Stilson Hutchins Hall was employed at Oatlands for several years before the Eustis family purchased Oatlands in 1903. Hall lived in a small cottage on the property, along with both his parents and his brother. Today, we call this quaint building the Bachelor’s Cottage. The two-story structure stands to the west of the mansion, and behind the greenhouse (still in existence, and the second oldest in the country).
Hall had firsthand knowledge of the extensive property renovations required to convert the dilapidated former plantation house into a country estate home fit to host honored guests, including a United States president!
What was it like growing up in the Oatlands community in the early 20th century? Working at Oatlands offered some special opportunities for one local working class boy. The following excerpt is taken from an interview conducted by Architectural Historian Thomas N. Slain, of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, on July 27, 1973. Hall describes what it was like to be a young boy and meet President Theodore Roosevelt!
“Mrs. Eustis sent us to Washington to meet Theodore Roosevelt when he was President and he took us into his study…He talked with us quite a while. He gave each of us a blank cartridge he got on the Russian-Japanese battlefield. I have mine at this time. Theodore Roosevelt talked to us like his own children. He had all kinds of guns, ammunitions and trophies that he had himself shot and mounted in his study. I didn’t at the time, but of course I realize now that he was so gracious to us because Mrs. Eustis had sent us there. Mrs. Eustis was a lady who usually got what she wanted. That is not critically speaking—she knew what she wanted.”
During Hall’s lifetime, the community of Oatlands was largely agricultural and consisted of a busy blacksmith’s shop doing repair work for farmers–fixing their wagons, small machinery, and shoeing horses.
He describes Edith Eustis as being a woman who was very connected to the community and wanted ways to bring people of the community together. She built and paid for the parish house at Oatlands and was largely responsible for getting a minister to preach in that parish house. Edith was also very interested in education and personally supplemented the salaries of the teachers of the Mountain Gap School for a number of years in order to ensure that students benefited from college educated teachers.
Hall and his brother received their early education at the Mountain Gap School. The one-room school house stands along route 15, just north of Oatlands. He advanced to the Leesburg High School around 1908.
Hall mentions in the interview, “…every time I set foot on Oatlands I think I’m setting foot on ground that’s hallowed to me. I was very young when I went there, I never associated with rich people…or seen them at least… And to get to Washington to see the President of the United States…well, I had a high regard for the President of the United Sates, at that time. I was thinking he was king…and a man of morals…”
We’re lucky for all the interviews and oral histories collected for Oatlands through the years. The bank of our knowledge depends on the accumulation of their experiences to better interpret our 200-year-old history.