Adelaide Nelson: The Unsung Heroine of Long Branch

Adelaide Nelson: The Unsung Heroine of Long Branch

i Jan 28th No Comments by

Early in the year of 1861, Adelaide Nelson was required to contact her insurance agent over the matter a fire which had consumed Long Branch’s greenhouse while Hugh Nelson, her husband, was off at war. Little did she know that her involvement with this “man’s work” would only be the first in a line of struggles at Long Branch that Adelaide would have to face without the aid of Hugh. Upon Hugh’s untimely and unexpected death in 1862, Adelaide was informed of shocking news: Long Branch was heavily in debt. The farm that had been valued at $103,600 in 1860 was now only valued at $45,000. In fact, it was likely that the farm had a negative net worth.

Adelaide Nelson

Though Adelaide and her two children were left Long Branch in Hugh’s will, they were unable to own it directly because of the amount of money Hugh had borrowed against house. Credit must be given to Adelaide’s intelligence and fiscal acumen, without which Long Branch surely would have been lost from the hands of the Nelson family. Adelaide separated her assets from those of her late husband’s, and invested her own money into Long Branch. By doing so, she was no longer its owner but its creditor, and was entitled to a share of the proceeds when the farm was repossessed and later auctioned off at the Clark County court house. Hugh’s personal effects were auctioned off first in 1867. Adelaide attended and was able to purchase back much of the furniture, household utensils, livestock, and farming equipment. The house and land were auctioned two years later. Adelaide’s bid of $25,025 for the 280 acres including the house (only half the acreage of the original property) was accepted.

Even after its purchase at the auction, the title to Long Branch never reached the hands of Adelaide Nelson. The outstanding claims against the farm prevented her outright ownership of it; they would total about $12,ooo at the time of her death. Adelaide died before seeing the farm restored to its original acreage, but her son Hugh Nelson Jr. was able to purchase back the remaining 250 acres eight months after her death. Long Branch was finally returned in full to the Nelson family on November 11, 1876 under a court decree. Though three of Hugh’s creditors would later file a petition to overturn the legal decisions involving Long Branch starting in 1875, the Supreme Court of Virginia overruled an appeal to rehear any case. The justices wrote that “Adelaide Nelson had done more than enough to meet the claims of creditors against her husband’s estate, ‘and that act of simple generosity on her part [cannot] be tortured into a relinquishment of bar of her legal dower in her husband’s real estate'” (Long Branch: A Plantation House in Clarke County, Virginia, Fourdney 44).  At last, Long Branch was securely in the hands of the Nelsons once more.

Casey Marion, Long Branch Plantation Intern

Women’s Woes During the Civil War

i Jan 23rd No Comments by

Long Branch Plantation was lucky to have escaped much of the physical damage of the war. Apart from an individual account that a field was burned, the evidence shows that the estate remained unscathed. Most homesteads weren’t so fortunate. Many estates in the Shenandoah Valley were looted by both Union and Confederate soldiers for food and equipment, some had their slaves stolen from them, and some were burned to the ground.

Adelaide Nelson's saucepan. The Marquis de Lafayette's initials are seen on the lid, which was not recovered until 20 years after it had been buried.

Adelaide Nelson’s saucepan. The Marquis de Lafayette’s initials are seen on the lid, which was not recovered until 20 years after it had been buried.

Since all but the youngest and oldest men were required to join the army, women were often the only ones remaining to handle these disasters. The stories these women left behind show their bravery while the country was at war. Some of the tales are amusing: Elizabeth Heatwole, for example, successfully hid freshly baked pies from hungry Union soldiers under her baby in its crib. Some stories are heart wrenching: A woman named Frances Campbell discovered that her husband was dead when she spotted his knapsack on a federal soldier marching through her town. Inside were her husband’s blood-soaked shirts. Even more stories show the steel of the women whose husbands had gone off to war. Millwood local, Matella Cary Page Harrison, describes in a diary entry how she prepared to single-handedly fend off Union soldiers marching towards her home at nearby Carter Hall: “I jumped up and made great haste for home fearing they would tear everything to pieces… I had scarcely been at home an half hour when I heard the clattering of hoofs. I took my pistol in hand and rand down to the door determined to resist their entrance if they attempted it….”

Adelaide Nelson herself faced immense hardship during the Civil War. Her greenhouse was burned down by soldiers, and at one point during the war she felt under enough threat to bury her silverware and prized Marquis de Lafayette saucepan in the yard. The greatest tragedy occured when her husband Hugh died of a case of typhoid he contracted while campaigning. Her son, Hugh Jr., lost his leg in a farming accident just a year later. Adelaide was left with the full responsibility of maintaining Long Branch.

As hard as the men fought on the battlefields, the women fought just as hard to save their homes. Credit must be given to the bravery and unwavering determination of the women both Confederate and Union soldiers left behind.

-Casey Marion, Long Branch Plantation Intern


Dorothy Hewitt and Female Pilots during the Second World War

i Dec 18th No Comments by


With so many men enlisting in the armed forces after the attack on Pearl Harbor, American manufacturers turned to women to fill gaps left in the workforce. Women became factory workers and assisted in the production of arms, airplanes, and tanks, among other things. In addition to factory jobs during the war, some women served as pilots and became the first females to fly American military aircraft, ferrying planes from the place they were made to bases, as well as serving as pilots of cargo airplanes and participating in mission simulations.

