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The destruction of Fountain Rock

By Staff | Aug 21, 2015

Guests at the Shepherdstown Community Club’s dinner and program event Tuesday evening learned the history of the burning of Fountain Rock, the home of former Congressman Alexander Boteler, that was destroyed July 19, 1864.

Jim Surkamp and Ardyth Gilbertson presented the history through a narration and reading of letters and journals of Boteler’s children who were present when the home was destroyed by Union raiders.

The mansion stood on the exact site of the Morgan’s Grove Park pavilion, Surkamp shared. It was destroyed by raiders led by Capt. Martindale, under the orders of Gen. Hunter.

Boteler and his wife were away from home on the day that Fountain Rock was destroyed. At the home were his widowed daughter, Mrs. David Shepherd and her three children ranging in age from 18 months to five years as well as another daughter, Helen Boteler.

Helen, a lover of music, begged that her piano be saved from destruction but her cries fell on deaf ears. While the home burned, she ran inside, sat down and began to play and sing Charlotte Ellis’s hymn, “Thy Will be Done.” She calmly closed the piano as the fire drew nearer, and left the home.

Gilbertson read from letters outlining the events and sang through the hymn for those at Tuesday’s event.

Surkamp shared that while some things were saved from the home, the greatest loss was the artwork and library that were destroyed. He said that some books were saved; however, those trying to take things from the home chose volumes that were less important, probably because of their size or binding. The library held many rare pictures and manuscripts illustrating the early history of this part of Virginia and all those were lost.

For many years the ruins of the home remained covered by vines and other growth. That area is now the pavilion of Morgan’s Grove Park, which is owned by the Shepherdstown Community Club.

Surkamp shared that the presentation given Tuesday is part of a three-night presentation that had been presented last year and will be again this year.

“We broke this part out because the Community Club owns Morgan’s Grove Park,” Surkamp said following the program.

Gilberston added, “They [the Botelers] used to have picnics there. We have picnics there now.”

The spring house was the only building on the property that was not destroyed in the fire. That structure still stands at Morgan’s Grove Park just below the picnic pavilion.

Another home, Bedford, that belonged to Edmund Jennings Lee and Henrietta Lee, was also burned under the same orders given to burn Fountain Rock. Lee was a first cousin of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

More information about Fountain Rock and Civil War history can be found at Surkamp’s website www.CivilWarscholars.com.