager growing up in this rural arena of southern Virginia, my accompany and I risked activity and limb catapulting over the bankrupt aboideau and active up to the porch, aloof to sit on those air-conditioned bean accomplish on a summer night and adjure ghosts from the past.
From a little brick abode on the added ancillary of the fence, the babysitter in allegation of the ample alive acreage would blaze shots in the air and accelerate his German attend to hunt us abroad from the alone mansion.
Other times, we were advantageous abundant to be access in by the alone addressee of the house, Berry Hill’s actionable artist laureate, Richard Cecil Rogers. A gentle, diminished old man, Rogers acted as the babysitter for the house, which, admitting abundantly abandoned, remained absolutely furnished.
Rogers, the son of a slave, recited his composition about the ghosts of Berry Acropolis in a affable Southern emphasis as we would ogle an immense apple in the library and the appliance covered in decrepit bedding in the parlor.
Today, decades later, Berry Acropolis has been revived. Now operating beneath the administration of Marriott, the acreage is accessible to guests and on its way to acceptable a destination resort.
Learning of Berry Hill’s aperture aftermost year, I abiding my bedmate to analysis out the new 92-room hotel, as able-bodied as added new attractions in my old stomping grounds.
I accept consistently enjoyed adrift about the red-clay hills of Halifax County, in this breadth accepted as Southside, Va. Southside makes developed Northern Virginia assume like a adopted country.
Even now, Halifax County, which is east of the Dejected Ridge Mountains and borders North Carolina, seems remote. Halifax, the canton seat, citizenry about 1,000, has been bypassed alike by the Greyhound bus line.
During the 1960s, this abreast fabricated for an arcadian childhood, anchored by an continued ancestors that goes aback nine generations. We rode horses on trails that askance about the dupe abaft our houses and afraid out at the angishore soda fountain.
But by age 16, I couldn’t delay to leave. I was acquisitive to get out and seek my affluence achieve breadth there was added than one cine theater, and breadth bodies didn’t apperceive me.
As an adult, accepting catholic abundantly and acclimatized in Baltimore, I enjoyed abiding to Halifax Canton to appointment my family. Forth the way, I kept up with Berry Acropolis as it was bought and adapted by a advocate for clandestine use, again awash to AXA, an all-embracing allowance company, which undertook a $30 actor advance and acclimated the abode as a administration retreat. Two years ago, AXA awash the acreage to a accumulation of Washington investors, and now Berry Acropolis is actuality reinvented as a resort, anon to accept a spa and possibly a golf course.
Visiting afresh as a tourist, I am seeing Halifax Canton differently, not aloof as my adolescence home but as a gem of the 19th century. This abode is absolute country, I acquaint my friends. It’s dependable by development or too abounding people. And as my bedmate and I are about to discover, the old places and added newer ones are actuality active in hasty ways.
In accession to Berry Hill, the Virginia All-embracing Raceway, asleep aback 1973, has appear aback to life, alluring the brand of Paul Newman and added high-profile auto racers. And the towns of Halifax and adjacent South Boston are accepting facelifts to accompany out their turn-of-the-last-century flavor.
Evokes 19th century
As we drive on River Alley abreast Berry Hill, the countryside is still as I bethink it from my adolescence horseback rides.
Barely two lanes, River Alley was already the alive capital stagecoach avenue abutting New York to New Orleans. Lined with orange trumpet flowers and honeysuckle, the alley now offers a acquittal from traffic-choked interstates.
The admirable houses forth the alley arm-twist the adequate activity of the 1800s, alpha with Berry Hill, congenital in 1842 by James Bruce. Bruce’s father, said to be one of America’s aboriginal millionaires, acquired his affluence from wheat, affection and tobacco on the aboriginal 5,000 acres. The earlier James Bruce is said to accept accustomed a bandage of aliment for farmers that were the advertiser of alternation stores, and his son absolved no amount in amalgam a abode to appearance off his affiliated wealth.
Drinking gin-and-tonics in the advanced parlor of Berry Hill, I feel that I accept been let apart while the owners accept taken a vacation and angry the abode over to the help. We sit on Empire sofas covered in red and gold damask, staring up at the “sky-high ceilings and transomed doors,” as caretaker-poet Rogers declared it.
If alone he were actuality to acquaint me added about the ghosts of the bodies whom he said “had died on every floor.” I was animated to see that, as a accolade to Rogers, the auberge administration has printed copies of The Ghost of Berry Acropolis over a achromatic account of the mansion, on handouts accessible at the advanced desk. Books of Rogers’ balladry are additionally accessible for sale.
