A year ago we sold our home and moved out to Loudoun County. As we have begun to learn more about our new community, I was surprised to learn that I had a connection to the area that stretched back more than a century.
Nevada, my home state, was admitted to the Union in 1864. Our first Senator from Nevada, William Morris Stewart, served for nearly thirty years and, nearing the end of his time in Congress and heeding the advice of his physician to take some time in the country, bought a dairy farm in Farmwell, Virginia. So where is this Farmwell today? For the answer to that, we need to go back nearly 124 years.
When we moved out to Ashburn Farm last year, I was overwhelmed at how much the area had been developed. Ashburn, Ashburn Village, Ashburn Farm, Broadlands, Belmont: the development had vastly overtaken the dairy and turf farms I remembered from the 1990s when, for a time, I had lived in Sterling.
Senator Stewart Buys a Virginia Farm
Senator William M. Stewart of Nevada has bought a fine farm in Virginia, not far from Washington. The senator is largely interested in breeding fine horses, and in order to more fully carry out his plans he has purchased a fine old property near Farmville, VA. The farm consists of 586 acres of splendld land in the vicinity of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and is said to be fully equal to the Kentucky Blue Grass Region for stock raising.” November 25, 1895 The Evening Times
A Local Name Change
In the Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser, in an announcement from a page of the paper dated May 5, 1896 we read: “at the request of Senator Stewart, who has bought a farm near Farmwell, Loudoun County, Virginia, the name of the post office at that place has been changed to Ashburn. It is said that mail for Farmwell was frequently delivered to Farmville.”
Much was written about the dairy farm over the several years he owned it. Glowing reviews of the state-of-the-art machinery for milking, separating, sterilizing and cooling, along with the cleanliness of the barns, were featured in local newspapers. The descriptive language verged on paid endorsement, if that were possible.
Again from The Evening Star, December 28, 1901, the following article trumpets:
PURE MILK FOR WASHINGTON
A Thousand Families to be Supplied With Ashburn Milk
2,000 Acre Milk Farm in Virginia
“Clean milk from clean cows, fed on clean food, drinking clean water, milked by clean men in clean barns, sent to Washington in clean cans and delivered to families in sealed bottles.”
Whew! Pretty hyperbolic language for a dairy farm!
It seems the existing farmhouse was also quite modern, boasting “an abundance of room, surrounded by spacious verandas which look out on green lawns, beyond which on all sides are rolling fields and woodland.” The Evening Star, June 4, 1900.
In a related article, the home was described as having “more bathrooms in it than most city mansions.” As the senator had a mansion in Dupont Circle (Stewart’s Castle, no longer standing), this was again high praise for the area.
Speaking of milk production, the author goes on about the cleanliness of the operation, how the fresh milk was transported to the dairy via a small railroad system, where it was then separated, pasteurized, and bottled. “Every detail is expensive,” writes the author, “and the wonder is that the company should offer its milk at 8 cents a quart, the same as any other milk.”
It would seem that even with all the qualities of superior milk, the Ashburn Dairy Company couldn’t make a profit. In July 1903 Stewart sold his dairy on 14th Street in Washington, DC. For sometime the farm was used to raise stock. The following year, the dairy farm in Ashburn was sold to Judge James Yeomans. At the age of 77, the senator sold the farm at a loss, having purchased and invested over $140,00, selling for $30,000.
In a twist that would have sent today’s style magazines into a headspin, in 1903 the then 76-year-old widowed senator married a second time. After having seen a photograph of Mrs. May Agnes Cone, 44, Stewart invited her to be a guest at his country place, Ashburn Farm. Three months later, wedding bells. (The first Mrs. Stewart had died in an automobile accident in September 1902).
In looking back over his long and varied career, Senator Stewart writes in his 1908 memoirs, “The Reminiscences of Senator William M. Stewart of Nevada,” of the many legal cases he took part in, fights won, laws passed. Nowhere does he mention his Ashburn dairy farm or the time spent in the Virginia countryside recovering his health.
But one item he notes in passing, devoting barely eight pages to the subject, was his authorship of the Fifteenth Amendment, passed by Congress February 26, 1869, and ratified February 3, 1870. The Fifteenth Amendment granted African American men the right to vote. Rewriting a resolution offered to the Senate Judiciary Committee by Senator Henderson of Missouri ( No state shall deny or abridge the right of its citizens to vote or hold office, on account of race, color, or previous condition), Stewart offered his own reading:
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote or hold office, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
The final adopted language left out “or hold office.”
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that continued to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Credit: https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/voting-rights-act
It’s a strange thing to be remembered for trying to bring clean milk to the citizens of Washington, DC and yet be forgotten for his efforts to ensure all citizens were represented thru their vote.
Farmwell? The name is memorialized as a one mile strip of road here in Ashburn, from Smith Switch Road to Ashburn Road. The three names for 625 to 640 (Waxpool Road, Farmwell Road, and Ashburn Farm Road) are certainly confusing!
Note: the Library of Congress website, Chroniclingamerica.loc.gov has a wealth of newspapers from across the US, dated 1789 to 1963 and fully searchable. Quotes and images are taken from their website.