The Decline of Clover Hill

From John Hennessy:

Rare is the Virginia house that has its own Wikipedia entry. Clover Hill does. The house sits a three hundred yards north of Route 3 a few miles east of Culpeper, alone amongst the farm fields its owners once commanded. It’s distinctive–classically Gothic, though it was not at its origins, said to have been about 1775, long before Gothicism took root.

During the Civil War, Clover Hill gained fame for two things. In the aftermath of the Battle at Brandy Station, Lt. Col. Frank Hampton of the 2d South Carolina Cavalry died in the house–in the front-right first-floor room–after being wounded in fighting on nearby Hansborough’s Ridge (a fabulously evocative place).

Custer and his new bride Libbie.

Later, it was the scene of the wartime honeymoon for George A. Custer and his new wife Libbie, who would spend about a month there with her new husband in early 1864. He named the place “Camp Libbie” in her honor. Our friend Bud Hall has written about Custer and Clover Hill here.

After decades of relative prosperity, Clover Hill has in recent decades suffered a steady decline. Bud Hall (the only cover boy among Civil War historians, in 1991), who knows and watches over Culpeper’s Civil War landscape like no one else I know, has sent along a series of images that shows Clover Hill over the years. We’re grateful to Bud for sharing, though we lament the apparent fate of his photographic subject.

Here is Clover Hill as it appeared in March 1864.

Custer and his staff in front of Clover Hill, March 1864.

Clover Hill in 1986.

June 1986

In 1991.

And in 2012.

Clover Hill, 2012

47 thoughts on “The Decline of Clover Hill

  1. Such an interesting article! As a Michiganian I am always intrigued by Custer lore. The photographs of the house are haunting. In one of the links there is a description of a bus tour Mr Hall led in 2010 that visited old plantations in the Culpeper area. Any chance of a repeat?

  2. So, John, can you tell us a little more about the ‘fabulously evocative’ Hansborough’s Ridge? I’m intrigued; I’ve not heard of it before. Thanks!

  3. Clover Hill’s sad decline is all the more tragic as we preservationists previously attempted to buy this historic home but were rebuffed–which is of course the prerogative of the owner.

    If an owner is not interested in a home’s history and similarly not persuaded to sell it, then there is very little we can do. And in this particular situation, we found ourselves hopelessly isolated by our powerlessness.

    But just down the road near Stevensburg is the magnificently restored, “Rose Hill,” an 1815 (or so) home wherein the family which owned it during the war has brought it back to its rich antebellum glory. This wonderful family has poured huge sums into Rose Hill’s resurgence and we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

    So, Clover Hill will soon sadly crumble into the dirt. And someone is responsible. That’s the way it is with these things.. For better or for worse, someone is always responsible. And we preservationists are oftentimes the only defensive bulwark between salvation and destruction.

    And in the case of Clover Hill, we lost the battle.

    Thanks, John, for exploring the distinction between preservation and callous destruction.

    • Hi Bud, My wife and I were one of the preservationists that have tried to buy and restore Clover Hill several times. Any change in the owners hearts? His son seamed willing. Is it true he cut out the windows were cut out with a chain saw and stored in the barn?

      Bruce Coons

      • Bruce, sadly, the house is beyond restoration. With utter insensitivity, the interior has been completely gutted and the only thing worth saving is the shell, itself. Fyi, CWT stabilized a house shell (Wiltshire) on the Brandy Station Battlefield that was in better shape than Clover Hill and it cost us about 85K. And we owned that house; regrettably, we don’t own Clover Hill.

        Should also point out that during the Stevensburg phase of the battle of Brandy Station on June 9, 1863, Clover Hill served as a Confederate hospital and Lt. Col. Frank Hampton, 2nd S.C. Cav died in the right front parlor.

        So this once magnificently historic home touched both sides in several poignant ways.

        And you know something? Every time I go past Clover Hill, I think how mournful Libbie Custer would be to see her honeymoon cottage fading away into neglected oblivion. And we can all agree with Libbie who would say, “Clover Hill deserves better.”

        Clark B. Hall

  4. Thanks, John. What is the reason for Clover Hill’s deterioration?
    Is there any effort being made to save it? Does Bud Hall have
    any more info on this?