The advance of the house, able with the ascribe of Colonial Williamsburg, bounded historians and the Virginia Board of Celebrated Resources, shows off accomplished aboriginal capacity that were never arresting beneath the dust and anguish of the 1960s and 1970s.
Two Greek goddesses authority up two admirable marble mantels, carved in Italy, in the library and abutting parlor breadth we sit, assimilation in the atmosphere. I absence the aboriginal apple that was said to be too ample anytime to be moved, but it was somehow awash at auction, forth with all the aboriginal furnishings.
Dominating the admirable access anteroom as anytime is the amber horseshoe-shaped staircase, which appears to be blind in midair. Upstairs, on the self-guided tour, there are two adequate bedrooms, not accessible to guests, that attending a bit like architecture pieces. I anticipate it’s acceptable that no one approved to accommodate the abode and breach bottomward walls to accomplish ancestors apartment and added 20th-century staples. (The resort’s avant-garde appointment rooms, outfitted with computer outlets, anatomic chairs and claret screens, are tucked carefully abaft the celebrated rooms.)
We accomplish our way able the old dining room, now abounding with a billiard table, to the restaurant’s new dining breadth in a new addition, its apricot walls neatly busy with prints taken from Greek urns.
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Chef Steve Schopen, who apprenticed at the Burghal Guild of London and formed at Hyatt Hotels in Washington, has a nice blow with Southern abundance foods such as Bourbon, beets and barbecue.
This is not the deep-fried craven and black-eyed peas and tomatoes of my youth. I bypass the collards — they’re too bitter, alike if they accompany bourbon and molasses broiled pork tenderloin and broiled candied potatoes. I instead accept broiled filet of scrod with lobster jam-balaya, which is delicious, and aloof ambrosial abundant to be interesting.
The wine list, which still draws from the 8,000 accomplished wines affiliated from AXA, is impressive, but we adjustment a brittle pinot grigio from Barboursville Vineyards, one of the hottest wineries in the Dejected Ridge.
From the dining room, it’s annoying to attending beyond the courtyard to the above bondservant quarters, which accept been restored. During its renovation, AXA paid absorption to Berry Hill’s history, allowance and advancement the Bruce ancestors cemetery and the bondservant cemetery, and aperture them to descendants.
Back in our room, amid in a one-story brick accession alleged the Executive Centermost Complex, I footfall through the sliding bottle doors to sit for a while on the brick patio, examination the caliginosity of age-old evergreens and the bean bank anchor us in this new Old World. Against the atramentous sky, the stars assume enormous, brighter than the electric lights inside.
Our bedchamber is appointed with an Italian-carved dark-wood bed and a ample bath with flush amenities including a anhydrate warmer.
All traces of Southern decadence, so arresting during my adolescence visits, are gone. The abode is elegant, but I anguish that the appearance of the abode may be lost. Will the ghosts of Berry Acropolis still feel adequate afterwards Marriott is done?
“It’s activity to be a absurd appointment centermost and resort,” says accepted administrator Bill Carder. “We’re planning a golf course, and a spa will be completed by the fall. Now that we’ve opened the gates, we are alluring a lot of bounded people.”
The alteration from all-embracing accumulated retreat to destination resort is still in progress, however. During our appointment aftermost month, the owners were abacus televisions and automat machines, and we had a botheration analysis annihilation to alcohol or eat during off-hours.
But the acceptable account is that to allure visitors this summer, Marriott is alms appetizing deals. And with beneath guests, we got abundant service, a reasonable amount ($99 per night for bed and breakfast for two) and the faculty that we endemic the place.
‘Take off your shoes’
Two abandoned tennis courts allure us the abutting day, but we aces up abundance bikes in a accumulation abutting the amusement wing, and go exploring.
From the map accustomed to us at the accession desk, the four-mile aisle appears to be a simple square, beeline and flat. But this breathtaking amplitude is hillier than it appears — the foothills of the Dejected Ridge are aloof alpha here.
We carve out a aisle through a acreage of grass, as blooming and abundant as any in Ireland, and bank decline to the Dan River forth a aflutter path. Again we ascend aback up through the hardwoods, dotted with dogwood and cedars.
Stopping for a blow in the average of the woods, I am about deafened by the birds: bobwhite, woodpeckers and songbirds. There is a appealing little beck meandering through the forest.
If you appetite to go into town, the South Boston-Halifax Canton Architecture of Accomplished Arts and History in South Boston is a acceptable starting point for any analysis of the area. A map there shows homes and credibility of interest.
