When Mary Owen Chatfield-Taylor started volunteering at the Ladies Board Rummage Sale a few decades ago, the donations all fit into a church basement.
Back then, Loudoun County was still full of dairy farms linked by dirt roads. Now it’s one of the fastest-growing and wealthiest counties in the country, and as the farms turned to housing developments and the dirt roads to jammed commuter highways, the rummage sale has grown along with it.
It moved into an empty store one year, then the fairgrounds, and now, in its 75th year, a giant equestrian center can barely contain all the flotsam and jetsam of suburban life: 400,000 square feet packed with the elliptical cross-trainer that dad never got around to using, the bikes the kids outgrew, the china set Auntie picked out for the wedding.
It’s amazing how much there is, Chatfield-Taylor said, sitting on a flowered sofa surrounded by more flowered sofas flanked by leather sofas in the middle of an indoor arena. At 94, she worked long days this week helping sort through it all. “People have more stuff now. I’ve got too much stuff — yet I come and buy more stuff.”
Here it all is, the old Loudoun and the new: White-haired ladies wearing the pearls they bought at last year’s sale, teasing one another as they sorted through the pots and pans that never got used anymore after work and a long commute home.
Now the rummage sale, which runs Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., sprawls across four barns, two indoor arenas and more at the Morven Park Equestrian Center outside Leesburg and requires hundreds of volunteers, including some who come back even after they’ve moved away.
They sort through donations, some of which exemplify the wealth of the county, where the median household income is $118,000: a full-length sable coat, a big flat-screen TV, a snowboard still wrapped in plastic, a box of new Coach purses and wallets, a never-worn tuxedo, a piano, a 10-foot-long mirror, an artificial Christmas tree draped with organza ribbon and gleaming ornaments.
“It’s the society we live in, I guess,” said Franklin Payne, 87, who has been helping the ladies for decades.
Lillian Brewer sometimes gasps when she opens a box, amazed at what some are willing to part with. But she knows there are people retiring, moving from a 6,000-square-foot house with a three-car garage to a tiny condo. People move here, they move away. People get divorced. “It’s just that there is so much more of everything,” she said. “We are a disposable generation, I guess.”
And there it all sits, piled on tables in great barns, or plunked right in the dirt. There are horse stalls full of golf clubs, skis, silk flowers, puzzles, toy trucks (and a sign still taped to a board, reminding people to muck out their stalls.) There are so many books that the barn has signs everywhere, directing shoppers: Low-fat cooking. French cooking. David Baldacci. Mary Higgins Clark.
And, yes, there is plenty of eccentricity. But typical yard sale castoffs, they are not. Someone donated a bunch of horse saddles this year. There’s a portable cement mixer from the 1950s. There’s a lawn mower, an antique desk, a furry lion Halloween costume. An Oleg Cassini wedding dress hangs alongside velvet and silk evening gowns. There’s a German-made violin, a woven wicker picnic basket, a chain saw and a
seven-foot-long toy Jeep.
“If I sit down, I won’t be able to get back up again,” said Payne, who got roped into helping the ladies out back when he retired as postmaster of Aldie in the 1980s. Like many of the volunteers, he grew up on a dairy farm (there is just one left in the county). They didn’t go to Washington back then, he said. “Round Hill and Purcellville were as far as we got. They had everything we needed there.”
Chatfield-Taylor’s father helped bring electricity to Loudoun. “They keep trying to pave more roads,” she said. That just brings more traffic, she said with a sigh. Now her family’s dairy farm is covered in new homes.
“It was a small town, and it was way out” when Brewer moved to Purcellville in the 1960s. “It’s not that far out anymore. But it takes twice as long to get to D.C.”
Yet the rummage sale goes on, just as it has, with generations of families helping. Chatfield-Taylor’s children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren have volunteered and shopped there.
The Ladies Board started when a few people opened a hospital in a rented house in Leesburg, 100 years ago last year. (First patient: A man thrown from a horse.) Within days, women in the community banded together to support the patients. They canned vegetables, washed linens, rocked the babies in the nursery.
The first rummage sale was a success; Brewer read in the board minutes that it raised $150 but concluded, sadly, it would have to be the last, “because we have sold all the rummage in Loudoun County.”
Last year, it raised $184,000 from castaway stuff, money that goes to nursing scholarships and high-tech equipment, such as CT scans for Inova Loudoun Hospital.
On Thursday, co-chair Lisa Cromwell watched as people pulled open the doors of a tractor-trailer jammed full of things; an antique tea box with Chinese lettering looked ready to crash to the pavement. There were still moving vans creeping through housing developments in Loudoun picking up donations; one was at Leisure World earlier in the week, and a lady in River Creek hosts a big garage party every year, cooking for neighbors in the gated community bringing donations to store there.
There are so many things that hundreds of volunteers spent days unpacking and sorting seven 40-foot-long trailers, catching up with old friends and teasing each other. One building becomes a lunchroom dense with steam, people sitting at long tables eating red velvet cake and coconut donuts. At a table outside, ladies were talking hot dogs. “One year there was a line out the door for these hot dogs,” Brewer told her friends. “I said, ‘What do you do to these?’ She said, ‘Shhhhhh! I fry them in BUTTER!’ ”
They got ready to go back to their eight- or nine- or 12-hour days sorting and unpacking. “They might fire me” if the lunch break went too long, Pat Ahrens joked. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
Sue Clewis, who as co-chair has been working on this sale all year, hurried through a barn with an armful of plush puppy dogs, bringing the litter to the barn packed with toys.
There used to be more unusual things, “because people were cleaning out their attics,” Chatfield-Taylor said. “It was wonderful — you’d get charming things.” She got a Steuben vase, once, for 50 cents or so. But even now, among all the outgrown bikes and the now-too-big entertainment centers, there are still things that you couldn’t find in any store, she said.
Last year, a box came in labeled, “Lucy’s Teeth.”
It contained a lifetime’s worth of false teeth. Cromwell thinks it ended up with the Halloween costumes; she hopes so, anyway.
Chatfield-Taylor thinks she may get some candles, a pretty china set and maybe a sweater for herself.
“Every house in the county is full of stuff from the rummage sale,” she said. “We all shop there, then bring it back the next year and start over again.”