Written by Victoria Peace
Photos by Michael Butcher
Each year, thousands of people travel to Hunt Country to witness its historic character. From beautiful old properties, to Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields, to the time-honored sport of fox hunting which has been kept alive here since the 1840s, there is not much around that isn’t heavily steeped in the past. Visitors might even feel momentarily transported back in time while strolling through the streets of Middleburg, Leesburg, or Warrenton.
However, what if historic architecture, memorials, and traditional pastimes aren’t the only remainders of a time long gone in the area? What if, when strolling these historic streets or exploring old properties, visitors aren’t necessarily walking…alone?
In honor of the Halloween season, we’ve rounded up some spooky local stories that show us that the past may be closer to us than we even realize. Read on (if you dare) to find out more about the haunted legends of Hunt Country!
Ben Lomond Historic Site
Benjamin Tasker Chinn constructed Ben Lomond plantation in 1832 after receiving the property as an inheritance from his grandfather, well-known planter, lawyer, and colonial councilor, Robert Carter III. The main house was two stories high and made of red brick, and the outbuildings included a smokehouse, a dairy, and quarters for enslaved people. Before the Civil War, the property was leased out to the Pringle family who farmed corn and wheat on the land and kept a herd of nearly 500 merino sheep.
Following the Battle of First Manassas, Ben Lomond was converted into an emergency field hospital for wounded Confederate soldiers. For nearly a month, sick and injured men were crammed into the house and camped across the sprawling grounds. And, when the Confederate army used the property as a winter campsite during the war, once again, the house was repurposed as a hospital to treat diseased men. After the Confederates abandoned the area, Federal soldiers ransacked the house. Today’s visitors can still see remnants of the graffiti they left on the walls. Following the end of the Civil War, the Pringle and the Chinn families struggled to rebuild. The house went through a succession of owners before finally being restored to its Civil War state.
David Born, Ben Lomond’s site manager, says that staff often experience things that they can’t explain at Ben Lomond. They hear footsteps on the stairs even when they are alone in the house, and multiple people have reported hearing someone whispering what sounds like the word “Georgia.” Many of the men that died at the Confederate field hospital and were subsequently buried on Ben Lomond’s grounds originally came from Georgia. However, for Born, the most chilling paranormal experience came a few years back when he stayed the night at the property.
One night in October, Born decided to stay over at the main house after finishing one of Ben Lomond’s annual ghost story programs. He had to be onsite early the next morning to assist with a church service that was being hosted there so he thought it made more sense than driving home. That night, he remembers that one of the men at the ghost story program decided to say a prayer to exorcize the house. The man didn’t believe there were any ghosts there — only evil spirits.
Born went to bed around 11 p.m. He recalls that sometime in the middle of the night, something grabbed him by both ankles and yanked him straight off the cot he was sleeping on and onto the floor. Born says that everyone always asks what he did next, and they are surprised to find out that he just decided to go back to bed. “I needed the sleep,” he jokes.
Born also reports that many ghost hunting groups have visited Ben Lomond and picked up strange readings on their equipment. A police forensics unit has also chemically tested different areas of the property for blood, including where blood seeped into the floorboards from when the house was used as a hospital.
If you are interested in hearing more about the haunted history of this site, there is a ghost story campfire event coming up on the 28th of October at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 per person.
The Pink Dogwood
Located in The Plains, The Pink Dogwood is a charmingly-appointed historic house owned by Denise and Michael Godfrey. As soon as visitors step onto its pale pink-trimmed porch, they immediately feel welcomed by the cheery décor and impeccable landscaping.
Built in the 1880s, the property consists of a large, three-story main house, outbuildings including a summer kitchen and an icehouse, and several garden areas. The main house has been renovated many times so it is ineligible to be on the historic register, but nevertheless, over the years, it has maintained much of its original charm.
Denise and Michael bought the property three years ago. Michael spent over 30 years in the army, and so the couple moved around frequently. The Pink Dogwood is the twentieth house they have lived in together. Denise said that throughout her time in all of her other houses, she never believed in ghosts. However, when they moved into The Pink Dogwood, for the first time, she started to feel differently.
Right after moving in, Denise recalls that every night around 9:35 p.m. for approximately three months, she and Michael would hear a thunk coming from the second floor. It wasn’t always the same room, but it was the exact same noise. One night, she decided to try something. She walked upstairs and acknowledged the noise. She said, “We know you’re here. We’re here, and we’re trying to make the house lovely. We can all live together.” And after that, they never heard the sound again.
