Martinsville, Virginia


MHC Garden Day: 3 neighborhoods, 3 worlds

The homes and gardens that will open for Martinsville-Henry County Garden Day on May 1 can be found in three different neighborhoods with distinct histories and “flavors.”

They share a common characteristic, one that can be said of much, if not most, of 20th-century development in this country. All three started as farms.

Forest Park in Martinsville stands on land that was once part of Lanier Farm, 2,000 acres owned at one point by the then-wealthiest man around, Henry Clay Lester.

Hunt Country Farms, spread over low rolling hills, was the vista seen from the main house at Beaver Creek, a Hairston family plantation.

And Edgewood in Stanleytown was once part of a farm owned by Gov. Thomas B. Stanley.

What we know today as Forest Park was originally part of property owned by the American independence icon Patrick Henry of “give me liberty or give me death” fame. Henry sold it to David Lanier.

The farm later became the property of Henry Clay Lester, Sr.

Lester and his wife “Big” Lucy Brown raised Rives S. Brown, “Little” Lucy Brown and Mattie T. Brown, the children of Big Lucy’s late brother Tarleton,.

Rives Brown would eventually take over management of Lester’s business interests and would inherit Lanier Farm. The land was farmed until 1922.

Brown was a developer at heart. He was responsible for landmarks still seen in Martinsville, such as the Chief Tassel Building and, not surprisingly, the Rives Theater.

He began development along Mulberry Road in 1925. In 1938, he formulated a plan for part of Lanier Farm, a plan which, when realized, would would become known as Forest Park.

E.I. de Nemours Co. was coming to town. The idea was to develop housing for the company’s workforce of scientists, engineers, managers, technicians and factory workers, according to James D. Coleman. Coleman married one of the children of Rives Brown Jr., who had carried on the family business. That business still exists.

Martinsville – a town that became so versed in textile manufacturing that it would one day become known as the sweatshirt capital of the world – was about to become home to the-then largest nylon manufacturing facility in the world, courtesy of DuPont.

At the same time, the area’s other textile and furniture companies were growing. And after World War II, veterans would be coming home.

E.S. Draper, a landscape architect known for his work on Myers Park in Charlotte and Irving Park in Greensboro, was hired to help create a master plan for the development. The lots would nestle houses into the area’s topography, with its forested land on little “finger” ridges and in little valleys, creating a park-like feeling.

The development was named Forest Park, with its centerpiece Lake Lanier and the Forest Park County Club. Next to Forest Park, the Druid Hills neighborhood was created, along with a shopping area of the same name to serve the new residents.

Coleman recalled something that was written about the development that said a 2,000-acre farm had been transformed into a suburban development where people could stroll down winding paths to a lake. Many of the paths are gone today, but the lake and the paths around it remain.

Forest Park, along with Druid Hills, reflected Martinsville at that time. Factories were, for the most part, locally owned, and owners invested back into the community. For its size, Coleman said, the town offered a quite remarkable quality of life.

“It made it a beautiful place to live,” Coleman said.

Preserving the look and feel of farmland and the life it fosters was at the heart of the late John Yeaman and his wife Loretta’s vision for development of Hunt Country Farms off Kings Mountain Road. And the late Bill Adkins helped the Yeamans transform their concept into reality on a total of 1,000-plus acres. The three formed Dresden Corp., and the plan moved into action beginning in 1989.

“Because of our love for this land, John and I wanted to respect and preserve the natural beauty and to have a farm to raise our children on – have horses and many other animals,” Loretta Yeaman said.

The couple also wanted to create “an area of ‘mini-farms’ or large acreage tracts (where) other families could also enjoy the beauty, tranquility and security of life in the country and still be close to town.”

Indeed, many of the homes on the 34 lots have the privacy of not being visible to neighbors. Some properties back up to a wildlife preserve. Some overlook a lake with swans and a walking trail, as well as a paved walking trail around the lake between the Yeaman’s property and King’s Grant Retirement Community. Nature walking trails thread through the area. The roads on which houses are built curve and meander over rolling hills, around outcroppings of rock and large, older trees – all to preserve the area’s natural beauty.

In general, living in Hunt Country Farms does feel as though you’re living in the country while having a city address.

And just as you enter from King’s Mountain Road, King’s Grant Retirement Community, one of Virginia’s three Sunnyside Communities, stands on part of the 1185 acres.

“Before we purchased the land, the late Bill Franck, former CEO of Tultex Knitting, and his wife Carolyn agreed to buy 75 acres and then kindly donate it to Sunnyside (Communities) to develop what became King’s Grant Retirement Community,” Yeaman said.

The Francks also built the bridge that spans Beaver Creek, giving access to King’s Grant and Hunt Country Farms from Kings Mountain Road. They named the bridge in honor of Lucy Sale, his sister-in-law. She ultimately donated the money for the bridge’s construction, Yeaman said.

