During our first week of full-time travel, we made three stops as we drove toward Pennsylvania. The first was in Stuart, Virginia to visit friends. The second was outside of Lynchburg for a couple of nights. And the third was an overnight trip to Harrisonburg, Virginia to say hello to a friend. These stops were designed to keep our “moving” days relatively short (versus a long 8-10 hour driving day pulling an RV).
My friend Sharon is one of the loveliest, funniest people I have the privilege of knowing. We met in 1996 when a mutual friend introduced us as Sharon was starting up a company. She hired me as her Office Manager (her first hire), and I accompanied her the day she signed the lease on her first office space. Those early days, helping her establish this new company, are some of my fondest from the “corporate” world. I left at the beginning of 1998 as her company was beginning to zoom into the stratosphere of success, and we stayed in contact and saw each other over the years. She eventually sold her company and moved back to Virginia to be close to her family, and I have visited her a few times since. It was a delight to be able to stop in with our Airstream so she could see our new “home” and catch up with each other’s lives.
Our dilemma was finding a place to stay for one night. We didn’t want to stay in an RV park—none are close to where she lives. We left a message at the Elks Lodge in Harrisonburg but, because of the pandemic, they were only there a couple of times a week and didn’t get our message until we had already left the area. I contacted the Massanutten Presbyterian Church (massanuttenchurch.org), which is right down the road from my friend’s house, and they kindly agreed to let us park in their parking lot overnight. That would have been fine, but we were made an interesting offer we couldn’t refuse!
Sharon’s sister, Nancy Hess, is the caretaker (and past owner) of the Widow Pence Farm, a civil war era farm that she and her husband Irvin purchased at auction a couple of decades ago and lovingly restored then filled with historical items and information from the area. Nancy was happy to let us stay there overnight. We were welcome to sleep in the house, use the laundry room, and rock on the front porch—all of which we did!
The Battle of Cross Keys during the Civil War was fought in the fields directly behind the house, and the house may have been used to house injured soldiers after battle. Dr. Irvin Hess, is distantly related to the Pence family that first owned the house and farm, and, given Irvin’s and Nancy’s passion for and involvement in the local historical society, it was a purchase they made to preserve a slice of the area’s history. After they restored the house and farm, they used to host events and civil war educational camps there for children. They occasionally had people stay there and busloads of people to come tour it.
A few years ago, they sold it to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation but were asked to continue taking care of it as long as they liked. And we were lucky benefactors of that. We were able to easily pull our truck and Airstream into the parking area, and we enjoyed looking around at the artifacts in the house, using the laundry room, watching a brief video about the farm and its history, and rocking on the front porch. Our view was a cow pasture with cows roaming around and eating. And we enjoyed its quiet surroundings.
Unfortunately, it is not a Bed & Breakfast, an AirBnB, or anything like that. They want to maintain its charm and historical value without constant upkeep. But if you are in the area, you might ask the Foundation about it, and you might get a chance to tour it.
For more information about the Widow Pence Farm or the Battle of Cross Keys, visit the following links:
Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation – http://www.shenandoahatwar.org/
Special thanks to Nancy and Irvin Hess for letting us stay there, and to Sharon Price for arranging it! Much love to you, Sharon!