History of SME
Guests often ask us “How did you find this place?” We felt it would be helpful for those interested to provide you the “short” story of Shadow Mountain Escape’s history!
The name “Shadow Mountain Escape” comes from the name of the tracts (Shadow Mountain tracts) of land that were originally subdivided within Jewell Hollow from large parcels that once belonged to several of the pioneering families of the county (the Jewell and Sours family among them). We added the term “Escape” to invoke a sense of the underlying purpose behind our effort. In order to provide our precious guests an environment conducive to happiness and fulfillment, we focus on exposing the beauty and spirit of the natural landscape and the myriad of remarkable life that grows from it. In respect to the origins of timber framing and our German heritage (we spent many years living and discovering the wonders of the “old world”), we also strive to capture the same old rural European charm that left its indelible impact on us many years ago. We hope that our vision shines through our timber frames just a little bit… fueling your passions and contributing to your happiness.
Jewell Hollow is one of the several hollows that spans out westward from Mary’s Rock to the Pinnacle above (Elder Ridge) – the high ridge line seen from the property. The high point of the ridge is 3,730 feet. Elder Ridge is part of the Shenandoah National Park. The high portion of the ridge that stands directly in view (to the east) of Shadow Mountain Escape is named “The Pinnacle”.
The Hollow is defined by two mountain streams that join just a “stones throw” from the edge of Shadow Mountain Escape property to make up the large stream named Pass Run. These streams hold a rarity – pure and drinkable natural spring fed water and a robust population of native brook trout. It is the location of the Hollow and the water that undoubtedly attracted the earlier inhabitants of the Hollow to include native Indians dating back a few thousand years and European Pioneers from the Colonial period.
Prior to the 1800’s, human inhabitants in Jewell Hollow were Native Americans of several local tribes. For the most part, it is believed that the Hollow was hunting land. This is evident still today as numerous arrow heads dating back hundreds to thousands of years (dating back to the archaic period) continue to be randomly found. As early as the 1700’s European Americans (many immigrants) began to slowly populate the Shenandoah Valley. To a lesser degree, they lived and worked the less desirable land on the higher mountain areas along the valley’s edges.
The earliest pioneers to settle in Jewell Hollow were undoubtedly among some of the toughest and most industrious of American Pioneers. Keep in mind that in the 1800’s most in Washington D.C. never ventured to the mountains. Those who did commonly required 5 days with a horse and carriage along an unimproved dirt road to get to the small rural villages in the Valley. The “Mountain People”, those living off the land in Jewell Hollow in the 1800’s, lived under the most basic conditions in a tough environment. Their community throughout the valley was heavily influenced by Christian values and churches – many of which still stand active throughout the valley today.
Mountain folk typically practiced subsistence farming, hunted, harvested tree bark for tanning, produced wood products, and performed back breaking labor to sustain their families. According to George Freeman Pollock, in his book “Skyland”, “The Blue Ridge Mountaineer was probably no different from any Anglo-Saxon; but being ignorant, usually having a chip on his shoulder and being possessed of bulky strength, he had to go through a good many years of “mixing” before he became the docile person he is today.”
In the mid-1980’s we would often drive to our favorite Virginia escape – the mountains – for back packing, day hikes, visits to local wineries, etc. Ultimately we fell in love with the mountains in and around Page County! Despite later years of military service, Corporate International Sales and Marketing jobs, and many homes “under our belt”, we began a slow and challenging process of pursuing our vision to build “Shadow Mountain Escape”.- Eventually to establish our permanent “homestead” in the mountains that we adored.
The real journey began one sunny afternoon in 1993 when we stopped at a Real Estate office in Sperryville (just over the mountain on the East side) and asked if there were any sizeable lots available with a pristine and undisturbed mountain stream, mountain views and bordering the Shenandoah National Park. The realtor’s response in her distinct Appalachian dialect was….. “Wouldn’t everybody like property with a stream and bordering the National Park? Honey, you’ll never find that!”
After the initial shock and disappointment, we became determined to find what we were looking for. Following a generic letter sent to most of the local real estate offices in the area, one month later, we received a call from Ashby Downer with Page Realty stating he had the property we were looking for! We drove to Luray the following weekend. Upon seeing the remote and completely overgrown lot tucked into the local legendary “Jewell Hollow” (wild enough at the time to scare most sensible prospective buyers away!), we immediately saw the potential. After struggling to scrape together the funds, we took our fist big step in pursuing our dream of “Shadow Mountain Escape”. As a result, SME was born from these 15 acres of land, at elevation approx. 1300 feet, next to the National Park and home to countless native species of animals and vegetation.