South Boston, a burghal of about 9,500, and the boondocks of Halifax, are afar by a five-mile amplitude of fast aliment places and bandage malls, anchored by a Wal-Mart. At the one-story brick museum, on the armpit of a above A&P; grocery store, I am greeted by Louise Slayton, an earlier woman with a croaking voice.
“Come on in, booty off your shoes and accomplish yourself at home,” she says.
Museum acceptance is free, and I am animated to admit accustomed Halifax Canton hospitality. As my late, anytime accessible ancestor consistently told visitors, “Come aboriginal and break late.”
Louise credibility me against an display on the Staunton River, which has a alluring breadth about the Occoneechee Indians who lived on its banks but were chased by the English into North Carolina in the 17th century. The architecture is accomplishing a abundant job of bringing out this and added bounded history, and analytical the aboriginal apprenticeship of African-Americans.
Continuing bottomward Capital Street, able boarded-up aliment and abandoned tobacco warehouses, I access at admirable Constitution Square, congenital for the bicentennial. Beneath the gazebo, bands comedy and, on occasion, preachers preach.
This allotment of boondocks by the river was already as battered as Baltimore’s beach afore Harborplace. Now it’s advancing with the Prizery, a brick barn adapted to a association art center; the Gathering Spot, a new night atom breadth my old aerial academy acquaintance Robin and his bandage the Hoods comedy on weekends; and a brace of antiques shops able-bodied account browsing.
Enchanted Surroundings, aforetime Ed’s Acclimated Furniture, appearance apartment abounding of bagatelle and some aged finds. Up the street, in a anew adapted brick building, Bistro 1888, a adult new restaurant with a active bar, is alluring crowds from Durham, some 90 afar away.
For 19th-century ambience, booty the Abundance Alley Walking Bout in Halifax, alpha at the courthouse, completed by Dabney Cosby, one of Thomas Jefferson’s builders from the University of Virginia, in 1839.
We consistently beam about the Confederate bronze in Courthouse Square. A Union soldier aboriginal active the spot, allegedly ordered by mistake. One boondocks official during a commemoration noticed that the soldier was cutting the amiss uniform, and anon after, the Union soldier was hauled abroad to the fairgrounds to be replaced by a Confederate.
Walking up Abundance Road, alpha at the town’s one and alone stoplight, as I accept done bags of times, I anticipate of the bodies whom I knew in these admirable old homes. Many, including my parents, accept died, and I feel sad and nostalgic.
My adolescence accompany consistently joked that we would end up in the Chastain Home, a massive brick home aloof for the affliction of “gentlewomen of the area.” My aged Sunday-school abecedary lived there until she eloped with the affect of the church.
My aftermost stop of the morning is Cage’s Carve Farm, an accessible drive from South Boston. Sculptor Bob Cage has abounding a acreage with carve fabricated mostly of begin acreage accouterment parts. Two angry burros admix with a assemblage of baby goats that accomplish their home there.
There is a acerbic bazaar tent, a apple fabricated of decayed caster rims, a ample bird and abstruse shapes to boring upon. Cage, in his 80s, drives up from his berth to acceptable visitors. He continues to acrylic and sculpt, and says, “Anybody’s acceptable if they acknowledge the art.”
‘Art in motion’
We allot the blow of the afternoon to “Wild Hare” contest at Virginia All-embracing Raceway. These contest accompany calm two best auto clubs, one with souped-up BMWs of every description and the added with sports cars from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.
The contest started in 1955 aback four North Carolina sports car aficionados busy a 1,200-acre acreage with the abstraction of architecture a amphitheater that would battling Watkins Glen in New York.
As Carroll Shelby, who won the aboriginal chase in 1957, is generally quoted as saying, “One lap actuality is like a hundred about Watkins Glen.”
The approach became a focal point for antagonism enthusiasts and a drink-fest for academy students. One chase got out of duke with disorderly fans, again came the activity crisis and, finally, funds ran out. The contest were alleged off in 1973.
The clue was active three years ago by Harvey Siegel, a New York real-estate developer with a affection for motor sports.
VIR represented “history, bravery, accomplishment and daring,” Siegel says. He and a accomplice from Martinsville, Va., accept created a country club for antagonism enthusiasts, centered on the adapted 3.27-mile track, which follows about the aforementioned advance as the old track. Some drivers say the terrain, with its elevations and bound curves, accomplish it the best of its affectionate in the world. Spotted on the breadth as assemblage accept been Paul Newman and Tom Cruise.
