In simpler times, there was a fence between Paper Chase Farms, one of Middleburg's snazzier riding stables, and the 50-acre spread next door known as Four Chimneys.
Ordinarily, Middleburg cleaves to the poet's caution that good fences make good neighbors, apportioning almost every inch of pasture with the black-creosoted posts and boards that are the trademark of Virginia hunt country.
But developer Thomas Quinn, who had just bought Four Chimneys, decided that this was a bad fence. "Junk," he said, rotten wood overrun with weeds. Having also decided that it was on his side of a boundary agreement with Paper Chase, Quinn tore it down.
To Janet Neuharth, then the new owner of Paper Chase with her father, Gannett media magnate Allen H. Neuharth, the fence looked like perfectly serviceable protection for the horses, a second line of defense, her lawyer says, around the paddocks where they grazed beside commuter traffic on Route 50.
The "weeds" looked to her like trees and shrubs, and the fence -- not to mention the driveway Quinn built in its place, sideswiping the paddocks -- looked like part of Paper Chase.
The Great Middleburg Fence Feud is now four years and at least as many lawsuits old. It nearly ended, legally anyway, two weeks ago on the steps of the Loudoun County Courthouse, where Four Chimneys was to be auctioned by the bank to the highest bidder.
Instead, Quinn filed for bankruptcy hours before the foreclosure, prolonging the suspense for at least 120 days. He claims dirty legal tactics by the Neuharths scared off his buyer for a piece of Four Chimneys and left him unable to find another, the only way he could keep his business afloat.
That's what happens, he said during a recent tour of the palatial house he was building at Four Chimneys before his money ran out, when a self-declared son-of-a-bleep -- the same Allen Neuharth who wrote last year's "Confessions of an S.O.B." -- "wants to see you go down the tubes."
"It's a classic hunt-country land grab," said Quinn's real estate lawyer, Ralph G. Cobourn. The proof, he said, is Neuharth's offer in May to drop his suit against Quinn if he would sell Four Chimneys at a price Quinn found unworthy.
The Neuharths said they would remain silent on the subject except in the court record, whose depth in inches is reaching double figures. Their Loudoun County lawyer, John P. Flannery II, says it is nonsense to conclude that they drove Quinn under.
"He has a staggering amount of debt that goes back long before this lawsuit. His bankruptcy filing speaks for itself," Flannery said. For Quinn, he said, the dispute has become "the Hatfields and McCoys."
"For the Neuharths, it's not. Quinn is the S.O.B. who tore down their fence, destroyed their property, ignored the boundary line he insisted on and broke the law," Flannery said. "That's what this suit is about."
Paper Chase was bought in both Neuharths' names in April 1985 and deeded to Janet Neuharth, a lawyer and horsewoman, last year. Quinn and his wife bought Four Chimneys in January 1986, subdividing it into five lots and beginning to build a four-story, 11,000- square-foot house for themselves on one of the lots.
The properties are separated now by $16,000 worth of new fence, put up by Neuharth and her husband, trainer and chief riding instructor Joseph Keusch. Before the old fence came between them, so to speak, Quinn says the neighbors were neighborly: Quinn took his tractor over to build a manure pit for Neuharth and Keusch. They asked Quinn's daughter, Mackey, to be in their wedding.
Quinn sued his friends in April 1986, claiming the old fence encroached on his property. Courtroom hostilities were averted when both sides signed a boundary agreement based on a survey by J. Horace Jarrett.
Quinn thought that entitled him to take the fence -- 1,245 feet of it, according to the court file. "It was almost impossible because of overgrowth to tell where it was," Quinn said. "You'd have to be a blind billy goat not to assume it was on this side."
The job took two summers. In 1987, he installed the driveway. In 1988, he moved the driveway 10 feet closer to his house to accommodate complaints from Paper Chase. That same year, Quinn filed a subdivision application with the county based on a different survey, one that would give Paper Chase three or four more inches of real estate.
In 1989, the Neuharths went to court. They want to enforce the original boundary agreement, $250,000 compensation for the fence, trees and property damage, and $25,000 in punitive damages.
And there the case languished for nearly a year. Meanwhile, as Quinn explains it, the real-estate market and the savings-and-loan industry "went to hell," drying up his construction funds for the house at Four Chimneys and forcing him to abandon his plans to live in it.
A Fauquier County man, Thomas Drummond, agreed to buy the house and its 21-acre lot for $1.5 million. In a suit filed against Quinn in April, Drummond said the Neuharths' lawsuit turned up during his title search, and he wants his $40,000 down payment -- already spent on the house, Quinn says -- returned unless Quinn can guarantee clear title.
On March 3, nine days before Drummond signed the contract, the Neuharths had gone back to court to put a legal hold on Four Chimneys and Fairhaven, a mostly undeveloped subdivision Quinn owns near Round Hill, until their claim against him is resolved.
Quinn countersued last month, saying that tying up his property was a malicious attempt to ruin him and that Fairhaven should not have been dragged into the fence fracas. Judge Thomas D. Horne agreed with the second proposition and returned Fairhaven, as well as three of the five lots at Four Chimneys, to Quinn's control.
Too late, Quinn said.
Last spring, he said, his credit rating was pristine and he had qualified for a loan to finish the house. When the sale fell through, so did the loan, and so did everything else in the four months that Four Chimneys and Fairhaven were tied up in court.
"I couldn't finance poverty today," Quinn said. "I'm a 50-year-old dyslexic with a ninth-grade education. The only way I can support myself and my family is by doing this -- and if you've got no credit and no money, you can't do this anymore."
His bankruptcy filing lists $3.5 million in debts, including a $100,000 judgment against him in 1986 for the purchase of a small plane in South Carolina, $30,000 charged to nine credit cards, a $25,000 lien for federal income taxes, loans on two Mercedes and a Range Rover, two mechanics liens against his Loudoun County properties and more than $2 million in mortgages.
And why didn't he settle with the Neuharths before it came to that?
Quinn said he didn't know until the sale fell through that their lawsuit was still alive -- and now, "the damage has been done." He said all he wants to do is sell out and take his family to Louisville so that his daughter can attend a special school for dyslexics.
Neuharth alluded to that in May when he wrote to Quinn offering $1.15 million for the house and all 50 acres at Four Chimneys "so that you and Mackey can move on to your new lives."
Otherwise, he said, see you in court (which "probably will take a year or more") and, p.s., the hold will remain on your property.