In 1996, Louise and Bill Hilton were living in Howard County, Maryland and pretty fed up with the county's burst of over-development. They went to every planning and zoning meeting to express their growing concerns, but to no avail. The builders kept bulldozing, leaving nature in their wake and throwing up homes by the hundreds. So the young couple started thinking about packing it in and moving west.
Two years earlier they had purchased some land in Sharpsburg. They already owned a weekend retreat in Largent and now while on route to their cabin, they would stop in Sharpsburg to picnic. That's when the Hilton's started thinking of West Virginia as something other than a weekend getaway. During one Sharpsburg excursion Bill took a little side trip and then called his wife. "I just went across the river," he yelled "and you're not going to believe what I found!" And as they say - That's all she wrote.
The Hiltons contacted friend and real estate guru, Nancy Wilson, and asked for help in finding land in Shepherdstown with a view of the river. Nancy took them out to Terrapin Neck. More about this later.
Louise Castigan is the fifth of Mary Prendergast and Edward Castigan's five daughters. There's Nancy, Mary, Monica, Pat and baby Louise. The Castigans lived in Philadelphia where Edward owned Capital City Engraving and Mary was CFO of the family business.
When Louise was three, her dad received an offer to head up Copenhaver Engraving in Washington, DC and the family moved to Silver Spring where Louise attended St. Catherine Laboure elementary school and Holy Name High School.
Louise Castigan was at the University of Maryland in College Park earning her BS in Sociology when she met a tall, strapping American University student named Bill Hilton. The year was 1975 and next year they will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. And on this particular sunny morning in the Hilton's sprawling kitchen overlooking the Potomac River, Louise said with soft voice and signature smile "We tell each other all the time we make a good team."
Bill was at the National Park Service and Louise was at Blue Cross/Blue Shield when Bill decided to take the civil service exam. Louise decided to take it with him. They both aced it and within three months each had been offered positions with the USPS in the main district postal center in Rockville. "I took the job because they offered me a 50 percent increase in my current salary and great benefits." She recalled. "It was a good time to work for the post office."
They settled down in lovely Kensington and within a few years a growing family filled their little home and they moved to Highland near Olney. Emily came along in 1984. (Emily, an Elan College grad, lives today with her husband Parker Turner in Lakewood Ranch, FL and works for Merck Pharmaceutical.) The following year Luke arrived. (Luke, Virginia Tech '06, is an intelligence analyst with ManTech in the security mission assurance division of the FBI.) Kelsy was born in 1989. (Today she's a biology major at the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill.)
As any mother of small children will tell you, working full-time is a real stretch. Louise, who had been working nights while Bill worked days after Emily was born, went part time after Luke came along and stayed that way. She eventually went back to the post office full-time and then in '98 badly injured her back. It was something about getting in the way of a 1,000-pound barrel full of books on a loading dock. So it was a return to part-time which she's been working her way out of ever since.
Bill Hilton has always had a knack for real estate - a researcher with vision his wife calls him - and soon the Hiltons owned a villa in Hilton Head, land in Richmond and in West Virginia. But they wanted land in Shepherdstown and their "log cabin" so they sold when selling was good and the project began.
Flatbed trailers piled high with red pine logs were soon rolling down Terrapin Neck to the Hilton's 10 acres overlooking the Potomac River. The final result was a sprawling 3,500-square-foot "cabin" and a three-car garage with loft. "Fortunately for us Terrapin Road had been paved when Gov. Caperton had a home right at the tip." Louise laughed.
"If we'd had to bring those logs down a dirt road we'd still be building."
On Aug. 5, 1997 - Louise's birthday - the Hiltons moved into their home on the river in Shepherdstown. Emily and Luke were enrolled in St. James School in Hagerstown. Kelsy in Shepherdstown Elementary, Mom at the Shepherdstown Post Office while Dad transferred to Frederick.
Emily and Luke carpooled to St. James from the Bavarian. They both became boarders once they were juniors and of this their mother said. "I really missed the carpool talk. It was a special time in the day for us. You can really find out what's going on driving that car." Eventually, Kelsy followed her sister and brother to St. James and Mom recaptured to joy of carpools.
The Hilton's are a close family. The house is full of photos of family and friends and good times. And what's really adorable, the kid's rooms are still theirsready for every homecoming complete with childhood tchotchkes on every surface.
I must say here that Emily, Luke and Kelsy Hilton are unbelievably picturesque. They all have a history of gorgeousnessas babiesteens and adults. It's hard to believe that one or all aren't models. But what's considerably more important to their mother is that they all get along great which makes for a lot of fun times. Throw in Winnie, the Hilton's five year old uber-enthusiastic golden retriever, and the times are even "funner." Winnie is the shy type who tries to climb through the front window of your car just to say "hi." She weighs about 70 pounds.
Last year, Emily and Parker were married in Florida (by Father Dunnen of St. James School) and they flew thirty family members to the Gulf Coast for the party. Last month, Mary Prendergast Castigan turned ninety and they rented a big old Victorian in Wildwood, NJ for a party of forty. In addition to her five daughters, Mary has twelve grandchildren, four great grandchildren and a handsome assortment of sons-in-law and others who were lucky enough to marry into the family. It was a good time had by all.
Louise appreciates everything about Shepherdstown on and off the job and it shows. "The town is cute and quaint but it's the Shepherdstonians that really matter. Such a wonderful variety of open-minded people who believe in free speech. That really suits us." She and Bill always find time for a movie at the Opera House and often haunt Dickenson & Wait and O'Hurley's in search of perfection for the cabin. Unearthing local treasures, from the vistas to the shops, is a real talent of those two. For instance, over the stone fireplace is a Tom Glennon carving of a big-eyed baby raccoon peaking out of cave in a cherry wood mantle anyone would kill for.
Louise Hilton is a lovely person who radiates kindness, intelligence and good cheer to any and everyone she meets and she meets everyone. Louise considers her life in Shepherdstown a gift. If so, it is we dear friends, who are the lucky recipients.
- Sue Kennedy is a former public relations executive and Emmy Award winning screenplay writer.