Category: Farmhouse History

?Bituminous? Birthday

SFH History: Cleanup after the great Christmas plumbing project continues. (See Plumbing the Depths of History.) The yard and driveway are still a mess. That mess, however, has provided a great opportunity for the official Serendipity Farmhouse Historian & Archeologist to uncover important historical materials and artifacts. For example, our Historian can now say with some confidence that one or more of the original four SFH heating stoves and perhaps even the kitchen cookstove were fueled with either anthracite or bituminous coal.

Due to the amount of coal that was unearthed on the eastern side of our farmhouse, it appears that the coal was stored near there in a pile, perhaps in some type of enclosure. The use of coal for heating and cooking would have been consistent with common practice when the house was built. Having coal delivered by wagon or truck would have been far more convenient than gathering the large amount of wood necessary for wood burning heating and cookstoves.

As our SFH Official Historian was working the SFH archeological digs, a serious question nagged and bothered him intensely – Is that coal anthracite or bituminous? – Dang! He should be able to remember. After all, he had an international expert explain it all to him years ago.

A Little Family History & Birthdays

Portas da Cidade, by Historian, March 2002

In the very early part of the 20th Century, the grandparents of our Historian passed through the Portas da Cidade and entered the old quay of Ponta Delgada on the Azorian island of São Maguel. That would be the last time they would see sites like the one in our featured picture. They boarded a craft bound for Bristol, Massachusetts and eventually would make a home near Fall River. On March 21st, 1907, a son was born to them.

There is neither time nor room here to dwell on details. Suffice it to say, the son, whose first language was Portuguese, grew and prospered, eventually becoming a Field Service Engineer for McDowell-Wellman Engineering in Cleveland, Ohio. His primary technical concentration was in the field of Coal Gasification. During the 1950s and 1960s, he would travel to far-off places, showing chemical engineers in Peru, Taiwan, Spain, Canada, and throughout the U.S. how to make an inexpensive, clean gas fuel from coal.

Outside Chimbote, Peru – Andes in Background

But it was more than just making a gas fuel. That gas could also be used in chemical processing to produce fertilizers for agriculture. That was the reason for his travel to Taiwan. The Taiwan Fertilizer Company he assisted in the 1950s in developing some of its processes is now a major producer of fertilizer and industrial chemicals. – – I guess the bottom line is – the SFH Official Historian’s father knew coal – he knew it just about as well as anyone could. – – Below you can see how he saw a lump of coal as compared to how most people see coal.

That son of the Azorian immigrants yearned to travel and he had an abiding love for the sea and ships that sail the seas. Below, you can see him in 1932 as the “Captain” of the the “Charles W. Morgan” – the last wooden whaleship in the world. He passed on that love of the sea to his son, the SFH Official Historian, by taking him to see ports and ships on the eastern seacoast, including the Mayflower II when it first arrived at Plimoth Plantation in the 1950s.

Our then young SFH Historian was able to accompany his father to several nearby worksites on a number of occasions. He was even able to join his dad on a two-week, work-vacation adventure in Woodstock, Ontario. On those trips, our Historian was able to tour the inside of large steel plants and view the world-renowned Wellman-Galusha gas producer in operation. Yes, our very own Official SFH Historian had received an education in chemical engineering and coal at a very young age.

In retrospect, it is no surprise that our Historian’s childhood house on Rob Roy Road had the best-working, most efficiently-run, coal-fired furnace to heat water for the radiators found in every room. – Our Historian’s father was definitely not like Ralphie’s dad in the movie A Christmas Story.

Now, there was one detail about the carbon that makes up coal that always interested our young Historian whenever his dad would talk about it. – That was the process by which carbon can be transformed into that beautiful, useful, and valuable substance known as a diamond. Just like coal, a diamond is composed of carbon. But, unlike coal which is formed by an entirely different and more recent process, pure carbon, through the influence of time and pressure, can become the beautiful, shining, crystalline object that captures our imagination.

As noted earlier, our Historian’s father was born on March 21st, 1907. That would make today the anniversary of his birth. But there is someone else in our Historian’s family who shares that same date of birth. And she carries on in at least one important family tradition. Like her great grandfather and her grandfather, she yearns to travel to distant places. That is why she is studying Japanese language and culture.

