But for those who stopped by for "Strawberries and Cream" last month, it was just a short trip down memory lane.
They had come at the invitation of Joe Allen Jr., president of Allen Real Estate Ltd., of Warrenton. Allen has the exclusive listing to sell the unique 375-acre estate for Mr. and Mrs. Michael Susik of Warrenton and Florida, who have owned Canterbury for more than 30 years.
Asking price for the property is $9,500,000 or the owner is willing to trade for property in Florida.
Built between 1932-36, Canterbury is not one of the oldest of the beautiful homes found in the Springs Valley area. And at 20,000 square feet of living space, it is not the largest.
But it is unique in many ways, starting with its location on a bluff high above the Rappahannock River that forms the border between Fauquier and Culpeper counties.
The three-story mansion was built by Col. Albert E. Pierce (1880-1959), a multi-millionaire from Chicago who hired the Chicago architectural firm of Walcott and Work to design his new home in Virginia.
Canterbury looks older than it really is because the builder, Jones and Conquest of Richmond, used imported, hand-made Flemish-bond brick that had been salvaged from much older structures in Alexandria.
Apparently, Pierce was concerned about fire, since the original house on the site had burned several years before. He ordered that the new mansion have poured concrete floors on all levels, as well as thick masonry interior walls and a copper roof, making it as fireproof as possible.
F. Preston Pulliam was a young boy living in the area when Canterbury was being built. He remembers the "small army" of craftsmen and laborers that Pierce employed to work on the house over four years.
"This was during the Great Depression years, and having a project like this provided jobs for a lot of people who really needed them," recalled Pulliam. "It was like having a General Motors plant here for a few years."
In addition to the local tradesmen, Pierce brought in marble carvers from Italy and other artisans with special skills.
"It was the biggest thing going on around here in those days," recalled Pulliam. "On Sunday afternoons, folks would drive out there, just to see what had been done."
When completed, Canterbury had 30 or so rooms, including eight master bedroom suites, two kitchens, numerous studies, house staff quarters and two large foyers.
Unique touches include the library, or "weather room," which was paneled in pine that was originally an old store in Cape Cod, Mass. Above the fireplace is a rare "weather watch" connected to a weather vane on the roof high above.
Ornate plaster and marble trim is found in many of the rooms, and Rosewood interior doors were used throughout. Even the basement holds surprises.
At the bottom of an arched concrete stairway, one finds the Hunt Room, designed like the great hall of an ancient Tudor castle. At one end of the room is the 2,000-bottle wine cellar, and at the other end, a quaint "English pub."
But by far the most impressive interior feature of Canterbury is the white Carrara flying marble stairway, which reaches from the first to the third floor without inside support.
The grounds were planned by renowned Italian landscape architect Ferruccio Vitale, of New York. Apparently, Pierce was in a hurry to see the final product.
"I remember seeing huge trees, their roots bound in large balls, being brought in on trucks," said long-time Springs Road resident Harcourt Lees. "It was instant old growth."
The oval concrete swimming pool obviously built to last lies down the bluff from the house, just above the river.
The pool has two bath houses, one with a kitchenette and the other with a powerful pump, an amenity that could be used to supply water to fight a fire at the main house.
In 1939, Canterbury was named "one of the two most beautiful homes in America" by the American and French Society of Architects, and featured in the French magazine Le Illustration.
And according to Kitty Slater's 1967 "The Hunt Country of America Revisited," total construction cost for the mansion and grounds at Canterbury was $7 million.
Canterbury is central to the history of the Springs Valley and the adjacent Fauquier White Sulphur Springs.
According to county records, Lord Fairfax received the land from the King of England in colonial days.
Lord Fairfax leased the property to George Settle in 1767. Shortly afterward Settle built the first home on the land, known as Settle Down.
The land was inherited by Edward and John Settle upon George Settle's death, and they sold it to Marshall Smith in 1823.
The property then passed to Thomas Sedden, then to Sarah Gillison and the Beale family.
According an account by "The Old Timer" (The Fauquier Democrat's M. Louise Evans), Lewis Weber moved to Settle Down in 1867 and lived there until the end of the 19th century.
The next owner was J. W. Golden, who later sold the property to J. Temple Gwathmey, a native Virginian who had made his fortune as a financier in New York, and was a former president of the New York Stock Exchange.
Gwathmey built the first residence on the site of the present-day mansion, a "handsome semi-colonial residence and large stable for Thoroughbred horses," according to an early account of the time.
Gwathmey named his new home "Canterbury" after the family estate in King and Queen County, Va.
After Gwathmey's death in the 1920s, Canterbury was sold to Texas oilman Joshua Cosden (1881-1940), the president of Cosden Oil Co.
Cosden renamed the property "Rappahannock Farm," and built a seven-furlong racetrack on property across the river, a racing barn and stables with 100 stalls on the property. He once ran a horse in the Kentucky Derby.
