Monday, March 31, 2014

An Independent Spirit—Winchester, Virginia

Abram’s Delight
1340 South Pleasant Valley Road
Winchester, Virginia

With the recent winter weather, I imagine Mary Hollingsworth is livid if the snow around her house has not been cleared. A 2003 article from the Winchester Star mentions that she was rather upset by a large snow pile outside the house and expressed her displeasure by slamming doors and messing with the lights. Mary Hollingsworth still resides in her old house, but she doesn’t “live” there. She’s been dead since 1917.

Even in death Mary Hollingsworth independent spirit shines through. It may be Mary’s spirit that once turned up the volume on a stereo in one office and a jukebox in another. She also occasionally rearranges the furniture and once even pushed a heavy filing cabinet in an attic room against the door, preventing anyone from entering. In addition to watching over her former home, Mary may also be occasionally visiting her family’s mill next door. Employees of the mill—now the home of the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society—have had doors open and close on their own while one employee experienced “an unexplained flash of light and felt a whoosh of cool air” as she walked through the building’s first floor.

In life, Mary was just as unique a character. She was born into wealth at Abram’s Delight in 1836. At that time, Mary’s father, David, was a wealthy businessman and community leader as well as being fond of entertaining in his grand home. Among the spectacular additions to the house was a lake with a series of islands featuring summer houses. A fleet of boats was kept on hand to ferry guests to these islands during social events.

With the coming of the Civil War, Winchester, located in the most northern tip of Virginia, changed sides many times. Devastation was visited upon Abram’s Delight. The farm lost much of its timber; the fields went untilled, and Union soldiers commandeered the livestock. Mary, in her mid-20s and unmarried, quite possibly served the cause of the Confederates by donning men’s clothing and slipping back and forth between the ever changing lines of occupation.

To keep her family’s estate functioning after the war, Mary left Virginia again donning men’s clothing to work for a living. Different sources have her doing different things: one source has her driving a “chuck wagon” out west while others have her working in a Pittsburgh lumber mill. Regardless, she evidently acquired a lady love during her charade and proposed marriage. Later, she broke off the engagement and returned home though her former fiancée and her father did file a lawsuit.
 
Abram's Delight, 2012, by Joel Bradshaw. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Some years later, the City of Winchester acquired the water rights to the spring near Mary’s home and constructed a sewage facility. Angered at the prospect of having her family land defiled by the city’s sewage, Mary proposed to never set foot in the city of Winchester again. She passed away in the home where she had been born in 1917. Her sister Annie remained in the home.

As Marguerite DuPont Lee was compiling her book, Virginia Ghosts, she spoke with Annie about the spirits remaining in Abram’s Delight. Mary, it seems, is not the first spirit to take up residence. Annie Hollingsworth reported that, as a young girl, she would sit at the piano and sing. While singing, another woman’s voice would sometimes mysteriously join in. Commonly, at night, the sounds of people carousing would echo from the parlor below. Lee in her politely Southern fashion notes that these sounds “did not annoy, being as familiar to her as the call of the whippoorwills outside the window.”

While it seems that Mary is the most active spirit at Abram’s Delight, as of late, another spirit has been active much longer: the possible shade of Abraham Hollingsworth, the family’s and Winchester’s patriarch. This marvelous home remains as a testament to the fortitude of Mr. Hollingsworth. A Quaker, Abraham traveled to the Shenandoah Valley around 1728 in search of a prime location to farm and build a home and a mill. Supposedly, upon discovering a group of Shawnee camped near a small spring, Hollingsworth exclaimed that the place was “a delight to behold.” He constructed a small cabin on the property and was granted nearly 600 acres. Construction on the large, limestone house began a few years before Hollingsworth’s death in 1748.

The spirit of a large man in Quaker dress and a large hat has been seen for years within and without the house. At one time, the appearance of this spirit was so frequent that workmen would amuse themselves by watching the figure. The figure would appear and walk up the front steps of the house and pass through the front door. The workmen would pause and watch the figure and then patiently wait about ten minutes for the figure to reappear. After passing through the front door again, the figure would walk down the stairs and disappear.

This familiar spirit was also reported in 1951 while the house was being restored. L. B. Taylor reports another story from the early 20th century where the spirit would often shoo away cows that were being brought in.

Based on the evidence, it is difficult to determine whether these spirits are actually the shades of Mary and Abraham, but based on what we know of their personalities, it’s altogether conceivable that these are the very independent spirits of them.

I just hope the staff at Abram’s Delight have shoveled the snow away.

Sources
Abram’s Delight. Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society.
     Accessed 31 March 2014.
Abram’s Delight Museum. Col. Washington’s Frontier Forts Association.
     Accessed 19 November 2013.
Lee, Marguerite DuPont. Virginia Ghosts. Berryville, VA: Virginia
     Book Company, 1966.
Libby, Elizabeth. “Haunting happenings at Abram’s Delight.” The
     North Virginia Daily. 27 October 1995.
Mangino, Stephanie M. “Scandal and sadness marked Mary
     Hollingsworth’s life.” Winchester Star. 25 October 2003.
Shufelt, Gail. “Homes, ghost stories part of Winchester history.” The
     Daily Gazette. 11 August 1996.
Taylor, L. B., Jr. The Big Book of Virginia Ghost Stories. Mechanicsburg,
     PA: Stackpole, 2010.
Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission Staff. National Register of 
     Historic Places nomination form for Abram’s Delight. September 1972.

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