Chapter One: Cheap Rent offers a glimpse into the colorful history of the Wildcat Mountain area that inspired the setting of the story, not least of which was the story of the Free State.
A large portion of Wildcat Mountain is now in conservancy. The Nature Conservancy describes best why it is worth a visit:
Why You Should Visit: With altitudes ranging from 1,200 feet near the top of the mountain to a low point of 500 feet, this predominantly steep and hilly preserve features a broad range of habitats. Wildcat Mountain supports a rich variety of plants and animals, including a few coastal and higher-Appalachian species approaching their geographic limits in northern Virginia.
Download a trail map. (pdf)
Location: Fauquier County: on the western slopes of Wildcat Mountain in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains
Size: 655 acres
Conditions: Moderate to difficult hiking
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site: In the 1960s, the Arundel family gave a large portion of Wildcat Mountain to The Nature Conservancy. Although entirely wooded now, Wildcat Mountain Natural Area has a long history of human use. Aside from patches of mature oak-hickory forests, which were only lightly logged, the preserve was cleared for farms as early as the 18th Century. Old stone walls still meander through the preserve, marking boundary lines and former fields.
Many of the homesteads were abandoned after the Civil War, although some farming and considerable logging continued into the 20th Century. At that time, much of Wildcat Mountain Farm was converted to an apple orchard. However, all logging and farming ceased on the western slope in the 1940s.
Before cultivation or extensive logging, most of the mountain was probably a forest of beech, oak and American chestnut. However, in the 1920s a devastating blight killed most of the American chestnuts. Their loss brought economic disaster to many rural people who depended on the sale or use of the nuts, wood and bark (for tannin). The impact on wildlife was significant as well, since chestnut was a major food source.
Wildcat is part of a range of mountains along the foothills (the Piedmont) of the Blue Ridge Mountains.