Franklin, Va. — JACK HARRELL and Carol Longmire each married young, were shortly divorced, and then went through periods of self-discovery and growing up. When they met each other in their late 30s, they were determined from Day 1 to build a home that would last - literally. In the woods by a shining creek - working side by side - they first constructed a two-story log house with glass dormers and two porches. Then they built a carpentry workshop and stone smokehouse, remodeled an old hog barn into a pottery studio, and planted an orchard, a grape arbor, and a vegetable garden.
On a sunlit hill they raised a tin-roofed barn and trimmed it with handmade tiles. To celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary, they built each other a latticework potting shed.
This year their 34-acre homestead, all of six years old, was included on the venerable Virginia Historic Garden Week tour - along with the likes of Monticello, several 17th-century plantations, Montpelier (the home of President James Madison), and the birthplaces of Robert E. Lee and William Henry Harrison.
Modest in comparison with these old mansions, the Harrell-Longmire home still holds its own in their company. Like the buildings and grounds of past centuries, it is handcrafted with care and made of solid, natural materials. Still young, it's built to last.
Jack and Carol were raised on farms here in rural Isle of Wight County and by now are old friends to physical work. Carol gardens and cleans out the stables every day as well as making pottery. Jack, who works with his son Dean in a family construction company, is ready to lift logs and roll rocks at home at the end of a long day.
``We work very hard - in fact, most of the time we work,'' says Carol, an energetic woman with a lightly lined face and quick smile.
``Ain't nothing been left to us,'' notes Jack, a strong-armed man whose hair is flecked with gray. ``We've worked for what we've got.''
But their work, freely chosen, is as satisfying as others' play. In the evenings after an early dinner, they review projects and make new plans. Carol, who has never taken an architecture course in her life, draws designs on paper.
``It's just a matter of learning the technique,'' Carol now says matter-of-factly, savoring the stone smokehouse they built after watching masons construct the stone chimney of their house.
``We do what we talk about doing,'' she continues, noting that they have built or remodeled a building every year of their marriage. ``We don't let weeks or months go by. Here we can see what we've done. You have something tangible to say, `I have accomplished this.'''
Outside Carol's pottery studio, pink phlox blooms around golden-blossomed yarrow, savory, rosemary, santolina, chervil, germander, and bay. Visitors entering the low, gray frame building step on peppermint-scented pennyroyal planted at the door, releasing its sweet smell. ``It's a kind of welcome,'' says Carol, whose blue-and-gray stoneware is advertised by word of mouth only.
The landscaping is mostly Carol's work. ``She knows every plant and every blade of grass out here,'' says Jack, who helped dig and move rocks.
The house, overlooking a winding creek, is a celebration of natural beauty, from the smooth logs of the walls and rough stone of the fireplace to the copper pots and antique baskets that hang in the kitchen.
Cabinets are made from boards salvaged from a barn Jack's father built in the 1940s. The couple laid the flagstone floor together. Carol's decorative tiles, patterned with animals, leaves, and berries, adorn the kitchen and bathroom walls.
There is no Tupperware on the countertops, nothing mass produced, no plastic. Instead, a bird's nest on a branch rests in a bowl on the dining room table, beneath a chandelier Carol made from deer antlers.
Carol had worked in Norfolk for seven years after her divorce as an employee relations representative for a large company. ``You get involved in all the hassle of the commute and the day. When you get home, you can't recoup in one evening from what you've done,'' she recalls.
She moved often, sometimes changing apartments every six months. Then gradually she decided she was ready for permanence. She quit her job, apprenticed as a potter for two years in Gloucester, Mass., and then moved back to Franklin, where she met Jack.
``I kind of worked my way back to where I started from,'' she says. ``I appreciate it more now than if I hadn't left. In the morning, out on the deck, there's no place else anywhere I'd want to be.''
In the process of creating a home place, the two say they have built a life together as solid as the stones of the chimney and as smooth as the logs of their house. Sitting in jeans out on their front porch, both tanned and relaxed, Carol brims with ideas and enthusiasm, while Jack exudes a quiet satisfaction.
``Common interest, common goals, working together'' Carol says is the foundation of their marriage.
Says Jack, ``I go to work and I come home and I stay.''