The land for Hunt Country Farms and King’s Grant was once part of a system of plantations owned by the Hairston family through a grant from King George. Hairston family holdings stretched from Virginia to Louisiana. The main house for Beaver Creek, rebuilt after a fire, stands just across King’s Mountain Road.

An array of crops once grew on the land that is now Hunt Country Farms and King’s Grant. Cattle and farm animals grazed in fields.

“Hunt Country Farms began with our love of nature and the land, John’s vision, the quiet wisdom of Bill Adkins, and the kind and generous hearts of Bill and Carolyn Franck,” Yeaman said, “along with wonderful families who had the same desire to live and raise their children in such a beautiful area of our world.”

When Thomas Bahnson Stanley III of Atlanta – known to all as Bahns – was a little boy, he lived in Stanleytown. His family’s old white-columned farmhouse was maybe a half-mile away from Stoneleigh, the home of his grandfather, Gov. Stanley, the senior of three Thomas Bahnson Stanleys.

The governor was also the founder of Stanley Furniture and the husband of Anne Pocahontas Bassett. Stanley got his start in the furniture business at her father J.D. Bassett Sr.’s company, Bassett Furniture.

In 1929, the couple began building Stoneleigh, a 25-room Tudor-revival at the corner of Edgewood Drive and Oak Level Road. It was built with stone cut from the Smith River, which runs just below the low ridge on which the house stands. E.S. Draper, the same designer who helped create Forest Park, planned the gardens at Stoneleigh, with later design work done by Charles Gillette.

When Bahns Stanley was a child, there were fewer than a dozen homes, plus a few tenant houses, in their part of Stanleytown. Their section was bounded by Route 57, the TB Stanley Highway, the Smith River, and Route 220. Most of the houses belonged to members of the Stanley family.

The rest was farmland. Bahns Stanley recalls as many as six barns that belonged to Stoneleigh. These sheltered horses, cows, equipment, hay, and milk-processing operations. Another horse barn was on a cousin’s property, with yet another barn next door to it. And Bahns Stanley’s own home, where he lived with his sister Susan and brother Drew, had two barns, one for horses along with bunks, and one for hay.

The Stanleys were nothing if not avid riders. Gov. Stanley’s grandchildren rode horses and ponies to play cowboys and Indians – equipped with BB guns and bows and arrows. Not surprisingly, Bahns said, “Injuries were common!”

They sometimes put weapons to intended use, and hunted doves and quail in season.

The children knew that Fort Trial, a French and Indian War outpost, had been in the area. That led hours spent digging for arrowheads and other signs of native American life, as well as for artifacts left by early settlers. Drew Stanley did research that led to unearthing artifacts of native American origin.

The neighborhood included fields where animals grazed, and where hay and corn grew. Gardens produced vegetables that would appear on dining tables. Stoneleigh’s gardens produced flowers that could be cut to fill vases on a dining table.

Shortly before Gov. Stanley’s death in 1970, his son, Thomas B. Stanley Jr. – known as Tom Stanley – began to develop land around his own white farmhouse. Today, some 20 houses can be found around it, mostly along Firestone Drive, a reference to a part of the area’s use for firing clay into bricks.

A few years later, Tom Stanley began developing another small area, this one cattycorner across Edgewood Drive from Stoneleigh. He created the little neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood with his older kinsmen and -women in mind. He formed a homeowners’ association to take care of exterior maintenance and landscaping, with a goal of easy upkeep. The mini-neighborhood has fewer than a dozen homes, both duplexes and single-family. It is called Edgewood.

Around the neighborhood, only a few of the barns or remnants of them remain, echoes of the past.



What: Martinsville-Henry County Garden Day

When: Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Homes: Dr. Andrew and Mrs. Anna Gehrken, 1 Dan Lee Terrace, Martinsville. Dr. Edward “Chopper” and Mrs. Kimberly Snyder, 960 Deep Run Road, Martinsville. Susan and Spencer Morten, 44 Dove Lane, Stanleytown.

Headquarters: Martinsville-Henry County Visitor Center (New College Institute), 191 Fayette St., Martinsville

Tickets: $15 pp./advance; $20 pp./tour day. $10 pp./children ages 6-12.

Advance Tickets:  Online/ Locally/Martinsville-Henry County Visitor Center, Piedmont Arts Association, Historic Henry County Courthouse, and the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce along with Patrick County Chamber of Commerce.

Tour day tickets: At Martinsville-Henry County Visitor Center and tour homes.

Facebook: Historic Garden Week in Martinsville and Henry County

Instagram: Historic Garden Week in MHC

Sponsors: The Martinsville Garden Club, The Garden Study Club and the Garden Club of Virginia

Proceeds benefit restoration projects of the Garden Club of Virginia.