The historic Long Branch Plantation in Boyce, Va., is a beautiful place to wander around on foot, but I had the opportunity to see it by horseback, thanks to a ride sponsored by the Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area. Despite the heat and the loudness of the 17-year-brood of cicadas, it was a great day for seeing the amazing scenery in Clarke County, Va.
The trail ride started at the picturesque Long Branch Plantation house, located near the small town of Boyce, Va. The 200-year-old house sits on 400 pristine acres and overlooks gently rolling hills that swell seamlessly into the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Long Branch Plantation History
The known history of the property dates back to 1788, when Robert Carter Burwell, a descendant of Robert “King” Carter, inherited the land sitting along a stream known as Long Branch. He turned the land into a wheat plantation, and began to construct a mansion around 1810.
Unfortunately, Burwell didn’t have much time to enjoy his new home. He took a fatal fall in a camp near Norfolk, Va., while serving in the military during the War of 1812.
The property passed into the ownership of Burwell’s sister, Sarah and her husband Philip Nelson, who didn’t move in until around 1820. Sources indicate they operated the house as a school for girls while continuing wheat production.
Struggling to keep the plantation running, Nelson ended up selling it to his nephew Hugh Nelson in 1842 for $32,000. Hugh and his wife Adelaide did some renovations including adding the beautiful spiral staircase that is there today.
The Civil War At Long Branch Plantation
Serving as one of Clarke County’s delegates to the Virginia secession convention, Hugh was very pro-Union. He gave many impassioned speeches, including one in which he said: “These green fields, where now ‘lowing herds wind slowly o’er the lea,’ may become fields of blood. Can you blame me, then, if I wish to try all peaceful means, consistent with Virginia honor, of obtaining our rights, before I try the last resort?”
Despite his stance to stay in the Union, when the delegates voted to secede, Hugh sided with his native state—like so many others—and went on to command the 6th Virginia Cavalry. He rose through the ranks, and eventually served as Aide-de-Camp on General Richard Ewell’s staff.
Again, tragedy struck as Hugh was severely wounded in the Seven Days Campaign June 25-July 1, 1862. He ultimately died of infection a little over a month later.
The Nelson family struggled to hold onto the plantation after Hugh’s death, and was able to do so until the 1950s. When Sallie Page Nelson passed away in 1951, the heirs decided to sell the house. It went through a number of owners after that, eventually ending up on the courthouse steps in 1986.
Luckily Harry Z. Isaacs, a Baltimore textile executive, purchased the estate and oversaw a large-scale rehabilitation. Before his death in 1990, Isaacs created the Harry Z. Isaacs Foundation to maintain and operate Long Branch Farm for charitable purposes.
Horse Retirement Farm At Long Branch
Horses have been a vital part of the history of the Long Branch Plantation since its inception and they still are today. In addition to being used in the fields and to pull carriages, horses were a big part of owner Hugh Nelson Jr.’s life. He was an avid horse breeder who raised Thoroughbreds and Clydesdales. Abram Hewitt and Harry Isaacs continued the horse breeding tradition at Long Branch, each having their own well-known operations.
Today, Long Branch has an extensive boarding program for the care of retired sport horses. It’s so wonderful to see the horses spread out over the pastures enjoying retirement life. The happy herd munching on tall grass makes Long Branch even more special for a horse lover like me!
Historic Long Branch plantation also serves as a Virginia wedding reception and special event venue. The scenery is breathtaking, from the treelined entranceway to the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Long Branch plantation’s Sheila Macqueen garden is an ideal space for weddings and special event photographs as it surrounds a beautifully groomed ceremony site.
To help with the special day, Long Branch offers a Bridal Suite and Groom’s Room for the couple to prepare and relax for their big day. The Bridal Suite, with views of the ceremony site, is a gorgeous upstairs room with a dressing room and bathroom for the bride and her bridesmaids to get ready. The groom’s “Tack Room” is an ideal spot for the groom and his groomsmen to enjoy pre-wedding preparations.
The author (Jessica James) touring historic Long Branch after the ride.
Attractions Near Long Branch Plantation:
Belle Grove Historic Plantation
A manor house built in 1797 located in the northern Shenandoah Valley near Middletown, Virginia.
Blandy Experimental Farm – The State Arboretum of Virginia
I had the opportunity to ride through some of this property as well. Located on 712 acres, this University of Virginia research facility includes the 175 acre State Arboretum of Virginia with more than 8,000 trees and woody shrubs. Amazing to see the different varieties!
Burwell – Morgan Mill in the Village of Millwood
The Burwell-Morgan Mill was established in 1785 and is the oldest operable merchant mill in the Shenandoah Valley. This is a great place to take the family to see how a true water mill works. General Daniel Morgan was a Revolutionary War hero is worth learning about as well.
Museum of the Shenandoah Valley
Interprets the art, history, and culture of the Shenandoah Valley.
“Old Chapel,” as it is now known, is the oldest Episcopal Church in continuous use west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Sky Meadows Virginia State Park
This 1,864-acre park has scenic views, rolling pastures and woodlands with 7 miles of bird trails, 17 miles of hiking trails and a trailhead for the Appalachian Trail. I camped here many years ago. Worth a visit!
If You Visit Historic Long Branch:
Address: 830 Long Branch Lane, Boyce, VA 22646
Office Hours: Monday – Friday, 10 am – 4 pm
Grounds: Open daily dawn – dusk free of charge
House Tours: Monday – Friday 10 am – 4 pm; Saturday & Sunday 12 – 4 pm Guided tours
General Admission: Monday thru Friday self-guided tour by donation; Saturday & Sunday $10/person
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The view from the entrance to Long Branch.