selma Mansion

Mason Family Seat

Loudoun County, Virginia

The lands of Selma were once a part of the Northern Neck Proprietary owned by Lord Fairfax. In 1741, Ann Stevens Thomson Mason, the widow of George Mason III, bought 10,000-acres (4,000 ha) and held onto the land as an inheritance for her children, George Mason IV, Thomson Mason, and Ann Eilbeck Mason.

The southern portion of the property was bequeathed to the elder son, George Mason IV (Father of the Bill of Rights) and became Gunston Hall. The northern part of the property, which includes part of the present-day Selma lands, was inherited by the younger son, Thomson Mason (14 August 1733-26 February 1785). In 1760, and in addition to his inheritance, Thomson Mason purchased the neighboring 322-acre Raspberry Plain farm that included a smaller mansion and jailhouse from Aeneas Campbell, Loudoun County’s first sheriff. Thomson Mason resided in the Campbell house until completion of the new Raspberry Plain mansion in 1771 at which time the Campbell parcel was renamed Strawberry Plain.

Thomson Mason was a prominent attorney and Jurist and was named Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia. Upon Thomson’s death the entire Raspberry Plain estate inclusive of Strawberry Plain, was deeded to his eldest son Stevens Thomson Mason (December 29, 1760 – May 10, 1803). Stevens Mason served in the Continental Army as an aide to General Gorge Washington at the Battle of Yorktown and was a brigadier general in the Virginia Militia, a member of the Virginia State House of Delegates, a member of the Virginia State Senate, a delegate to the Virginia Ratification Convention. In 1794, he was elected to United States Senate to fill the vacancy left by James Monroe and served for two terms until his death. Stevens Mason was a close personal friend of Thomas Jefferson and was involved with a number of political controversies between Jefferson and his Democratic Republicans and the Federalists.

In 1808, Stevens Mason’s second eldest son, Armistead Thomson Mason (August 4, 1787 – February 6, 1819) inherited approximately 1,00 acres that included a portion of the original Mason Tract and the Aeneas Campbell Tract. In 1810, he built an exquisite mansion at the base of Catoctin Mountain overlooking a sweeping vista of lawn and pastoral farmland. The mansion and plantation were named Selma, inspired by the translation of a Gaelic poem by Sir John McPherson with “Selma” meaning “Beautiful Castle” or “Highest Place”. Armistead Mason was a decorated war hero for his command of Virginia’s 57th Regiment in the Battle of Craney Island (Norfolk) and the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812 and received the rank of Brigadier General in the Virginia Militia. He was elected as the youngest Senator to the United States Senate. Due to an extended political quarrel between Mason and Charles Fenton Mercer, Armistead Mason fought a duel with his second cousin and brother-in-law Colonel John “Jack” Mason McCarty, at the Bladensburg dueling grounds on February 6, 1819. Armistead Mason died at the first shot, while McCarty was spared but wounded. At the time of his death, Armistead Mason was the wealthiest man in Loudoun County.

Armistead Mason’s widow, Charlotte, continued to reside at Selma with their youngest son, Stevens Thomson Mason, Jr. Jack McCarty and his family eventually settled nearby at Strawberry Plain. Although living less than a mile apart, the Mason and McCarty families never renewed their acquaintance. Nearly twenty years after the duel, Jack McCarty’s sixteen-year-old son, James, was hunting on the lands of Strawberry Plain when, while following the flight of game, he mounted a fence that formed the boundary between the Mason and McCarty properties, and attempted to load his rifle from that position. The young McCarty allowed his attention to be diverted by the movements of the birds or the hunting dogs which resulted in his gun slipping. It exploded and sent the ramrod through his head. Armistead Thomson Mason’s son, Stevens Thomson Mason, Jr., found the young McCarty and carried him to nearby Raspberry Plain where he died. Not long following the death of their son, the McCarty’s moved from Strawberry Plain.

Selma was inherited by Mason’s only son, Stevens Thomas Mason, Jr. At Age 21, Mason was a rich and attractive young man and was often seen driving a handsome pair of horses in tandem through Leesburg. A too generous expenditure of his fortune brought reverses which forced Stevens Mason, Jr. to sell Selma. Upon selling the estate, Stevens Mason joined the United States Army and while serving as a captain in the Mexican-American War, was mortally wounded when he lost his leg to a cannonball.

Stevens Mason sold Selma to the Beverly Family, who owned the property during the American Civil War. In the autumn of 1864, Union cavalry as a precursor to the Burning Raid of the Loudoun, looted Selma, killing livestock and burning its barns. A Union soldier shot and killed one of Selma’s slaves who was returning from burying the family’s silver to keep it from falling into the soldier’s hands. The location of the buried treasure remains a mystery to this day.

The Beverly’s remained at Selma until the early 1890s when most of the mansion was destroyed by a fire. In 1896, the property was purchased by Elijah B. White (April 6, 1984 – December 18, 1926), the son of Elijah V. White, the famous commander of the CSA 35th Virginia Cavalry. E.B. White was, a Virginia banker and the largest exporter of grain in the United States at the time. White commissioned Richmond architecture firm Noland and Baskerville to design a Colonial Revival mansion featuring an imposing tetrastyle Roman Doric portico with a full entablature and triangular pediment. Part of the 1810 house was incorporated into the design as a kitchen wing. As builders, he employed the Norris Brothers of Leesburg, who were well known for their elaborate woodwork, which is well displayed in Selma’s glamorous rooms. Completed in 1902, no expense was spared in achieving a level of luxury, including nine bedrooms, seven bathrooms, and modern conveniences such as “speaking tubes”, a form of intercom system. By the 1920s, E.B White and his wife Lalla Harrison White were known to hold many high society events and parties at the plantation with Governors, Senators, and Congressmen in attendance, and was regularly featured in the society pages of newspapers and magazines. It was at Selma that White bred champion Percheron draft horses.

At Lalla White’s death, E.B.’s daughter, Jane Elizabeth inherited the estate and lived there until she died in 1970. “Miss Elizabeth,” as she was known, carried on her parent’s tradition of gracious living and entertaining at the house. At her death, the estate was sold at auction to Leesburg antique cars dealer Ben J. Epperson and his wife, Ruth. While living in the house, the Epperson’s rented Selma for weddings and special events. In 1999, the Epperson’s sold the farm and house to Peter ter Maaten, a foreign investor, who allowed the property and mansion to fall into neglect. A parcel of the remaining 212-acre Selma Plantation was sold to a local developer in 2002, leaving Selma with a 50-acre conservancy lot. In 2009, the nonprofit group Preservation Virginia placed the mansion on its “Most Endangered Historic Sites List.”

After years of neglect and vandalism, Selma was purchased in March 2016 by Sharon D. Virts and Scott F. Miller, who restored the estate as their private home.