Cosden is remembered as a flamboyant character. While living at Canterbury, he was reputed to have lost two fortunes $50 million in 1926, and an additional $15 million (at least on paper) at the beginning of the Great Depression.
To add to his problems, the mansion at Canterbury burned to the ground shortly after the Crash of 1929. Virtually bankrupt, Cosden sold Canterbury to Pierce in 1930.
The 'new' Canterbury
Pierce had also purchased Ravenswood, a property near Jeffersonton that is now the South Wales golf course. After surveying his options, he decided to build his new home on the site of the burned mansion.
A native of Westfields, N.Y., Pierce had commanded the 37th Engineer Regiment in France during World War I. He lived in Chicago before deciding to move to the Virginia Hunt Country.
While living at Canterbury, Pierce entertained lavishly and often.
According to Mrs. Maximilian Tufts, a noted horsewoman and long-time resident of the area, Pierce was a co-founder and co-MFH of the Culpeper Foxhounds. He spent a great deal of money on his extensive landholdings to open it for foxhunting.
But Pierce soon fell victim to the failing economy and a scandal, as well.
"There is an old story about how one day, Col. Pierce was out foxhunting," Mrs. Tufts recalled. "His chauffeur drove up in his Rolls-Royce and said, 'Col. Pierce, all of your money is gone.' Not long afterward, the Culpeper Hunt was disbanded."
Culpeper's loss was the Warrenton Hunt's gain, as it was given the foxhounds and the use of the hunt territory, which by then stretched to Brandy Station, according to Lees.
Although not certain of the details, Pulliam believes that Pierce was an associate of Samuel Insull, president of the Chicago-based Utility Investments Inc.
Insull, who had amassed a utility empire that operated in 30 states, was indicted in the early 1930s for his involvement in the type of corporate corruption and fraud that brought on the Depression.
"I remember that my father accompanied Col. Pierce to an IRS hearing, as a character witness, after he had lost his fortune," said Lees. "He thought quite highly of Col. Pierce, and felt that people were kicking him while he was down."
The family struggled along, the Pierce daughters making a little extra money giving swimming lessons at the Canterbury pool. "There were only a half-dozen pools in the county back then, and that's where I learned to swim, too," said Lees.
Mrs. Tufts and Hope Wallach Porter of Warrenton also learned to swim at Canterbury.
Canterbury was sold again in 1941, this time to Mrs. Leon Cotnareanu of New York and Paris, who renamed the estate "LeBaron." At the time of the sale, the property consisted of 821 acres.
Mme. Cotnareanu, who died in 1966, was the former wife of Francois Coty, of the internationally known Coty cosmetics family. She was the co-publisher of the French newspaper Le Figaro, and had married Leon Cotnareanu, a Rumanian, in 1934.
The Cotnareanus converted the property from a horse farm to a cattle farm, raising a large herd of Aberdeen-Angus cattle there. David Sutherland, a Scotsman known worldwide for his knowledge of Angus cattle, was their herdsman.
They added more than 500 acres to estate, but spent very little time in Virginia. As a result, the main house and some of the outbuildings fell into disrepair, sometimes with disastrous results.
Lees noted that in order to open the former horse stables for their cattle, they had the partitions removed from in between the stalls. This seriously weakened the structures. "When a strong wind came through, the stables collapsed," said Lees.
In most respects, the Cotnareanus were absentee owners. "We rarely saw the Cotnareanus, and since they didn't speak English, they were hardly known around here," said Mrs. Tufts.
Most local people dealt with the Cotnareanus' secretary, Grace Hamilton (later Mrs. Robert Webb-Peploe).
Lees insured the property and the herd, and recalls that the Cotnareanu family gave each of their cows individual names, all starting with "LeBaron," the sire's name. As a result, keeping records on the huge herd was tedious.
"When Grace left Canterbury, she told me that she hoped she would never again have to deal with a cow that had 'LeBaron' in its name," said Lees.
In late 1961, Mr. and Mrs. George Offut III, who owned Bellvue near Warrenton and a home in Florida, purchased LeBaron-Canterbury, which by then had grown to 1,335 acres.
Offut, who had made his money as an out-of-state developer, immediately changed the name back to Canterbury and set to work restoring the mansion.
The Offuts owned Canterbury for about 10 years, selling it to the present owners in 1971.
In addition to maintaining the main house as a private residence, the Susiks introduced Santa Gertrudis cattle to Fauquier.
Enjoying the day on the sunny veranda at Canterbury, guests at the "Strawberries and Cream" affair felt a keen appreciation of the beauty and history that surrounded them.
"You know, we all could sell our homes, pool the money and buy this place," mused one of the visitors to no one in particular.
"I'm in!" answered another.