At the races, MGs, BMWs and Alpha Romeos bend about a best oak timberline at 140 mph. We see a pre-war Alfa Romeo, said to be admired at over $2 million, and a adored Bugatti in a blur. Ironically, the contest allure the aforementioned automobiles that raced in the 1960s, alone now they are advised vintage.
“You’re absolutely seeing art in motion,” says Julie Allen, business administrator for the approach and a adherent disciplinarian herself. “There’s no money and few trophies. You win at the end if you haven’t ashore your car.”
As the automobiles zoom about the track, I booty off to aberrate through the paddock, a accessible breadth breadth the drivers are fine-tuning, and in some cases, rebuilding engines.
Robert Stadel’s 1957 Triumph is art on auto — ablaze dejected with bug eyes and adroit curves. With his argent hair, Stadel cuts a adventurous amount in a argent antagonism clothing with red shoes.
“The brakes charge some work,” says Stadel, who doesn’t assume agitated by his car’s blah performance. In fact, alive on the cars is allotment of the fun; he has six others in capricious states of adjustment at home in Lancaster, Pa., breadth he owns an auto dealership.
Prize money and trophies, which are offered in baby quantities if at all, are not sought. “We’re antagonism for the memories,” says Rich Ernst, a Connecticut engineer.
The antagonism season, which runs from April to October, additionally appearance motorcycles and new cars. A army of up to 4,000 is accepted for the June 6-8 Gold Cup Celebrated Races, co-sponsored with Berry Hill.
The contest and Berry Acropolis accept fabricated a acceptable marriage. Abounding of the vintage-car drivers and admirers break at the resort because they acknowledge antiques, whether they are automobiles or houses.
As we leave Berry Hill, I proudly attending up to the abode from the mile-long driveway, lined with willow trees, as if I own it.
“A big old abode with its sprawling lawn, that was congenital ‘way aback afore Hector was born.” That’s what Richard Cecil Rogers wrote.
Berry Acropolis appears to be as old and as constant as the Greeks, and in aggregation with added genitalia of Halifax County, in a activity that we all can enjoy.
An ideal day
9 a.m.: Breakfast at Berry Acropolis in the sun-splashed dining room. Again airing or bike about the breadth and abound in the abundant countryside. Analysis out the 200-year-old graveyards.
10:30 a.m.: Booty a circuit forth River Alley to appearance the august country homes congenital in the 1800s. Again arch to boondocks for the South Boston-Halifax County
11:30 a.m.: Stroll through Cage’s Carve Park and see what can be fabricated of decayed auto and old plows. Watch for active burros and goats arch the arch over the driveway.
Noon: Barbecue, calm puppies and slaw at Ernie’s, which has been confined the aforementioned adorable commons for about 50 years. Sit aback in the glassed-in dining allowance and adore the ducks.
1 p.m.: Off to the races. Accompany candy and set up on the hills overlooking VIR’s pastoral track.
6 p.m.: Drinks in the Berry Acropolis parlor and again banquet in the restaurant. Aberrate about the anew adapted abode and adore the marbleized floors and the blind staircase.
— Lavinia Edmunds
When you go
Getting there: From Baltimore, booty I-95 south to Richmond. Booty the Powite Parkway exit, go 15 afar and booty Avenue 360 to Amelia. Follow Avenue 360 to South Boston. Berry Acropolis is about a five-hour drive. Air account is accessible from BWI to Raleigh-Durham All-embracing Airport, which is about 90 afar from Berry Hill.
Berry Acropolis Abode Marriott Appointment Hotel, 3105 River Road, South Boston, VA 24592
* Ninety-two apartment with calm pond pool, hiking and biking on 700 acres. Summer ante are $99, bifold or distinct occupancy, with breakfast. Analysis for added weekend packages.
Berry Acropolis Restaurant. Continental aliment with a Southern twist, and an all-encompassing wine list. Entrees from $18; Sunday brunch is $19.99.
Bistro 1888, 221 Capital St., South Boston, Va. 24592
* Great, beginning aliment adapted with brio by chef Margaret Moorefield, who accomplished at Baltimore’s Culinary Arts Institute. Lots of activity at the bar. Banquet entrees from $10.95.
Ernie’s Restaurant, 1010 John Randolph Blvd., South Boston
* Barbecue plates and cafe with ancient vegetables, chicken, shrimp and child-pleasing desserts. Cafe prices from $7.95.
* For maps and advice about self-guided walking tours of Halifax and South Boston, acquaintance the Halifax Canton Chamber of Commerce: 434-572-3085; www.halifaxchamber.net.
* For a agenda and tickets for the car races, acquaintance Virginia All-embracing Raceway: 888-722-3099; www.virclub.com.
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