Granddaughter #1 on a visit to SFH

At this point, there are only three more things to say:

First, our SFH Historian’s Granddaughter #1 is a most beautiful, shining, and adventuresome member of the family. If her great grandfather were to describe her today, he might compare her personality to the radiance of a diamond.

Second, from our Historian and all here at SFH, Happy Birthday, Dad and Granddaughter #1!!!

Third, our Historian has finally determined, after long and serious consideration, that it was anthracite coal that was used in the stoves at SFH, not bituminous coal. So, this should be an Anthracite Birthday not a ?Bituminous? Birthday. – – – Am I right, Dad?


SFH Journal: 2021-02-01 through 02-07 – Plumbing the Depths of History

With Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, Mr. Monte is anxiously preparing a card, presents, and many other signs of sincere affection for his dearest Miss Fleur. So, on this very snowy Sunday, I have been able to regain access to the official Serendipity Farmhouse blogging computer. There’s a warm fire in the wood stove, and I look forward to a delicious lunch because my most beautiful and capable Wife will be making pastrami sandwiches with a perfect loaf of her exquisite homemade bread. – Indeed, all is well here at SFH!

A simple dashed line – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

For some, including Mr. Monte’s claimed 23,417 feline followers, the following story may be too long and tedious. Too bad for them. This story isn’t meant for those folks. It is meant for lovers of history and those who will follow us as residents here at our cherished Serendipity Farmhouse.

Sometimes you do the right thing and you don’t even know it. Or, you don’t know it until many years later. For example, in late-2016, dearest Wife and I commissioned the Rappahannock Historical Society to compile a detailed history of what is now the vast 1.203 acre estate known as Serendipity Farmhouse.

We were both impressed and overwhelmed by the more than 200-page document we received in early-2017. It was filled with maps, charts, photocopies of deeds, contracts, and other official documents. Even the cover page gave us pause to think about the historical significance of the land upon which our little farmhouse is built – “Formerly part of 1731 Colonial Land Grant from King George II and a 1751 land grant from Thomas 6th Lord Fairfax.”

Wondrous Spouse and I are students of history. We enjoy finding the puzzle pieces of the past and making a picture out of them. That explains why we have paged through the huge binder many times, trying our best to sort out the different names, persons, and relationships, creating a small “who’s who” in the SFH historical timeline. – Our reading of the history provided entertainment.

It wasn’t until December 22nd, during the week before last Christmas, that we found how fortuitous was our decision made in 2016. It was on that day that we found a practical application of historical documentation that saved us many hundreds of dollars that week and perhaps thousands of dollars over the next several years.

In 2013, our home inspector’s report noted that SFH had very low water pressure. In February 2014, our water pump died and had to be replaced. We thought the new pump would improve the water pressure. It did not.

For several years we lived with the problem. Various plumbers suggested that we might need a new pressure tank, but they weren’t sure. In July of 2020, our well went almost completely dry. We thought that several weeks without rain caused the problem. (See SFH Journal: 2020-07-06 through 07-12 and SFH Journal: 2020-07-13 through 07-26.) When we did have water, the pressure was very low. By December, almost nothing was coming out of the tap. So, we called in the professionals.

After testing this and that, that and this, a plumber, wiser than his years might suggest, stated without hesitation it wasn’t our pump or our pressure tank. No, we were the proud owners of an underground water line with an ever-growing leak. “We can fix it for about $3,800.00 – if you’re lucky.”

Worn out fitting

Left with no alternatives, we accepted the bid and waited for digging day. After one weather-related postponement, the day finally came. The two workmen arrived, looked at the colored lines painted on the grass by Miss Utility, and immediately started digging directly in front of the pump house.  Their plan was to find the leak and simply repair the leak at its source. Within an hour they found the source of the leak. It was an old, worn out galvanized steel 90° angle fitting. – That was the good news.

The plumbers immediately replaced the fitting; turned on the system; breathlessly waited for signs of success; and soon found out there was probably another leak somewhere else along the line. – That was the bad news.

The workers casually mentioned to me that when they tried to trace the path of the existing line, it went away from the farmhouse rather than towards it. That didn’t make much sense to them. – But … But … It suddenly made all the sense in the world to me.

Quickly, I ran into the house pulled out the history binder and started looking for old survey documents. No, the survey made in 2013 wasn’t the right one. The survey made in February of 1978 was the one. Years ago, I had wondered why that survey showed a dashed line running from the original water pump down our lane. But there it was on the survey.