Dorothy Hewitt during WWII

Dorothy Hewitt during WWII

Dorothy Hewitt, who along with her husband Abram lived at Long Branch from 1957 to 1977, was a member of the British Air Transport Auxiliary during WWII. Earning her pilot and flight instructor licenses in 1940, Dorothy then went to work as an instructor in President Roosevelt’s newly created Student Training Program, which allowed university students to complete fifty hours of flight instruction for free. In the fall of 1941, she travelled to Canada to apply for a position with the British Air Transport Auxiliary. She and 11 other American women were hired and sent overseas. Dorothy’s job was to ferry planes from factories to airfields in Britain for the Royal Air Force, which she did until falling ill in 1944. As one of the first American women to fly planes in the Second World War, Dorothy Hewitt was a pioneer, and greatly supported the efforts of what, in her own words, was “the only justifiable war in my lifetime.”

Though hesitant at first because of doubts surrounding women’s abilities to pilot military aircraft, the American armed forces began using female pilots in 1942 due to a shortage of male pilots. This group was known as the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, and consisted of civilian pilots who volunteered to be part of an experimental Army Air Corps program. The first group consisted of 28 women, who went through rigorous training and were then stationed at bases throughout the country. In total, approximately 1100 women served as WASPs during the war, exceeding expectations and proving that women were more than competent as military aircraft pilots. The program came to an end in December 1944, but the women who had participated were not able to gain veteran status because the program had never been militarized. The women, 38 of whom had been killed during their service, were eventually granted veteran status in 1977, and were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2010.

Frances Monroe, Long Branch Plantation Intern

More information on the WASPs can be found on the website of their official archive, housed at Texas Women’s University:

Group of WASPs - WWII

Group of WASPs – WWII

How Bright Would You Like It?

i Sep 20th No Comments by

One of the various conundrums staff has run up against during the refurnishing process has been dealin

g with the matter of lighting.

What seems like a simple issue – illuminating the interior (and in certain cases the exterior) of the home during darker hours – has proven challenging.

Lighting through the ages

Lighting through the ages

Shedding a Little Light on the Subject

As we discussed previously, Long Branch is currently working on implementing a multi-faceted refurnishing plan that has identified various uses (both period and modern) for the many rooms within the historic home.

In short, there are three main categories: “historic spaces,” “interpretive spaces,” and “modern-use spaces.”

This is how we’re envisioning these three areas:

Historic Spaces are those areas where, utilizing the best evidence available, we are reconstituting the furnishings and lifestyle of the period in question. For Long Branch, that’s the entry hall, parlor and dining room. The intention is to refurnish these spaces as authentically as possible – when you enter you should feel as if you’ve stepped back in time.

Interpretive Spaces are areas where a certain historic era is depicted, but attention to the historical record is not as precise, or is unavailable. For Long Branch, the bedrooms mainly fall into this category. They will be authentically refurnished, but where following a precise inventory is not feasible or necessary. In the end, the rooms must double as spaces to engage tours – and bonafide accommodations to help support site operations (i.e. lodging for guest lecturers, prep space for brides, etc.).

Modern-Use Spaces are areas that will be treated with an historic “feel” (i.e. historic color palette, window treatments, etc.) but will be designed to serve a uniquely modern purpose. In most cases, this means gallery/lecture/exhibit/event space or bathrooms.

With these categories in mind, the decision on lighting became clearer:

In the modern-use spaces, the decision was made to utilize track lighting capable of illuminating exhibits and galleries. In these areas, which are shielded from historic spaces, the priority is an excellent display environment and modern lighting fits the bill.

In our interpretive spaces, lamps and lighting common to the period of the room will be utilized. However, reproductions will be accepted along with more modern variants capable of providing both light and a “period feel.”

James Peale, by Charles Wilson Peale featuring an argand lamp

James Peale, by Charles Wilson Peale featuring an argand lamp

In our historic spaces we made a split decision. We intend on honoring the space (which meant the removal of non-historic chandeliers) and will utilize oil lamps (now electrified) common to the period, as well as candles where necessary. The decision to go electric over oil was made solely on the basis of safety.

What this also means for the historic spaces is that at night it will be far darker that most modern eyes are accustomed. Thus, for special events where the focus is not on a period experience, we will introduce some modern, temporary event lighting. We are lucky that most of the period rooms have doors in the corner of the room, providing a perfect triangular space to hide a lamp and still illuminate the space for special events. We’re also hoping to experiment with added period lighting to see if this level of extra “historic” light is enough — it’s really about experimenting to find that sweet spot.

The moveable lamps allow us to maintain our authenticity and not sacrifice illumination when modern demands call for it.

On the exterior of our home we’ve adopted a similar compromise. For more modern events, we’re hoping to employ a growing collection of solar lamps to light the path and provide some balance to the darkness of the farm at night.

The noble cresset

The noble cresset

But, for events where the focus is on providing an authentic experience, we’re planning on illuminating with a variety of cressets

and lanterns – all common to the period and evocative of the era. While hardly any plantation lit up like modern homes do, by using period devices we can begin to shift the minds of our guests from the 21st century to the 19th simply by switching from bulbs to candles.

Now we just hope our plan for screwing in all these light bulbs isn’t equally as complex!