The attic of the house is another area where strange things have repeatedly occurred. When her daughter stayed there, she reported that books would fall off the shelves in the middle of the night. She would also hear footsteps creaking across the floorboards, but when she would get up to go investigate, there would be no one there.
Denise and her family are not the first people to have experienced things like this at the property. Before they bought the house, it operated as an inn, and guests would report similar stories. One night, the former housekeeper who lived in the attic even claims to have seen a ghostly carriage arrive in front of the house pulled by a team of spectral horses. She was so terrified that she jumped into her car, drove around the entire night, and would not return to the house until the sun came up. Denise says that the house was built during the time horses and carriages would have been in use, and they have found the remains of the carriage house in the gardens.
In Denise’s opinion, the spookiest place on the property is the small cottage that used to serve as the summer kitchen. It is now her floral studio, but occasionally when she is working there she will get goosebumps for no apparent reason. “I have never encountered anything like this,” she emphasizes. “I think that there could be something here, but so far we’re just existing here together. There’s no malice.”
If guests are interested in booking a stay at the conveniently-located and beautifully-renovated Pink Dogwood, they can make arrangements over Airbnb.
Historic Property in Bloomfield
Middleburg Life’s accounts administrator, Joanne Maisano, had her own haunted Hunt Country experience while housesitting a property built in the late 1770s. As she was trying to go to sleep, she looked at the dog laying down at the foot of her bed and heard in her head “They’re here all the time, they just want to know who you are.” She was so unnerved, she grabbed the dog, got dressed, and ran through the front hall to the back of the house which was a new addition. She left the dog in one of the back rooms and drove home. The next day, when the owner came home, Maisano asked her about the spirits. The owner said that she only knew of one and that it was probably wondering who Maisano was because she was new to the house. The property’s housekeeper believed that the spirit was a Revolutionary soldier who died on the stairs leading to the front hall.
Maisano later found out that while watching the property, other house sitters had heard footsteps climbing up the stairs but never reaching the top. “Needless to say, I never stayed there again even though the spirits were benign,” she says.
Hickory Grove Chapel
Hickory Grove Chapel is a small, one-story white chapel off Logmill Road in Haymarket. Abandoned for decades, its white, channeled siding and gabled-roof porch have been slowly reclaimed by thick vegetation over the years – a Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission survey from 1999 described the property as “well protected by poison ivy, ticks, and snakes.” There are rumors of a graveyard being located on the property, but it has become so overgrown that this has never been confirmed.
Historically known as the “Bull Run Chapel,” the building was constructed between 1914 and 1917 as a memorial chapel to the Civil War dead of Virginia’s 8th regiment. It was used as a meeting place for the United Daughters of the Confederacy before it fell into disrepair sometime in the 1960s. All of the pictures and museum exhibits were stolen and the red stained glass window panes were shattered. Today, nothing remains in the interior besides graffiti and broken furniture.
Upon visiting the property, some locals have reported hearing footsteps and disembodied voices. Others who drive by the chapel at night claim to have seen balls of light floating in the road. While Hickory Grove has continuously attracted attention from paranormal investigators and curious passerby, there are no specific ghost stories or legends associated with the chapel. For now, it appears that it will remain as it has been for over half of the last century – an eerie relic that is slowly sinking into oblivion as it is reclaimed by the countryside. Middleburg Life would like to caution readers who choose to drive by the chapel not to go inside as it is not open to the public.
If you are looking for more haunted sites to visit this fall, consider stopping at Abram’s Delight in Winchester, or The Winery at LaGrange in Haymarket. Abram’s Delight is a historic home constructed before the Revolutionary War that now serves as the headquarters of the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society. The property is home to the spirit of a former resident named Mary Hollingsworth who has reportedly knocked over vases, moved furniture, and turned on appliances in the
building. The manor house at The Winery at LaGrange has also been the site of several paranormal occurrences over the years, including ghostly piano music with no apparent source and sightings of the ghost of a young girl who lives in one of the upstairs rooms. As the leaves begin to change color on the trees and a chill enters into the air, here at Middleburg Life, we wish you happy haunting! ML
If you know of any local Hunt Country haunted legends, we would love to hear from you! Throughout the month, we plan to continue to share your stories on our website and over social media. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the October 2022 issue.