All Shadow Mountain Escape structures and landscapes were designed by Ralph, a retired soldier, who has a passion for design and history. He holds a degree from VA Tech in Landscape Architecture. Following completion of our concepts and basic designs, we rely on the timber framer for design input and completion of engineering and construction drawings. During construction, the timber framer and a host of local contractors are relied upon to complete the unique structures. Most of the landscaping, maintenance, and much of the natural stone work is done by Ralph. Although Karen runs all aspects of Sales, Marketing, and most administration for our small business, she plays an invaluable logistics and general support role during all construction phases.
In 1994, we started to build our home (today sitting on Lot 1 and named the Lady Bug). Ralph spent his childhood in Germany (his mother is originally from Germany) where his passion for historic structures was sparked – specifically timber frames. Karen also shares a passion for European design and culture as she is also from German roots from her mother’s side and we both remain in contact with our near and distant relatives now in the Hessen region of Germany.
After much research, we found several companies in Virginia who still practiced the nearly lost art of timber framing – which seems to be enjoying resurgence in the 21st century in some parts of the country. Ultimately, Dreaming Creek from Powhatan, Virginia, owned by Bob Shortridge (a brilliant artisan and wood worker) was selected to build the structures of Shadow Mountain Escape. Following our concept and basic design, the timber framers detailed the design, completed the structural engineering, and cut and erected the frame.
The “Ladybug” structure reflects the form of old country style homes in parts of Germany and respects simplicity and the local materials indigenous to older farm homes in this area of the Blue Ridge. Building by using Timber Frame construction proved to be quite a challenge. The Timber Framing Company only cuts and raises the frame. Given this, dozens of local contractors of all sorts from near and far were coordinated and synchronized to complete just the initial phase of the project. Since no one in the Page County area had ever built a Timber Frame home, it was a challenge and adventure for the contractors in the area. Despite the “pains”, our love for timber frame structures was reinforced and we prepared ourselves to launch into the next phase of making Shadow Mountain Escape a reality.
After building the original timber frame structure in 1994 (now our home and office), we oriented on securing enough surrounding land to preserve the environment we so cherished and to ensure sufficient building space for follow-on structures. Protecting our views, maintaining ecological balance, and ensuring seclusion was of paramount concern. By 1997, with some significant luck involved, we finally purchased the adjacent land making up Shadow Mountain Escape’s current 15 acre compound in Jewell Hollow. After the land was secured, we focused on the next phase of the project – designing and building the Timber Frame lodge and salt box style barn.
The SME Bear Dance Lodge (Dragon Fly – Bumble Bee) and the Barn (Butterfly) were built in 2002. We designed the structures to maximize guests’ privacy while preserving the views and surrounding woodlands. The Lodge was initially designed to have a 50ft. tower; however, while we were finalizing the drawings the county denied approving the 50ft. tower. Following significant design changes and many months, we created an alternative design and floor plan which was better than the original and also retained an observation tower.
The Lodge was constructed while we were living in Europe. When we learned that our stay in Europe would be extended with a move to Italy for a few years, we knew we needed someone “on the ground” oversee the construction process. We hired Ralph’s father to manage all the contracts, contractors, and to keep the schedule on time. We couldn’t have finished the project on-time without him! He was a retired Army Aviator who maintained a “tight” operation. He lived in Williamsburg and made over 50 round-trips to the property to oversee the project.
The SME Bear Dance Lodge – comprised of the Dragon Fly and Bumble Bee cabins accepted the first guests in August 2002. The Butterfly loft was opened May 2003. The Lodge and barn sit on our 2nd 5 acre lot. The 3rd 5 acre lot will remain wooded without any structures to preserve the sense of space and protect the invaluable ecology surrounding Shadow Mountain Escape. In June of 2011 we completed our fourth timber frame rental cabin and named it the Ladybug. The Ladybug is also a uniquely designed authentic oak timber frame and it is located directly across the deck from our home office. Although the Ladybug is the smallest of our cabins, its romantic charm and European décor have made it a favorite for many couples.
With the intent to use indigenous “bug names”, Dragonfly and Bumblebee were derived from some of the most common species we see here at Shadow Mountain Escape in the spring and summer time. Take time to notice the overwhelming variety of Dragonflies around the pond during warmer months – a great opportunity for close up photos. Some of the fat bees buzzing around the structures that many identify as Bumblebees are actually Carpenter Bees, a wood burrowing bee that we strive to control during the spring and early summer.
While finishing the loft over the barn we noticed a tremendous number of Butterflies (most impressive being the Swallow Tails) visiting the many thistles found on the property. Keeping with our bug names, we named the loft unit over the barn the Butterfly. Even our little shed next to the barn is named the “Grass Hopper”… you guessed it… lots of grass hoppers in the lawn! The garbage recycling center structure is, understandably, the “Stink Bug”. Heavy populations of the square shaped Stink Bugs (both brown and green) began showing in mass in 2010. They don’t bite and they do leave a musty smell on your hand when you pick them up.
