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History is in good hands at the Reynolds Homestead

February 9, 2017

Beth Almond Ford sits in front of a fireplace
Beth Almond Ford, historical services assistant at the Reynolds Homestead

Beth Almond Ford is a storyteller.

As someone who loves to tell tales and impart knowledge through stories, Ford is a natural in her job as the historical services assistant at the Reynolds Homestead in Critz, Virginia. In fact, spending more than five minutes with Ford without learning something is an impossibility.

A native of Buckhannon, West Virginia – not to be confused with the similarly pronounced Buchanan, Virginia, she is quick to point out – Ford flirted briefly with the idea of attending seminary. She left rural West Virginia to enroll at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania.

Later, working as a nurse, Ford lived in places like Vermont, Florida, and even Australia. A passion for antique postcards brought her back to Appalachia 15 years ago.

Ford moved to Meadows of Dan in Patrick County after she discovered a postcard shop there and fell in love with the area.

“When I went there, I said ‘This is where I’m supposed to be.’ That just happens once in your life; it’ll hit you – I had no idea how or why,” Ford said.

Exploring her new home territory, Ford came across signs for the Reynolds Homestead and stopped in for a visit. A tour guide told anecdotes about No Business Mountain, where “there were so many moonshine stills that the revenuers had no business going there.”

The incident triggered a memory: Ford remembered reading about No Business Mountain more than two decades earlier – on a postcard.

Watch the video below to hear the story in Ford's own words.

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Ford began to spend weekends as a tour guide at the Reynolds Homestead. Over time, her schedule expanded to 30 hours a week as she moved into her current role, which focuses on telling the story of the Reynolds family, some of whose members are key figures in American history and industry. 

“I really consider her the caretaker of the history, in addition to the caretaker of the property,” said Julie Walters Steele, director of the Reynolds Homestead, which features Rock Spring Plantation, the birthplace and boyhood home of tobacco manufacturer R.J. Reynolds.

The plantation home was built in 1843 by Hardin Reynolds and remained in the family until it was gifted, along with 717 surrounding acres, to Virginia Tech by Nancy Susan Reynolds in 1970. The home is featured in an eight-minute video tour given by Ford.

Ford, who trains volunteers to give tours at the property, has a repertoire of Reynolds family stories, including one that praises the generosity of the family. The family donated a tree to the Salem United Methodist Church. The tree, which was so big that “seven men could stand around it,” was used to panel the inside of the church, which still stands today.

A fantastic-but-true story involves Kitty Reynolds, a slave credited with saving Reynolds’ patriarch Hardin from a charging bull. When the bull made to go after Hardin in the yard, Kitty twirled her skirts to distract it. Kitty was appointed the nanny to the Reynolds’ children and retained close ties with the family after her emancipation.

Portrait of Kitty Reynolds on left, image of parlor with table, chairs, and portrait of Hardin Reynolds on the right.
Kitty Reynolds, who served as the cook and nanny to the Reynolds family, was credited with saving the life of family patriarch Hardin, whose portrait is shown hanging in the plantation home.

Speaking of the family members, Ford admits she “shouldn’t have a favorite.” But a hint of excitement creeps into her voice when she talks about Abram David Reynolds, the eldest son of Hardin and Nancy Cox and father of Richard S. Reynolds (founder of Reynolds Metals). Ford describes A.D. – nicknamed “Major” because of the rank he attained in the Civil War – as a “big guy” with a “great sense of humor” and a trove of interesting stories.

Ford’s enthusiasm for storytelling encompasses other aspects of her life. In 2015, she and her four siblings released a book titled “Stories of a West Virginia Family,” and for the past year-and-a-half, she has co-hosted a podcast, “Quince,” which features discussions about her favorite things, including books, postcards, and of course, the Reynolds Homestead.

Meanwhile, a memoir-writing class Ford teaches at the Reynolds Homestead has proven so popular that her students return year after year, forcing the creation of a second session to give other students a chance to enroll.

Class themes can stray into the spiritual realm, including ghost stories. Ford shares some chilling tales  about the Reynolds Homestead, which earned a chapter in the book, “Haunts of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Highlands,” where author Joe Tennis recalls his spooky stay.

Any spirits that may roam the Reynolds home incite no fear in Ford. She greets them when she walks over the threshold – “Hi, guys, it’s Beth!” – as she would any member of her own family.

In fact, it is Ford’s passion for the Reynolds family – as well as the visitors who get to hear her many stories – that make her such a valuable asset to the Reynolds Homestead staff.

 “Beth has such a wide variety of interests, and she has the ability to connect with people from all walks of life,” Steele said. “She’s the kind of person who can talk to anyone and make anyone feel comfortable."

 

Written by Melissa McKeown

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