Below is a comparison of the 1978 and 2013 surveys. The answer was all in a simple dashed line – – – – – – – – –

Next I looked at a deed from the same year stating the following: “The right to use the water from the well located on Lot D for the benefit of Lots A, B and C, as set forth on the plat herein.” – Serendipity Farmhouse was Lot D, and the other three lots on our lane were Lots A, B and C. That was the answer – the water line did not go directly from the well to our house. No, instead it headed westward down the lane. The line to our house branched off of it further down the lane.

I informed the workmen of my finding and showed them the survey. It was at that point they decided there was no need wasting time looking for a second leak. Instead, they would run an entirely new line from the pump house directly to Serendipity Farmhouse. – Once the new line was in place, they turned on the water system and behold – there we no leaks and our water pressure was greatly increased.

The work was done for the originally estimated $3,800.00. It could have been more. The life of our water pump was increased because it was no longer continuously pumping water back into the ground. Finally, my neighbor across the way now had an answer to a question he had for years: “Why is it always so wet and soggy on the east side of my house?” – – Now the answer was clear, we at SFH had been giving him free water to keep his grass green through the longest droughts.

Lesson Learned 2021-01: Read your history – it will save you money and heartache.

SFH by the Numbers

The following links will catch you up with what’s come out of our gardens and what has gone into mason jars and the freezer since our last Journal post:

SFH 2020 Plantings

SFH 2020 Harvest

SFH 2020 Preserving

SFH WX Station Report – Weekly: 

SFH WX 2021-02-01 through 02-07

For Want of Winter Warmth

Hi! Mr. Monte Here!

To all of my 23, 417 feline followers and even to some of my more sympathetic and compassionate human followers, please forgive my rather forlorn and dejected mood today. I just received word that my dearest Miss Fleur has taken ill. Although her big cat tried hard to get an emergency appointment at Miss Fleur’s regular vet, they had to take her to my old vet, Dr. Dog-man, instead. (Please click here to see the miserable visit I had with him.)

I’m told that Dog-man thinks he has found the cause for Miss Fleur’s ailment and he has taken appropriate actions. For his sake, I hope Dog-man has done a better job with my sweet Miss Fleur than he did with me. If he’s botched this, he will pay – if you catch my drift.


As a cat, a most unique cat with a superior intellect and royal demeanor, it must be understood that Winter, with all its associated charm, brings with it cold weather and damp discomfort. Surely, you understand that I have a vested interest in assuring that all at SFH, especially Moi, are warm and comfortable. That is why I do my best to ensure that the primary heating systems at SFH are in tip-top condition and service ready. So this year, I enjoined Ol’ Fuzz Face to be extra alert for potential problems and to confirm that both the wood stove and the propane furnace were in working order.

Fuzzy recognized my concerns and, much to his credit, has taken this matter in hand this season. The chimney has already been cleaned and two days ago Fuzzy and Blondie stored the last load of the two cords of wood that were delivered some time ago. They make a good team and did their best not to exceed their limits. Even with all their care for safety, however, Blondie slightly strained her right paw while loading the cart with logs.

I took some pictures while they were working as you will see below. – SFH owes the success of their excellent efforts to my outstanding management skills.

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2013-Already in Bad Shape

It must be kept in mind that when Serendipity Farmhouse was constructed circa 1927, it was without indoor plumbing or electricity. Over the years, “modern” improvements were made. One of those “modern” improvements was the installation of a propane furnace in 1987 – 33 years ago. Fuzz Face and Blondie bought SFH “as is” and they knew from the home inspector’s report that the furnace would have to be replaced. When the furnace was inspected last week, it came as no surprise that the old furnace had to go. There were several safety concerns plus condensation had built up and was beginning to rot the wood under the furnace.

Being the most forward thinking member of the SFH Staff, I advised my two big cats to invest in a more advanced, efficient, and reliable system. Of course, they did as I recommended. – This morning as I type this, I am basking in the evenly distributed and ever so comforting warmth from the new furnace.

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So, now you know what must be done here at SFH “for Want of Winter Warmth”. 

Farewell Virginia Craftsman

I know of no greater compliment to a man than to pay tribute to what he made with his own hands. From a simple 1920s farmhouse, surrounded by mud, all the way to our own beloved Serendipity Farmhouse, there have been men and women who have had skills, patience, imagination, and great ability. They were caring individuals who knew what this simple farmhouse could be, should be, and would be. And they made it happen.