  5. I was very excited to find your pictures and information on Clover Hill. My ancestry lived here……Hedgeman Triplett and his many daughers. I have only found one mention of this in an old newspaper article which tells of Old Hedge and his daughters living there. It was known as the Old Barber/Barbour Place. My Triplett ancestry is from Culpeper. A wonderful find. Thank you so very much. I hope to see this home before the earth reclaims it completely. Barb Triplett-Brown, Kansas City, Mo.

  6. I AM VERY UPSET! I spent many years as a child in this house. My dad managed this farm when i was growing up. This house is one of my fondest memories as a child. It angers me that the historical society has not perserved this beautiful piece of history. Just that it has gotten to this condition is unacceptable! I will be writing letters until someone does something to make sure that this historical place does not eventually disapear like a lot of our American History. Shame On you Historical Society Of Virginia! What are you here for?
    Sarah Laster, Louisa, VA

  7. I lived there in the early 90’s when i was a dad ran a farm there that picture from 91 was when we lived there. I think construction company own the house and all the land now. I hope someone will do something to save this old house.

    • I would love to see interior pics of this old home. Is it possible that they could be shared via facebook? With this being part of my ancestry, I would love to know what the remainder of the home looks like. Any previous responders have interior photos of Clover Hill?

      • Ms Triplett-Brown:

        I retain several images of the home’s interior taken back in the early 90’s by Deborah Fitts (my wife) and myself. Once they are digitized, these pictures will be posted in whatever medium the blog master prefers. (The home has now been “gutted.”)

        Clover Hill’s sad, unnecessary decline is all too frequently replicated in other Colonial and Civil War properties throughout Virginia when the owners consciously decide to “let the property go,” and then the rest of us who care about these priceless historical icons are left bewildered and outraged at this gross insensitivity.

        I can give you a recent example of another nearby Stevensburg home (Glen Ella–1799) wherein the home was simply razed to build a new house–absent any effort to save original features. This particular home, like Clover Hill, witnessed terrific combat in the Civil War, and Glen Ella also served as General G.K. Warren’s HQ during the long winter of 1863-64. But, it has now vanished, poof!

        So, what is the answer?

        First, those who own these properties must care about them more than we do. I can give you many nearby examples of that happy mindset: Rose Hill; Ashland; Auburn; Beauregard; Farley; Bel Pre; Salubria; and the list goes on…

        Second, if the owners don’t care about the historic property’s salvation ( a minority), then we should attempt to locate a flush heritage donor that will buy the house (from a willing seller) and then put the land in easement.

        It is now too late to save Clover Hill and Glen Ella, but those of us in and around Culpeper who care about “these old homes,” are doing everything we can to call attention to the fragile plight of these historic gems..

        Thanks for your note..


      • Thanks for your reply. I have read of many of those old homes. I’ve had a twenty-year search for my Triplett ancestors there in Culpeper. I came across an old newspaper article a few yrs. ago that told of many homes there. Old “Hedge” Trip…as he was called… lived there at Clover Hill with his numerous daughters. In all my searches, not one mention of Hedgeman Triplett having lived there. All credit is to Barbour. So I was elated to find the Triplett info. I will also see if there is a way to post this portion of the old old article. May be of interest to some. It saddens me that by the time I’m able to make another trip to that area, Clover Hill will have been bulldozed. Now this particular Hedgeman would most likely have been a cousin to my ggggrandfather m. to Nancy Popham. But, nonetheless, he certainly would have been in the area of Clover Hill. I’ve searched for yrs. for their burial place. He served in the Rev. War along with 5 of his sons. Someone would certainly have given him a ‘lasting’ monument. So much history here…..I would so love to see what you have. If it’s not possible to place it here. email or FB would be great. I have a Triplett site on FB and I will share with others. Many are from that area, including Centreville…..another hotbed of history.

    • Ms Triplett-Brown:

      A long story to relate here and it is a bit confusing, so I’ll make it brief and anyone who seeks more detail is encouraged to directly contact me.

      Clover Hill was owned before and during the war by John Barbour, President of the wartime Orange & Alexandria Railroad. After the war, the distinguished “Jack” Barbour became a congressman and then later, a United States senator. I have published John Barbour profiles, but the person who knows him best is the fine historian (and my friend), Chuck Siegel–see Chuck’s superb website on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad.

