Poplar Springs– “That Great Pile of Rocks”


A Section of the Driveway to Poplar Springs Circa 1932

On this exciting September afternoon the Calverton train was likely met by Rose and Randolph Hicks’s farm manager in their Ford Model T or their Locomobile. He may have picked up a few provisions at the Calverton Market and filled his tank at W.H. Spicer’s gas station. It was a crowded car as they all five headed about two miles north down a road that paralleled the WBL tracks. They turned left onto a section of “Rogues Road” (Route 602) and made another quick left where two square fieldstone piers marked the beginning of the three-quarter-mile driveway to the main house of Poplar Springs Farm.

A paved road partially lined with whitewashed fences wound past a field, through a patch of forest and over a small stone bridge; the car veered left and up a short hill where a row of sturdy young cedar trees on either side of the driveway welcomed them to a place unlike any Jane and Dickie Hall had ever seen.

In 1928 masons had quarried thousands of grey, orange, ochre, rust and brown fieldstones from the property to create a mansion with multiple gables, arched doorways, and flagstone terraces. According to one account, “Yankees camped one winter at Poplar Springs, tore down the stone fences and used them for chimneys for their huts. When they broke camp they burned the huts and broadcast the stones.” If Randolph and his brother John “were a little unruly,” their governess had them put the stones in piles. Some of these same stones—so the story goes– became the walls of the Hickses’ new home. (The original farmhouse that Randolph inherited when his father died in 1920 was only about 300 yards away between the garage and the barns. It was destroyed in a fire at some point before 1945.)

Poplar Springs Circa 1934. (In 1930 the boxwood and Cedar of Lebanon at the center of the circle had just been planted. The fieldstone garage was on the right.)

Once construction began, one of Randoloph’s sisters wondered if he was putting up a fort. General Contractor, H. W. Cauffman described it as “that great pile of rocks” or “Hicks’s Folly” and the cost of its upkeep turned out to be as burdensome as a white elephant. Rose, who collected statues of elephants for fun, acknowledged as much when she had a white elephant engraved on the left-hand corner of their pale blue Tiffany note paper. For close to two years she had overseen the $44,000 project through frequent trips to Virginia and correspondence with the savvy Mr. Cauffman, who wrote scores of letters about his progress in fine handwriting. He encouraged Rose to give all her friends “something to talk about,” and she had done just that in this Tudor revival style home that reflected her love of seventeenth-century manor houses she had seen in France and England.

Visitors who walked through the arched front doorway into an entry hall and three-story-high great room for the first time were always surprised and none more so than Jane and her brother. Fieldstones set in a random pattern formed the twenty-inch thick walls of all the public rooms including a library, a formal dining room and a breakfast room. But the most exciting feature was the second-story balconies on either side of the oversized living room. When they charged up the stairs to look down below, it would have been easy to imagine sending missiles of mischief soaring over the heads of family members or guests. The balconies, with railings that matched those on the main staircase,* provided access to three of the five bedrooms on the second floor and to an arched doorway that led to a third floor. There, next to a huge attic, were two more as yet unfinished bedrooms joined by a bathroom that would eventually be ready for Jane and Dick. Their albums and books, plus Dick Wick Hall’s office furniture and typewriter from Salome, had arrived in June and Jane could hardly wait to unpack so she could feel at least a little bit at home again.

*The balcony railings were replaced by the new owners for safety reasons. In this image Dick Wick Hall’s Navajo rugs hang from the balcony.


And for information about Poplar Springs today check out http://www.poplarspringsinn.com/   The opening picture is the same cedar trees pictured above more than 80 years later.