0221181236_hdr-2Today, we learned of the passing of one of those people – Our dear friend Bill. (Please see post SFH Skills 2018-01: Bill Skills.)

There is virtually no building on this property, no room in this house, no direction we might turn that does not reflect the work of this inspired craftsman. And every fixture or feature that has known his touch is now better, brighter, more functional, more pleasing, and more highly valued. We would tell him our vision, he would make it a reality.

When we moved into this house, the wood on both the front porch and the back deck had rotted. This was a img_20140524_152424_569-2matter of replacement not repair. Bill got it done. There was no door for the rear porch and it was a non-standard size. Bill custom made the new door. Two joists under what is now our living room had broken and needed to be shored up. Bill got it done. – – I could go on, but there is no room in this post to list all Bill did here at Serendipity.

IMG_20140405_100638_375_editedBill was not just a repairman, he was a craftsman. When we explained that we had more books than space to store them, Bill came up with a perfect design for a set of shelves for the living room. Practical and functional as it was, it was also what could be expected in a house of this vintage. It was not out of place. In fact, it probably should have been here to begin with.

I think the previous owners and occupants, those who either grew up here or had children here can understand why my beautiful wife and I are feeling a great loss tonight. This little old Virginia farmhouse deserves great care and constant attention. So many have done so much for this house. And tonight one of those people is no longer here. Yet, when we look at the paint, walk up the  steps, open the screen door, turn on the tap at the kitchen sink, we cannot help but be thankful and appreciative of the work that Bill did here. He loved old homes and had a craftsman’s skill and Serendipity Farmhouse will display his love for years to come.

Rest in peace, dear friend.


* Thank you to Jackie for the old picture featured in this post.

A Serendipitous Meeting

Oftentimes, unfamiliar cars come down our private lane. More often than not the drivers have made a mistaken turn. The cars then proceed down the lane only to find they are not where they thought. – – GPS directions are never to be fully trusted.

Sometimes, however, the driver knows more about where they are than we do. Today, this was the case. And this, dear reader, was the occasion for a most serendipitous meeting.

As I walked towards the unfamiliar vehicle, ready to provide directions to the local attractions, I was met by a most unexpected revelation. The two charming ladies sitting in the front seats represented two generations of a family that had lived in Serendipity Farmhouse many years before. Today was an important day to them, the birthday of a beloved husband and father.

Blondie and I were fascinated by their story of how the farmhouse had been renovated many years ago. They were equally interested to hear about what had been done here by a number of successive occupants.


No, what took place in our driveway today was no mere chance meeting. It was, in fact, most serendipitous.

To the fine gentleman of fond memory, who did so much for this little farmhouse – Sir, may you have a most blessed and happy birthday!

Happy Anniversary, Serendipity!!

Hi! Blondie here.

What were we thinking six years ago today???

No sooner than we had closed on the sale of our beautiful house in Idaho and signed the papers making what would become Serendipity Farmhouse our own, we got the news that we had to hit the road immediately. Winter storms taunted us and plagued us all the way across Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, and my beloved Virginia.

What a trip. We did it all because we wanted, no, we really needed to be with our children and our grandchildren.

God is very good! May He continue to bless this little farmhouse and all who enter it!

Re-Dedication to Our Patrons

This month marks one year since the Serendipity Farmhouse blog became a fully functioning reality. Today marks one year since we at SFH dedicated ourselves and this blog to our patrons St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. (See Dedication to Our Patrons – St. Scholastica & St. Benedict.)

Today is the feast of St. Scholastica, the sister of St. Benedict and our dear patroness. So, today, as we do every day, we re-dedicate the Serendipity Farmhouse blog to her and her brother St. Benedict.

To all of our readers and followers, thank you for staying with us and referring us to your friends. Feel free to comment on how we are doing and what you might like to see in the way of new content, recipes, and stories.

SFH Journal: 2018-11-29 through 2018-12-03 – 200 Amp Service!!!

Highlight: When Serendipity Farmhouse was built, circa 1927, electrical wiring was of little concern. In fact, it appears that, along with indoor plumbing, electricity was of no concern at all. As time moved on, and two extensions were added to the original house, plumbing made its way into the extensions and electricity made it into the entire house.

In the minds of those who made the additions, everything seemed fit and proper. A circuit here, a circuit there, no more wood stove for cooking, electric heat in the bathroom – everybody was happy.  Right?