Since the 1980’s Asian Lady Bugs were released in the Shenandoah Valley to destroy other damaging and overwhelming insects threatening the forest and crops in the region. The thought was to use natural means, rather than pesticides, to balance the impact of the destructive aphids. Unfortunately, the Lady Bugs flourished in the area beyond expectations and reverted to their natural instincts to colonize in great masses in and on warm vertical structure prior to winter settling in. Translate this to understand that huge numbers of Lady Bugs invaded our and our neighbors’ homes – inside and out! Hence, our newest cabin was named Lady Bug in their memory. The masses of Lady Bugs seem to have subsided some in this part of “the Holler” over the last couple of years.
Our private “La Cantina” was inspired by our many visits to Europe. We wanted to capture that special atmosphere for our guests that we’ve only found in the authentic settings of a German “Stube” or a Tuscan “Cantina”!
In the corner of La Cantina you will find an Austrian corner table that was originally owned by our German Aunt who lived for many years in the “Karnten” region of the Austrian Alps. This typical “Eck Tisch” once stood on the ground floor of an Austrian Villa in the Alpine town of Millstatt, Austria. In a German “Stube” this type of table would have been host to the “Stamm Tisch” – where only favorite local customers get to sit! A photo of our favorite “La Cantina” is placed near the outside entrance door. This photo was taken by us in Chianti, Italy, and was the inspiration for the room. Throughout, you will find numerous pictures and posters that were collected mostly in Tuscany, Italy. The light above the bar is also from Germany – a typical style German light found in many homes throughout the German country-side.
The Bar is made from African mahogany from a local mill – the burgundy wine barrels in the Cantina are from Virginia’s first winery, Farfelu. Large Italian bottles assist in capturing the ambience of a true Italian Cantina. Some of the bottles are empty as we believe in enjoying the moment! However, there is still a Chianti wine bottle filled which is from the late 1970’s – at this point, we believe it is better to look at than to drink! The “wine cellar” keeps our personal selection of choice Blue Ridge Mountain artisan and Italian wines.
All the wooden walls are of solid oak – cut by the same timber framing company that built our structures. The large red “barn-like” doors were included in “La Cantina’s” design to represent typical local Virginia country barn door designs. The “Terra Cotta” type floor tiles are typical of Tuscan “Cantinas”.
Other Points of Interest
Many of the furnishings were purchased over seas during our tours in Germany, Italy and elsewhere. Every piece has a story! The mosaic tile was purchased in San Remo on the coast of Italy, the grandfather’s clock is from Heidelberg, Germany, several of the stand-alone cabinets are from Bavaria in Germany and the artwork is from all over Europe, the Bumble Bee’s stone fireplace was built for us as a gift from our neighbor (a stellar Stone Mason), the bear and Red Deer in the lobby was a gift from a local friend – a hunter from Rileyville. The antiques throughout were purchased from Antique markets and Flea Markets here and in Europe.
The vegetation on Shadow Mountain Escape includes mostly varieties of trees and brush characteristic of the Virginia Mountains. Of particular interest may be the numerous shapely Red Cedars, Black Walnut, Hemlock and White Pine trees. Look for the many varieties of mushrooms – especially in April when the morel mushrooms flourish – a regional delicacy. In the late summer and fall after rainfalls, you can find a wealth of mushrooms throughout the forest to include Boletus and Chanterelle mushrooms. In the summer look for the many wild raspberry (wine berry) and blackberry bushes. Wild onions and wild carrots are also typical.
The animal life on the property includes too much and too many species to give justice to in this paragraph! In short, keep your eyes open for the following: Black bear, white tail deer, wild turkey, raccoons, fox, possum, and an occasional coyote. Some of the more interesting reptiles include; box turtles, snakes (watch out for copperheads), and blue tail lizards. Enjoy the variety of birds which seem to migrate in an out constantly – the popular wood peckers, cardinals and blue jay can be spotted almost year round.
One of the most wonderful things about being located in this beautiful location in the Virginia Blue Ridge Mountains is that the environment changes dramatically with each season. It is actually like being in four different places each year without moving an inch. The mountains take on a dark and ominous appearance in the cold and icy winter months – perfect for huddling near the wood stove and bundling up for a walk in woods. In the spring the landscape explodes in bright greens and colorful flowers while the “greening” of the earth slowly moves up the mountain slopes week after week. The Summer is characterized by hot days and nice evenings – the forests are rich with foliage and the sounds and signs of the animals are rich in the air. The Fall is stunning as it erupts into color while the welcome cool air and crystal clear nights prepare to put nature to rest for another winter.
We have been overwhelmed with the response and comments from our guests! Thank you! We appreciate your referrals and return visits! It is our pleasure to continue to make Shadow Mountain Escape a special experience every time you come back! The community of Page County – (Luray) is a wonderful place to live.