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Making memories at historic McFarland House

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By J.R. WATLAND

For The State Journal

On a recent Friday night in Martinsburg, the Historic McFarland House — built in 1878 — was aglow with excitement.

It wasn’t glowing merely because of the sparkling, stunningly tasteful crystal chandeliers that hung proudly from the ceilings. It wasn’t glowing because of the perfectly appointed period-piece lamps and furniture that adorned each room of the 9,000-square foot home.

No.

It was glowing because it was filled with 30 women, each bursting with excitement over the prospect of enjoying a “Girls Night Out: Sweet and Sassy.”

Planned by the Historic McFarland House team, “Girls Night Out” is a new addition to the regular cadre of gatherings offered.

“We wanted to have a fun, comfortable environment for women,” said Event Coordinator Karen Wheelbarger. “That’s why we asked Teresa Powers from Sassy Girl Fitness to come in.”

Powers gave the night’s attendees burlesque style dance lessons which involved brightly colored feather boas and dance moves to the song, “Express,” by Christina Aguilera. While the burlesque dance lessons were the highlight of the evening, guests also enjoyed dressing up in costumes in a photo booth; a DJ and dancing; “Sweet and Savory” hors d’ouvres all coated in some type of chocolate sauce or ganache; a cash bar; and door prizes.

Wheelbarger said the planning for “Girls Night Out” events is really a team effort.

“We come up with themes by brainstorming, doing surveys, focus groups and getting feedback from our other events,” she said.

In addition to “Girls Night Out,” the Historic McFarland House hosts other themed events, including regular “Date Nights” and food “demo” nights. Two such events coming up in the next few months include a “Caribbean Island Date Night” and “Southwestern Fiesta Demo,” in which the meal is cooked in front of the guests. The McFarland House also hosts fundraisers, weddings, luncheons and other large celebrations.

One of the two owners of the McFarland House, Donna Cobean, said while the events are important for their guests, the house is not only an “event center.”

“I want it to be a place that you can create your own experience. We might provide the house but it’s what the people bring to it,” said Cobean. “It is more than just an event center. It’s about creating moments in time. We feel very fortunate to be that for people.”

Cobean purchased the McFarland House in 2007 with her business partner Michael McCarty.

“I grew up in this area. I went to school across the street at St. Joe’s,” said Cobean. “When I saw the house, I wanted to buy it and open it back up to the community again. There are lots of generations that have had a lot of fun here.”

Together, Cobean and McCarty spent three years refurbishing the home, and searching for the right period piece furniture and décor from the 1876-1878 time period. They opened it up to the public in 2010.

“I feel a connection to the house. It gives you the impression when you walk in … that whole warm feeling,” said Cobean. “We didn’t select the house — the house chose us.”

The house’s original owner in 1878, Alexander B. Parks, was a Martinsburg developer who built the house for he and his wife to live in. While there were various other owners in between, the house got its name when James McFarland bought it in the 1950s. They started a catering business on the first floor and raised their family on the second floor.

Today, it is fast becoming a central social gathering place for those in Berkeley and Jefferson counties.

While Cobean felt drawn to the house, she gives the credit to running it to her business partner and staff.

“Michael has run it. He has been in charge,” Cobean said with a smile. “There is an incredible team here. It’s never just one person.”

In addition to two event planners, the McFarland House team includes servers, a chef, a sous chef, a cooking staff, two bartenders and some butlerettes just to name a few.

Cynthia Anderson, a second grade teacher at Winchester Avenue Elementary School, is a butlerette.

A butlerette helps brides and groomsmen before, during and after a wedding. Anderson has worked at the McFarland House for more than a year.

“It’s nice to earn extra money, and it’s also nice to be around adults,” she said. “It’s a happy time here at these events; it’s so neat to be part of it.

“I get goose bumps thinking of my job here. I’ve sewn brides into dresses, helped sew tuxes last minute. Whatever they need, we try to provide it for them.”

Anderson said the McFarland House hosts other group events there such as Board of Education lunches, meetings and builder luncheons. Regardless of the event type, or theme, the one thing all gatherings have in common at the McFarland House: delicious food.

While not zoned as a restaurant or catering business, the house is zoned as a club.

“I really enjoy everything here,” said Sous Chef Sarah Case. “Right down to the sauces, we make most things from scratch using homemade and locally grown products.”

While Case was on hand for the all-women staffed “Girls Night Out Event,” (where everyone from the bartender to the chef and DJ were all women), she also works with a cooking team of five, including the McFarland House’s gem, Chef Brad.

Brad Spates is a local who grew up in Harpers Ferry.

“We got him by fate,” Wheelbarger said. “He and his wife came back home for a while. He used to own a place called the Pound — a deli restaurant on Capitol Hill and part-time owner of Lola’s bakery in Leesburg. He helped create the Cookology in Northern Virginia.

“We were on a national search for a chef. We got a call from Brad. He was looking for a replacement for a chef at the Pound. He was asked to come in to talk to the owners. They hired him last June — without even tasting his food.”

Another fan of the McFarland House is Teresa Powers, owner of Sassy Girl Fitness on Winchester Avenue in Martinsburg. She was the main feature during the “Sweet and Sassy Girls Night Out” event.

Powers, a single mom of two daughters, was a human resources manager for the past 12 years. She started learning burlesque dancing four years ago, then she started Sassy Girl Fitness in June 2013.

“I had a great time here for Girls Night Out. It’s a beautiful venue,” said Powers. “And I love that it’s all women. It was all good.”