One of the county’s most unusual historic farms will soon be added to the National Register of Historic Places: Wild Goose Farm. Built for Rezin Davis (R.D.) Shepherd in the mid-1840s, the Greek Revival-style farmhouse was remodeled in the Colonial Revival c.1911 and stylistically demonstrates Shepherd’s ties to New Orleans, where he was a successful sugar merchant. It incorporates an earlier home, built around 1810 for George Stipp, and contains a large and extraordinary collection of outbuildings.
R.D. Shepherd was the oldest son of Abraham Shepherd, who, by the time of his death in 1822, owned most of the land in the Terrapin Neck area north of Shepherdstown. R.D.’s grandfather was Thomas Shepherd, for whom the town was named.
Like his father, R.D. focused on stock breeding in his farming operations at a time when most Jefferson County farms focused on staple grains. The Shepherd family’s stock farm was a joint venture between several members of the family with the day-to-day operations run by R.D.’s brother, Henry, at nearby Springwood. They imported Leicester sheep, short-horned cattle, and Berkshire and Suffolk hogs from England.
The Wild Goose Farm home itself is massive (over 9,000 square feet) and U-shaped with an irregular, meandering plan that local architectural historian John Allen says “was a harbinger of what would become popular locally in the Victorian era.”
In his book, Uncommon Vernacular, the fundamental treatise on the early architecture of Jefferson County, Allen dedicates a large paragraph to Wild Goose’s wash house. The structure, built as a Greek temple, features the finest stonework in the county, with large, smooth limestone blocks and fine “butter” joints. “No other building in the county has such precise and sophisticated masonry,” he said. It was built for R.D. around 1845. He brought over a young German stonemason named Conrad Smith, who is believed to have laid the foundation of the new home and built the wash house and expertly constructed stone walls that define the farm. The home has other unique features, like a formal garden behind the house that, at one time, had a bathtub connected to a nearby water tower for bathing alfresco.
A Surviving Testament
By 1850, R.D. had accumulated over 700 acres, and his farm was valued at $240,000, an enormous sum at the time. In 1859, he paid for the construction of a town hall in Shepherdstown, now known as McMurran Hall, the centerpiece of the Shepherd University campus. He passed away in 1865, but Wild Goose Farm remained in the Shepherd family until 1911, when it was purchased by New York engineer Edwin Jarrett, who commissioned the Colonial Revival updates that now characterize the exterior. Later owners include NASA engineer Robert Moss and former West Virginia governor Gaston Caperton.
The new owner of Wild Goose Farm, Jay Clemens, is on the board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and has begun some needed maintenance on the historic 150-year-old farm. The c.1840 Pennsylvania bank barn, with its 3,250 square feet of open space, is available to rent as an event space, and the farm, with its rolling hills and picturesque ponds, is one of the most beautiful in the county.
The farmhouse has remained virtually unchanged since its 1911 renovation, a surviving testament to the wealth and influence of one of the most prominent families in Jefferson County’s history.
— Lauren Kelly represents the Jefferson County Historic Landmarks Commission.