      The 1890 news article you refer to was one a series of near 20 articles published in the National Tribune by one of the more unusual men I have ever encountered in Civil War research. His name was William E. Doyle, a former wartime lieutenant in the 17 Indiana Mounted Infantry. Years ago I ran across his remote grave in Culpeper and “checked him out.”

      William E. Doyle, “a man of dissipated habits,” according to his pension file, was an “itinerant journalist” before the war. He did not fight in Virginia but somehow ended up in Stevenburg after the war and moved into the Wishard Doggett home in Stevensburg, where he later ended up cohabiting with Hester, Wishard’s wife–after Wishard’s death, hopefully.

      Prior to Wishard’s death, Doyle interviewed the old man (salty character) regarding his experiences during the war as a homeowner who managed a property located smack dab in the center of Civil War Stevensburg. The resulting product was the National Tribune articles, “Between Two Fires: An Old Virginian’s Experiences During the War.” Confusingly, Doyle wrote the reminiscences in the first person–as if he was Wishard–but the colorful stories carried Doyle’s byline. I retain all of these remarkable pieces, including the one to which you kindly called our attention.

      After Doyle’s death in 1905, Hester Doggett attempted to collect Doyle’s modest military pension but was refused in that effort as pension authorities identified two other wives! “Dissipated habits,” indeed..

      Good luck with your research, Ms Triplett-Brown..

      Clark B. Hall

  8. Thank you so much. I’ve done my homework so to speak and must thank you and your wife for the work that you have done and your long distinguished career. Little did I know.
    My concern now is that Old Hedge may not have lived at Clover Hill at all. That would be disappointing for sure. Might never know I guess. Just the same, my roots are in Culpeper. My Tripletts lived adjacent to George Washington at Round Hill. They were great friends so claiming that bit of history is quite enough. I’ll keep searching for my ggggrandfather. Thanks again. Barb

  9. Ms. Triplett-Brown, I do believe, absolutely, your Tripletts lived as tenants (of Jack Barbour) at Clover Hill during the war. The definitive Union map of Culpeper County during the war was crafted by the superb mapmaker, Capt. William H. Paine, U.S. Topographical Engineers, and on his remarkably detailed 1863-64 map, he pinpoints Clover Hill as occupied by “Tripley.” These are unquestionably your Tripletts. Also, take a look at Libbie Custer’s “Boots & Saddles,” pp.3-4 wherein she talks about moving into Clover Hill (“isolated Virginia farmhouse”) that was occupied by a Southern family. This was not Jack Barbour’s family as he did not live at Clover Hill during the war. Also review “The Civil War Memories of Elizabeth Bacon Custer,” p. 46, wherein Libbie indicates the owner had abandoned Clover Hill and that “an impoverished Virginia family lived on our bounty.” This “impoverished” family was no doubt your Tripletts.

    If you visit Culpepr, I’ll escort you to the Clover Hill Vicinity..

    • Johnny, I would very much appreciate seeing the pictures that you have of the inside of Clover Hill. My ancestry lived there and that would certainly make my day. Knowing I will probably never be able to see it before it is demolished. I’m planning a trip in Sept. but that could be too late. Would that be possible?
      Thanks Johnny.

  10. Johnny, if you have pictures of the interior of Clover Hill taken in both 1991 and today (as I do), then you well know the house has been callously gutted from within. The house is nothing but a shell that resembles an open wound, and sooner than later it will fall into the ground, the victim of gross neglect.

  11. Ms. Triplett-Brown:

    The fine winery that produces “Clover Hill” is Old House Vineyards and it is situated just across Mountain Run from our Clover Hill–no more than a few hundred yards distant.

    As mentioned in a prior post, if you come to the Culpeper area, I’d be pleased to escort you to the vicinity of Clover Hill. So, if your September trip works out, please advise and we’ll make it happen.

    • I’m so hoping to make that happen Clark. My husband is retiring this month and we will be going to Charlotte, NC for his retirement festivities in Sept. Our plan is to go to Culpeper. No way would I want to miss this opportunity. Very gracious of you to take the time. I’m marking my calendar. I’ll be in touch in plenty of time.

