The current owner (Virginia Department of Historic Resources) and the organizational manager (The Clermont Foundation) of Clermont Farm all have “historic preservation” in the forefront of their thoughts as Clermont comes into mind. The Question is: what does that phrase mean, what is historic preservation about?
If what comes to mind is the stereotype of an “historic” old house, stopped and frozen in past time, with guided tours using it as a three-dimensional backdrop to tell stories supposed to connect the visitors with somebody’s version of history, that is not what the people involved with Clermont think of as historic preservation.
Historic preservation does include protecting cultural assets that have come down to us through time (and assets representing all the cultural threads in our diverse communities, not just those valued by elites).
But protecting such cultural assets does not stop with restrictions preventing destruction or degradation of these elements which contribute to the common good. It also includes ensuring that all such assets remain valuable and useful to the people in the contemporary communities which surround them, so that they are not cut off from the figurative blood and oxygen of contemporary life in any period of their long journeys through time – a sure way to destroy them.
Clermont is a cultural landscape (nature and human intervention combined) shaped by human activity over at least 10,000 years, from the Native Americans who shaped the land for game production and harvesting, to Europeans and Africans who further shaped the agricultural landscape over the last 260 years.
The people responsible for Clermont protect the integrity of this type of disappearing landscape not only by limiting development that would substantially alter the character of the site as it has descended through past time to us, but also by ensuring that people in the local community and the citizens of Virginia, who own it, find it valuable, useful, and sustainable in this time.
To that end, Clermont continues as a working, income-producing farm (beef and sheep rather than wheat) but with an added function as a teaching site.
Clermont has a Community Agricultural Partnership with the local Clarke CountyPublic Schools and the Farm Bureau, supporting on-site agricultural instruction for public school students. Clermont also has a partnership with Virginia Tech and its nearby Middleburg Agricultural Research and Extension Center, providing training and research opportunities for two-year, undergraduate and graduate students in animal and soil sciences, as well as demonstration projects for local farmers in areas such as agro-forestry (silvo-pasture).
Similarly on the “history” side, Clermont’s partnership with James Madison University in long-term archaeological studies provides extensive training and research opportunities. Students from several public universities in Virginia and Maryland come to study architectural history. The historic house is used as a study house (not a furnished house museum) and is empty, its walls and floors have been partially opened to allow close examination of an 18th century “Chesapeake” house as they were built in the Valley. Architecture students look at the relationship between historic buildings and green building technology development, and at the visual representation of the evolution of buildings over time. Extensive research into the historic buildings commissioned by the Clermont Foundation provided the necessary information framework to support student study programs.
Clermont also partners with the Clarke CountyParks and Recreation Department to provide an additional venue for local people to enjoy music and festivals, in a place where the sense of the past’s presence is sharpened. Clermont supports the County and County seat’s planning for economic development through a systematic approach to heritage and agro-tourism.
Time’s arrow continues to move forward, and Clermont will continue to participate in and contribute to the social and economic life of its community. And it intends to be an example, among an ever-increasing number, of good practice historic preservation where the past actively contributes to the present.