What do a romance novelist, a Congresswoman and Ambassador, and a lover of boxwoods have in common? They were all the “lady of the house” at The Cedars. This wonderful property has a long and interesting history and will be one of the featured homes on the Greenbrier Historical Society’s Lemonade and Lavender Homes Tour to be held on Saturday, June 8, 2013 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets for the home tour are available at the Greenbrier Historical Society’s North House, located at 301 West Washington Street in Lewisburg, the Greenbrier Convention and Visitors Bureau, located at 200 West Washington Street in Lewisburg or at each house on the day of the tour.
The Cedars was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 through the efforts of Mr. and Mrs. Robert McCormack, the owners at that time.
According to the National Register nomination, The Cedars was begun in 1881 when Alexander McVeigh Miller brought his wife, Mittie Point Miller, to 10 acres land in North Alderson which had been given to him by his father, W. G. Miller.
The Millers began construction on a small unit of the house which grew into a large Victorian farm house. It was likely built of the fine hardwood lumber then available in abundance from the old growth forests in the area. The cornices above the interior doors and windows in the entry hall are apparently from that era and are Victorian in style.
Mrs. Miller lived there for many years and continued to write “romance novels”, a career which earned her the huge sum of more than $100,000 by 1910. A copy of her novel, “The Senator’s Bride” will be on display. She was the real breadwinner in the family as her husband never found a career in which he could be successful and had meager earnings as a schoolteacher. He did serve in the West Virginia State Senate from 1901 to 1909. She divorced him for infidelity in 1908 and moved to Boston.
The Cedars was unoccupied for a time until it was purchased in 1939 by Ruth Bryan Owen Rhode and her husband. They lived there for 5 years and made changes to the house to remake it from a typical Victorian farmhouse to a more elegant and classical style. They moved two old buildings to the site to be used as a guest house and horse barn. They also added the large garage with the recreation room above, known to locals as the “ballroom”, to the west side of the house.
Mrs. Rhode was the daughter of William Jennings Bryan and was one of the most prominent women of this nation in her time. In World War I, she served as a nurse. After the war she had a successful career as a college teacher and lecturer. In 1933, she was elected to the United States Congress from Florida. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed her as Minster to Denmark where she is likely to have met her second husband, Captain Borge Rhode.
The next owners were Mr. and Mrs. Andrew McThenia. Mrs. McThenia focused her attention on the landscaping of the estate. Beginning in 1945, her planning and work involved the growing and use of hundreds of English boxwoods throughout the grounds. Remnants of her efforts, including what may be the largest cypress tree in West Virginia, can be seen.
Day to day management and upkeep of the Cedars is currently entrusted to Victoria Harmon by the owners. Ms. Harmon has overseen many infrastructure improvements such as installing a new heating system, bringing the electrical system up to code, recovering from the derecho damage, and making many repairs. She has many more on her agenda as she labors to return this “work in progress” to its former glory.