In October 2013, the eyes of one beholder, our home inspector, the picture (or pictures) of the state of the SFH electrical system were not so rosy. Nope, here is some of what she saw and some of what she thought.

Old box-1

“6.1 (1) Main panel does not have a main shut off breaker for entire panel–only a breaker (60 amp) labeled as “lighting main”. Also, other lighting circuits have been added — this could be confusing if someone trying to work on lights / switches thinks that power off to all those circuits if “lighting main” breaker is off. Suggest upgrade panel to include panel main breaker.”

Old box-2

“Note wire coming up in bottom of panel through knockout hole — but grommet missing. This protects wire from damage.”

Then, of course, there was the problem that SFH only had (barely had) 100 Amp service. That is why you heard me whine all Summer about the heat – attempting to run even two small air conditioners at the same time could have dire consequences.

1202181116b (2)So, that is why the last two months have been filled with the sounds of electricians tearing out old wires, installing conduit, running new wire, drilling holes, etc., etc., etc. Needless to say, Mr. Monte was not happy with the noise. Yet, despite the noise and strange humans wandering through the house, Mr. Monte frequently made forays into the work areas in order to assess the quality of the work. He let us know when he thought there was something amiss.


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Then finally, just as we readied to roll the calendar over from November to December, the work was done. Serendipity Farmhouse now has modern, legal, and safe 200 Amp service. Come next Summer, we will be able to run air conditioners in the house, wherever and whenever we want.

1202181118 (2)As a wonderful side benefit, we now have a special 30 Amp circuit for our Class C RV “El Camino Del Monte”. And that, dear readers, signals the opportunity for the next big upgrade at SFH – an updated kitchen. Yup, either in 2019 or 2020 we will update the SFH Test Kitchen. And, when we do, we can move into the RV and live comfortably there. With the new 30 Amp service, we will be able to run the RV air conditioner, watch TV, listen to music, and prepare Julia Child meals while the workers are performing their magic on the “new and improved” SFH Test Kitchen.

Weather:  Chilly and damp; rain, mist, fog on Saturday the 1st. (For details of Sperryville, VA weather in November 2018 – click here.)

2018-11-29: High/Low -39º/27º

2018-11-30: High/Low – 43º/32º

2018-12-01: High/Low – 37º/30º

2018-12-02: High/Low – 59º/37º

2018-12-03: High/Low – 57º/39º

Plantings: Reporting suspended until the first planting of 2019.

Harvest: Reporting suspended until the first harvest of 2019.

SFH Skills 2018-01: Bill Skills

Everyone has skills. Skills are very important. You can’t live without them. Even Mr. Monte has skills. (Read What Were They Thinking?) Unfortunately, some people have the wrong skills for where they are. Serendipity Farmhouse, for example, requires some unusual skills. For example, we have recently acquired “bird in wood stove skills”.

Although we have developed several requisite SFH skills, and someday we might even have blogging skills, there is no way that I will ever have wood working skills, plumbing skills, generator fixing skills, or deck building skills. That, dear friends, is why we are blessed to have Bill and all of his “Bill Skills”.

You can see Bill here with a project he completed last week. Yup, Bill has railing skills. Those stairs under the railing? Yup, Bill built those steps – he has stair skills. Over the course of this coming year we will talk about Bill and his Bill Skills.



Oh, some day, you might find someone like Bill, but I guarantee you, you’ll never find someone with the entire set of Bill Skills. That set of skills only belongs to Bill. Bill is our “go to guy”. Every day, Serendipity Farmhouse shows off more and more why it was happy to be introduced to Bill and his skills.

Don’t think we take this lightly. Bill is a craftsman, a professional, he’s worked on this house inside and outside since we first moved in. It’s more than just skills, he loves what he does, and he’s the best.

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How it all began – What were we thinking?

IMG_20140713_170722_748 (2)

My beautiful spouse asked me to keep it simple and short. I will.

I am married to a grandmother of 11. We were living in Idaho, nearly 2,000 miles from our nearest grandchild. For you grandparents, you know that nothing else needs to be said. There was no other reasonable choice. We had to listen to our hearts. So, in December 2013, we made the move from Idaho back to our beloved Virginia.

Our About page describes the on-line home search. Finally, after over 40 years of marriage, we realized this was not to be a hurried hunt for “the house of our dreams” it was to be a careful quest for “the house of our realities”.