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Antebellum Allure

Moss Neck Manor Stands as an Elegant Example From an Era Gone With the Wind

By Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 3, 2004; Page F01

Want to make like you're Scarlett O'Hara and live in an antebellum mansion right here in the Washington area?

If that is your fantasy, you do not have many choices. Even though Virginia was the capital of the Confederacy and it and Maryland were the sites of some of the most important Civil War battles, this region does not have many of the extravagant country homes people associate with the period. And what does exist could cost several million dollars.

Moss Neck manor in Caroline County, VA, a plantation from 1853 that Stonewall Jackson used as a headquarters during the Civil War. (Hyosub Shin - For The Washington Post)

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Perhaps the best example of a Greek Revival plantation estate à la "Gone with the Wind" that is for sale now is Moss Neck Manor, a sprawling 9,000-square-foot antebellum house on 288 acres near Fredericksburg. It is listed on both the state and national registers of historic places.

Although antebellum literally means "before the war," as in before the Civil War, architectural historians say it loosely encompasses construction from about 1830 to about 1860. Antebellum plantation houses were usually part of agricultural establishments, such as cotton or tobacco farms.

Moss Neck Manor was built in 1853 for the Corbin family, wealthy Virginia landowners who lost all their money in the years after the Civil War. The mansion is on the market for $4.9 million.

The house is 225 feet long, one of the longest homes in the state, and features a columned front veranda reminiscent of Tara. Greek Revival architecture harks back to the classical forms of ancient Greece and Rome. The style's signature is big columns reminiscent of the Parthenon in Athens.

Moss Neck is best known as the Civil War headquarters of Confederate Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and thousands of his troops during the winter of 1862 to 1863. Jackson entertained Gen. Robert E. Lee at Moss Neck on Christmas Eve 1862. That party was a scene in last year's Civil War movie "Gods and Generals," but filming took place at a re-creation of Moss Neck.

Historians say that Jackson and tens of thousands of his soldiers camped out on the grounds of Moss Neck that winter. The women of the Corbin family lived in the house. Trench lines and gun emplacements from that period are still visible on the rolling hills of the estate, which originally was thousands of acres. Most of the acreage is now farmland owned by others.

The house, which is being marketed by the Fredericksburg office of Weichert Realtors, is largely original and features woodwork, trim, stained glass, doors, door knobs and moldings from the mid-19th century. Floors are the original wide-plank hardwood. The windows are the big, tall, multi-paned ones used in grand homes of that time.

The house was restored five years ago by its current owner, Howard Stahl, a Washington trial lawyer. Stahl bought the house for $875,000 in 1998 from the family of former Sears, Roebuck and Co. chairman Theodore Houser, who revamped it in the 1940s for use as a country retreat.

"The first $150,000 I spent on it was ripping out what he had done to this marvelous piece of architecture," Stahl said. "It had Sears paneling, Sears bathrooms and the fields were overgrown. Now it's virtually identical to what it was in the 1850s."

Stahl says his hobby is restoring historic houses -- he previously restored another Greek Revival home called Berry Hill in Virginia's Halifax County. He estimates that he spent $2.5 million fixing up Moss Neck Manor, including new wiring and a new central air-conditioning system.

Washington architect Thomas Noble of Allan Greenberg, Architect, LLC, who has worked on other historic renovations in the Washington area, said restorations of the kind that Stahl undertook can be both challenging and costly.

"If you're trying to restore a house to its original condition, it can be as expensive as building a new premium custom home," Noble said. "If there are problems that need fixing or rebuilding, it can be even more expensive than building new."

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