ARARAT, Va. — Laurel Hill Day was full of history on display Saturday afternoon, with free music and activities honoring Maj. Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, who was born on the property in 1833. Living history was the theme of the day, with presentations Stuart re-enactor Wayne Jones and author Robert Trout, who has written several books about J.E.B. Stuart including “Memoirs of the Stuart Horse Artillery Battalion” and “They Followed the Plume.”
Laurel Hill, the birthplace and childhood home of Stuart, is typically known as a venue for Civil War re-enactments and encampments, and the Highland Games, but this year organizers decided to move in a different direction to honor the 150th anniversary of Stuart’s death on May 12, 1864, after a mortal wound at the Battle of Yellow Tavern near Richmond.
Tom Bishop, a member of the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Trust’s organizing board, said they wanted to reach out to the community this year, and contributors and local government officials, in order to welcome everyone to Laurel Hill and show the educational value of the site — gearing the event toward the birthplace trust’s mission.
The J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Preservation Trust, Inc. is a non-profit organization that interprets Stuart’s homesite and the history of the site.
“The weather is gorgeous and we have worked hard to make this happen, so it’s nice to relax and enjoy this, and share our knowledge with those who stop by,” Bishop said on Saturday afternoon. “We are really proud of our guest speakers Robert Trout and Wayne Jones. Trout is one of the most prolific J.E.B. Stuart authors.”
Bishop had multiple historical items and Civil War artifacts on display, and gift items that are sold on a regular basis in the gift shop.
One of the artifacts was a Civil War sword with a hand-molded handle, which Bishop said was “dug up out of the ground near Richmond.” He also had multiple items on loan from Harold “Chip” Slate of Stuart, including a cannonball found in Richmond, handcuffs, a cross that was once placed on Civil War graves, and a section of railroad from between Washington and Richmond. Also on display were J.E.B. Stuart’s binoculars, on loan from Gerald Hancock of Wisconsin.
Multiple historical items that were found in the vicinity of Laurel Hill were displayed, including a small railroad spike thought to be from the old Dinky Railroad, and a Scottish Thistle button found at the William Letcher homesite across the river from Laurel Hill. There was also a War of 1812 metal button that was discovered in an excavation the College of William and Mary performed on the site. The button was thought to have been owned by J.E.B. Stuart’s father, who was in the War of 1812.
Musical entertainment was provided by Herbert, Tina, and Catherine Conner and the Lone Ivy String Band. Barbecue plates were prepared by Mike Noonkester, with a dessert of strawberry shortcake. Grape and ginger ale punch was served to those in attendance served from a vintage punch-bowl.
Laurel Hill, the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace, Inc., is located in Stuart. The property contains a visitor center and gift shop, a historic roadbed and National Register marker, the Stuart Pavilion with interpretive signs written by Robert Trout, the Stuart family graveyard, the former home site, the former kitchen site, a Native American site, a slave graveyard, Letcher Overlook, and the Letcher grave. Self-guided tours are available, as well as guided tours from students and civic organizations.
Annual Civil War Battle reenactments take place at Laurel Hill on the first full weekend of October, with period music, a fashion show, Victorian Tea, a Black Rose Memorial Service, a candlelight tour, dancing, reenactments, and more.
Laurel Hill is open from dawn to dusk, year round. For more information, visit www.JebStuart.org, call 276-251-1833, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reach Jessica Johnson at 719-1933 and on Twitter @MountAiryJess.