Clermont Farm fire destroys historic buildings

Virginia
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When Bob Stieg got the call that the Clermont Farm in Clarke County, Va. was on fire, he didn’t know which buildings on the 360 acre property were impacted. 

Driving up to the farm, the CEO of the Clermont Foundation was relieved to see that it wasn’t the house. Then he saw the historical barn and corn crib were up in flames.

“They were a tremendous loss, both as historic buildings and as a center of operations for an active farm, a working farm that’s also an educational facility here at Clermont,” Stieg said.

According to Clarke County Fire Director Brian Lichty, dispatch first received a call at 5:15 a.m. from a passerby who saw a “glow” coming from the farm. Crews from Clarke, Frederick and Warren counties, as well as Winchester, arrived at about 5:30 a.m. 

Heavy winds–up to 40 miles per hour according to Stieg–propelled the fire, which burned intensely until about 9 a.m.

The 101-year-old barn and 168-year-old corn crib continued to smolder well into the afternoon.

While the majority of the farm’s cattle, pigs, and sheep were outside of the barn, 13 animals were trapped inside. Two sows, 10 piglets, and a newly purchased ram all died in the barn. 

Little of the barn is left, save for the stone foundation, a few charred timbers, the torched metal skeletons of the vehicles parked inside, and the tin roof, which Stieg says collapsed shortly after he arrived. Underneath the roof lies the farm’s tractor, just one of several major vehicles destroyed in the fire. 

While the loss is devastating, Stieg says the foundation needs to find alternatives quickly.

Although most of the animals live outdoors during the winter months, almost all of the animals that were killed were part of the Clarke County High School’s agriculture studies program. Students had raised the pigs that died and the foundation would need new animals and the resources to care for them to continue the educational programs.

But rebuilding may be a bit more complicated than simply building a barn.

For starters, the land and the buildings on the farm are owned by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, while the farm itself is managed and funded by the Clermont Foundation.

Director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources’ community services division David Edwards says he doesn’t know of any funding–federal or state–that could help with this sort of issue.

“The state does provide funding through insurance for the buildings themselves,” said Edwards. “But the content of the buildings are insured by the Clermont Foundation.”

Once funding is secured, the new buildings would need to meet both the modern commercial purposes of the farm, as well as the historical accuracy of the originals. 

Despite the loss, Joseph Whitehorne, the chairman of the Clermont Foundation’s board, says he’s trying to find a silver lining as they move forward.

One upside, he says, is that normally the Virginia Department of Historic Resources is advising private owners who go through historic property damage. But since the department owns the Clermont Farm, it is a chance to set a precedent for rebuilding after a disaster.

“We do have the opportunity in this tragedy to do something really right,” said Whitehorne. “To be a model to other people who experience this similar type of thing.”

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