    • Johnny, I saw the pictures. What a shame that the home with all its history cannot be saved. I love knowing that my ancestor, Hedgeman Triplett lived there with his many daughters. Seems he moved on to Arkansas. Thank you for sharing. I so appreciate seeing this home regardless of all its ruin. Barb Triplett-Brown, Gladstone, Mo.

  12. I have more pictures on a camera of the inside I will put up on my facebook page soon. Maybe going back in the spring to take some more.

  13. Lady D.:

    Clover Hill sits squarely in the center of a large piece of open farmland and pasturage–a property today comprising a couple of hundred acres. Clover Hill faces Mount Pony, a war-time signal station, and the homesite was once the pride of the larger “Mount Pony Tract” (3440 acres) deeded to Charles Carter by Lord Fairfax. Mountain Run, Culpeper County’s largest internal tributary of the Rappahannock River, flows vigorously to the east and is situated about 200 yards behind the house. Clover Hill still stands (barely) and its interior has been thoroughly gutted.

    As of this past Saturday (3/21), Clover Hill still presents a formidable, almost defiant architectural presentation to an on-looker. This is indeed a proud house that experienced about as much Civil War history as any home still standing in Virginia’s storied Piedmont. And I never look at the house without seeing Elizabeth Bacon Custer standing serenely on the front porch–the prettiest woman in American Civil War annals.

    As to your good question–and suffice to say–my Clover Hill correspondence file contains detailed notes of conversations and written communications wherein certain individuals (including me) have expressed an interest in acquiring Clover Hill; or failing in that purpose, to aid in its lasting preservation. Please let me quote from one such communication dated August 13, 1998, that I wrote to the owners as a sitting board member of the Association for the Preservation of Civil War Sites (today’s Civil War Trust):

    “It has always been my belief that this unique house falls within the top ranks of the most historic homes in Culpeper County… In this regard, we look forward to being of any service that you may require…And considering my organization has helped others to preserve their tangible properties, perhaps we can be of service to you.” The owners responded they had “no desire to sell the house.” Period.

    Someday, I’ll write about Clover Hill and use this house as a sad but factual illustration of the brutal fact that we can try all we want to preserve a property, or a battlefield, but if the owner is unwilling to negotiate a fair price, then there is very little we can do, in the alternative.

    Clover Hill is now lost to history.

    And that which is lost can now only be captured by memory.

  14. I have always admired Clover Hill from Route 3 while traveling to and from Culpeper. I always wondered who lived there, and why it has fallen in disrepair. While driving past it yesterday, I noticed that it is now on the market. I’m not sure if the house is included, but approximately 500 acres are for sale. Too late, I’m sure, to rescue this once-lovely piece of history.

  15. Clark… it is 2 plus years later and we still haven’t been able to make our trip to see Clover Hill. Health issues, etc. We still plan to just don’t know when. I was wondering if those of you that have photos of the inside of Clover Hill are still willing to post them. I would dearly love to see what the inside looked like. Thank you. Barb Triplett-Brown

    • Has an effort ever been made to purchase and move the clover hill structure to a nearby location? At least the structure could hopefully be saved and restored. I believe such an undeertaking was done with the Mosby birthplace house. Thanks, Jim

  16. The property is a “Moriah Farm” property which means it is an S.W. Rodgers property. They have taken the architectural salvages from Clover Hill and put them in a dependency building at Eastwood in Warrenton. (Per their website) As much money as the Rodgers have, there is no reason they could not have preserved this property.

  17. My Family (Slaughter) built this house. My 5th Great Uncle Col. John Suggett Slaughter died here in 1830. He was the son of Col. John H. Slaughter, my 5th Great Grandfather (who allegedly built Clover Hill) and of course many other family members were born and died here, and are interred at All Saints. The Brown’s lived next farm over in the 1700’s and are of course also relatives of mine. John’s 1st wife descended from the Chew’s, who know how to preserve a house (see the Cliveden near Philadelphia).

    I will be passing through the area 6/14/2019 and I’m certain tears will flow from my old eyes when I see what has become of it.

    David Brown

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