Poplar Springs – A Tradition of Hospitality

Poplar Springs June 2014Poplar Springs Farm near Warrenton, Virginia, was a place that came to mean as much to Jane Hall as the desert hamlet of Salome, Arizona. How thrilled she would have been that Poplar Springs Inn and Spa is now an oasis of beauty, serenity and gourmet cuisine after extensive renovations by the owners, Michael Eisele and Richard Thompson.

The house was built as a place for entertaining and dancing at the height of the Jazz Age when optimism was high and no one expected the crash of October 1929. Rose Hicks had seen many grand places in England and France. She lived in Europe during World War I and designed what is now The Manor House Restaurant after such homes. Had their resources been unlimited, she and her husband might have created a small version of Downton Abbey right in the center of Hunt Country where so many British traditions still survive.

Rose and Randolph lived in New York City for most of the year.  Their contractor, H. W. Cauffman, developed a friendly epistolary relationship with Rose that tells us a lot about the construction process of Poplar Springs. Mr. Cauffman seemed to enjoy writing to Rose, although on March 26, 1929, he told her: “It is a darn hard job for any man to build a house by mail.”  He also admitted “I practically live on this job and I feel justly proud of this great pile of rocks and sometimes wonder where I found brains enough in this old noodle of mine to build such a mansion.”

Mr. Cauffman’s letters begin in March 1928. They reveal his pride and occasional frustration at the unusual task of creating a 10,000 square foot home out of the multicolored fieldstones on Randolph Hicks’ ancestral farmland. In the brutal winter of 1929, Cauffman began to concentrate on the inside of the house. Occasionally he would chafe at Rose’s requirements. He wasn’t sure what to do when “300 pounds” of red velvet arrived before his team had finished the “ballroom.” For decades red curtains hung from rods that resembled medieval spears on the French doors in the three-story-high great hall. He and Rose debated about which doors should be “circle headed” (arched) and which doors “square headed.” He mentions going to the Metropolitan Museum in New York with Rose to look at options for flooring.

Mint Juleps at Poplar Springs

Mint Juleps were a favorite on long summer days.

Once the house was completed, Jane’s guardians would be known for their warm hospitality and their Mint Juleps even after they suffered great losses in the Depression. When Jane and her brother Dickie arrived from California in 1930 they were astonished and a bit intimidated by the size and grandeur of this country home. Over the next five years, Jane’s summers and holidays in Fauquier County inspired several stories that she wrote for Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan. Together they paint a lively picture of southern life in the 1930s among a privileged few who mingle at the Gold Cup Races, at a hunt breakfast or at a box at one of the many local horse shows and a party in the Georgian manor house of the historic plantation, North Wales. Jane created a fictional town of “Ridgeville” — based on Warrenton — even some of the street names are the same.

All of these experiences helped prepare Jane for new adventures in California where just five years earlier she had lost her beloved mother.