One of the grand old buildings of Loudoun is about to be restored to its former glory.
On Tuesday, Sharon D. Virts and Scott F. Miller completed the purchase of Selma, the historic 20-room mansion on Rt. 15 north of Leesburg. The seller was businessman Peter J. ter Maaten, who lives in Holland.
Virts, a Loudoun native, is the founder and CEO of FCi Federal, in Ashburn. Miller, company president, oversees the company’s operations.
The couple plans to restore the house and to live there—a decision that has been hailed with relief by preservationists and others who have mourned the slow dilapidation of the long-ignored mansion.
At the end of a long driveway on the west side of Rt. 15, Selma sits in a similar position to Morven Park to the south. Both are grand houses, gleaming white, silhouetted against the steeply rising wooded Catoctin Mountain at their backs. But while Morven Park has undergone a full restoration, in recent years Selma has been subjected to neglect and vandalism that have threatened the integrity of the house.
The new owners are very excited with their acquisition, for which they paid about $1.2 million. What has buoyed Virts and Miller is the enormous amount of recent interest in the house—including a growing number of followers of a newly created Facebook page, “Selma Mansion Rebirth,” as well as preservationists and those who had attended events there.
“So many people have contacted us to say they want to help,” Miller said. First, the couple plans to stabilize the house and the roof, clear all the brush off the exterior walls and stop water from leaking in.
Miller estimates the restoration process will take from 18 months to two years to complete.
“It’s been a great experience so far,” he said.
In the Beginning
The history of the 212-acre Selma Plantation dates back to 1700.
After most of an earlier house burned in the late 1880s, the current Selma mansion was built in about 1902 by Elijah Brokenborough White. As builders he employed the Norris Brothers of Leesburg, who were well known for their elaborate woodwork, which is well displayed in Selma’s glamorous rooms.
It was at Selma that White bred champion Percheron draft horses. His daughter, Jane Elizabeth, inherited Selma and lived there until she died in 1970. “Miss Elizabeth,” as she was known, carried on her parents’ tradition of gracious living and entertaining at the house.
Leesburg antique cars dealer Ben J. Epperson and his wife, Ruth, purchased the 212-acre Selma Plantation in the early 1970s, both living in the house and renting it for weddings
and special events. In 1999, the Eppersons sold the farm and house to ter Maaten, who retained the Eppersons’ daughter, Benji Collins, as his property manager for a few years. Collins continued her mother’s weddings and events business in the house.
Ben Epperson died in 2003, but his widow recalled happy days living at Selma. Asked what she liked most about the house, she said, “You could never answer that question, there’d be too much—you couldn’t pick out any thing—it was all of it.”
She said she and her husband and three girls felt privileged to have had the chance to take it on and to keep it for almost 30 years.
“We all loved it—who wouldn’t?”
When she heard the news that Selma has been purchased Tuesday, she said, “I’m so happy.”
In 2002, ter Maaten sold part of the property to developer Edgemoore Homes, and kept the house and a 50-acre conservancy lot.
But little maintenance or upkeep was done over the intervening years, leading to the property’s 2007 nomination to the endangered sites list, submitted by Collins and Loudoun preservationist Lori Kimball.
The house has not been lived in for 16 years and has steadily fallen apart, bit by bit. Slowly the once grand house deteriorated, with cracks in the exterior walls, paint peeling off the interior walls, and weeds and overgrowth enclosing the mansion. Vandalism and theft have also been problems.
Selma is important, preservationists maintain, because of its significant architecture, its significance in the county’s history—representing its architecture, history and a fast-vanishing agrarian lifestyle—and because it holds a special place for the many residents who visited Selma for special events, including charitable events and weddings.
Kimball and others formed the Save Selma group, an informal collection of preservationists and historians along with people who cared about Selma. They received permission from ter Maaten to access the house. They documented the neglect and used their personal funds to buy plywood and other materials to try to keep vandals, ghost hunters, and others out.
In the 2007 nomination, Kimball said with rehabilitation “the mansion could again be someone’s home and/or used as an event site.”
That statement seems prophetic with the news of the Virts-Miller purchase of the mansion and their intent to fully restore it and live in it. Already, the couple has cleared mounds of vegetation from around the house, allowing it to breathe once more.
Kimball, who is now Director of Programming and Education at Oatlands Historic House and Gardens, said she and the Save Selma group were elated to hear of the sale.
“Isn’t that grand? After all these years of neglect and vandalism, it will be restored to its former glory.”
Selma Through the Centuries
Selma has a colorful history that goes back to the county’s origins and involves some of its best-known residents. The land was once part of the Virginia Proprietorship managed by Lord Fairfax, situated on the centuries-old, north-south trading route, the Carolina Road—today’s Rt. 15, according to the 2007 nomination to Virginia’s Most Endangered Historic Sites listing. Its known history dates to the 1700s.
A portion of the Proprietorship was sold to John Dixon in 1731, who then sold it to Aenas Campbell in 1754. Three years later, Campbell became the county’s first sheriff after Loudoun was created out of western Fairfax County. Selma was part of Campbell’s large estate, Raspberry Plain. In 1760, the Raspberry Plain tract was sold to Thomson Mason, who farmed it in corn, rye, oats and buckwheat.
Mason was the younger brother of George Mason IV, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights. When Thomson Mason died in 1785, his son, Stevens Thomson Mason, inherited the land. He became a colonel in the Virginia Revolutionary Army and, later, a U.S. senator. In 1800, his younger brother, Armistead Thomson Mason, received that part of the Raspberry Plain tract that came to be known as Selma.
Armistead Mason built the first house at Selma between 1800 and 1810. His house, at first, fared better than its builder. Armistead Mason headed the Democratic Party in Loudoun, while his cousin, John Mason McCarty, was an ardent Federalist. The two men became so passionate in their political differences that McCarty challenged Mason to a duel. Dueling was illegal in Virginia, so the two men fought it out in Bladensburg, MD, in February 1819. Mason was killed instantly.
But, some 60 years later, the original house also met its fate. After passing to different owners, the major part of the house burned in the late 1800s.
In 1897, Selma was sold to Elijah Brokenborough White, the son of Elijah Viers White, a revered Confederate soldier and a leading businessman in Loudoun, the president of People’s National Bank in Leesburg (today’s Lightfoot Restaurant) and the owner/operator of White’s Ferry. Elijah B. White reportedly started building the mansion that sits on the property today not long after his purchase, completing it in about 1902.
Selma changed hands over the years and under the Eppersons became a favorite venue for weddings and charity events. Many participants in events at Selma are among those currently delighting in the news of its purchase and eventual restoration.