Honey, I Shrunk the Farm
Willow Greens Farm sits on 7 acres at the corner of a somewhat busy road and a gravel country road, 2 miles outside of a small town. While today 7 acres would be considered a lot of land for a single-family home, it’s a far cry from the original 570-acre farm bequeathed to Timothy Taylor and his two younger brothers. What happened to Timothy Taylor’s land?
To find out, I decided to visit the county’s Historic Records and Deed Research Division, located deep within the bowels of the county courthouse. I passed through the TSA-style security check, made my way through the labyrinth, and entered a large, quiet room lined with shelves holding volumes of deed indices and records dating back to colonial times. Study carrels with computers were placed around the room; a staff member showed me how to search their databases for deeds and locate physical documents in the deed books.
I was hoping to find deeds or other property details from Timothy Taylor’s era that would document the land passing from Timothy to his heirs, as shown on the 1853 map of Loudoun County, and each successive owner up to the present day. It turns out the best way to find an historic deed is to start with a more recent deed. Luckily, I’d brought ours with me. Every deed includes a reference to the previous deed for the same property, and the specific deed book and page number where it can be found:
After a bit of a learning curve I began traveling back in time, building a Willow Greens Farm line of succession. If you’ve ever researched your family tree, you’ll understand the frisson I felt when I finally came to a 1920 deed in the name of Bailey Taylor. If I could link this Taylor to Timothy, it would show how long the property remained in the family after Timothy’s death.
At this point I turned to Ancestry to decipher Timothy Taylor’s will, hand-written in elaborate script as was the custom. The language used indicates that when Taylor died in 1838 his land had already been divided between sons Timothy and Charles. Timothy the younger (1794-1869) was the executor of his father’s estate, and inherited the farm and all household goods. Charles (1789-1860) owned the part of the property on which the mill stood.
The deed records showed that Charles’ property passed to his son, Charles Newton Taylor (1828-1906). Then in 1885, Charles Newton Taylor acquired the land that belonged to Timothy the younger and his wife, Harriet, who lived there until her death in 1882. Charles N. Taylor’s combined holdings were 128 acres, all of the land bequeathed by Timothy to his sons.
I was still on the hunt for Bailey Taylor. Up to this point my Timothy Taylor family tree included more of his ancestors than descendants. Ancestry came to the rescue again, and I was able to flesh out the descendants of Timothy the younger and Charles. And Eureka! There was Bailey: son of Charles Newton Taylor, great-grandson of Timothy Taylor, and the last member of the Taylor family to own the Willow Greens Farms property.
Bailey and his brother H.B. purchased their father’s 128 acres in 1908 and lived there as an extended family that included Bailey’s wife, daughter, and mother. In 1920 Bailey sold the land to Milton Stanley Nichols. Sadly, deed records don’t tell you why land changed hands, so I can only speculate. Again, Ancestry held clues. At the time of the sale, Bailey was a 55-year-old widower and owned the property jointly with his unmarried adult daughter. The 1920 census lists his occupation as “farmer,” but in 1930 he had no occupation, and died shortly thereafter. His daughter married after his death, at age 39. So here’s my theory: Bailey Taylor was physically unable to continue farming and his daughter was responsible for his care, so the farm had to go.
By the 1930s, Milton Nichols had subdivided and sold the 128 acres of Taylor land. Most of it was sold as farmland but the house and surrounding 10 acres were sold separately as a residence. The 10-acre lot had a few more owners over the years, ultimately purchased by the Quill family in 1974. In 1985 the Quills purchased about 30 acres of the former Taylor-Nichols land, perhaps in an effort to re-establish the Taylor homestead. But the farm never returned to its former glory: in 1998 the Quills’ acreage was subdivided into four lots, sold separately.
One of the four lots was assimilated into another farmer’s land. The other three are residential. Thankfully each has only one house, preserving the rural nature of the landscape. Here’s hoping it stays that way—Willow Greens Farm most certainly will.