- Associated Press - Sunday, April 13, 2014

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. (AP) - As dependable as April showers and spring flowers, the annual showcase of one-of-a-kind Eastern Panhandle properties is again set to delight visitors later this month. Coming up April 26 and 27, the House and Garden Tour of Historic Berkeley and Jefferson Counties has been a staple of the season since 1955.

Organized each year by the Shenandoah-Potomac Garden Council - an umbrella group of local garden clubs in the two counties - the tour’s proceeds provides funding for the clubs’ beautification projects for community parks, schools and libraries.

A much-anticipated spring ritual for local residents and out-of-town visitors alike, the tour this year includes Charles Town’s Bullskin Farm, which dates to 1765 and has never been on the tour, along with two other Jefferson County properties: Eagle’s Ridge, the three-story modern Federal Revival-style home situated atop a hill in Harpers Ferry, and Monte View Farm in Summit Point, where a smokehouse is said to have been part of the Underground Railroad.

A stone bed and breakfast in the countryside near Hedgesville is one of three Berkeley County sites on the tour, along with two homes in Martinsburg: a Georgian-style mansion built in 1790 and a recently updated house that began as a single-room log cabin in the early 1700s.

There are a number of reasons the tour is so popular, explains Jean Slonaker, who is handling publicity for the event for the Garden Council.

For many, the homes’ historical aspects are key. With several sites on this year’s tour that date to the 1700s, the tour allows visitors to gain insight not only into the homes’ builders and residents, but also the important events that shaped construction, additions and remodeling, Slonaker said.

Others use the event as inspiration for their own gardens and homes.

“I remember seeing gray paint in a house once and deciding that would be great in our hallway,” Slonaker said. “If I hadn’t seen the paint in someone else’s house, I would never have considered that color.”

The tour’s plants and flowers provide another draw. “If it’s a warm, sunny day, visitors can view flowering trees and bushes in the gardens,” she said. “And garden club members always have beautiful flower arrangements throughout the houses.”

For those who love country drives and West Virginia’s country roads, the time spent getting to each stop adds to the enjoyment of the day, Slonaker explains.

“Many people look forward to seeing the lovely countryside of Berkeley and Jefferson counties as they go from house to house,” she said. “They love taking in the beauty of spring in West Virginia along with some very historical gems of homes.”

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