Older buildings and neighborhoods in Fairfax County are part of Fairfax County's "heritage resources" and are economic and social investments that pay dividends. These sites and buildings also tell the history of the built environment in the county…
The above words were taken from the Fairfax County Historic Preservation and Heritage Resources webpage.
Very good words indeed.
As part of the “Embark Richmond Highway” study, the county also recently produced a poster showing the location of Heritage Resources here in Southeast Fairfax County. It lists 40 locations on or near Richmond Highway that are listed in the Fairfax County Inventory of Historic Sites.
40 sounds like a healthy number, but for those of who live in the upper part of Richmond Highway (Huntington to Groveton), there’s virtually noting left but sites. And almost all of those show nothing to suggest what was once there. Adding to the scarcity, historical markers are but a few.
It may be hard for some to believe, but there was a time when historic homes graced the top of hills and and farm land along Route 1 between Alexandria and Groveton. Where Montebello now stands stood Mount Eagle, the country home of Bryan, Eighth Lord Fairfax and close friend of George Washington. Built in 1790, Mount Eagle had a rich history and was last occupied by the Fifer family of Alexandria in the 1930s and 1940s.
Shoppers at King’s Crossing in the Penn-Daw neighborhood step on the site of Spring Bank, the spacious home and brick beauty of a grandson of George Mason and others.
On that highest spot in Groveton we call Beacon Hill, City View I and II were once landmarks. Their stories tell us a lot about the history of Richmond Highway, Groveton and its surrounding neighborhoods.
There were other places too, such as the Civil War’s Fort Lyon (near Huntington Metro), Beacon Field Airport (Beacon Center), Groveton Elementary School (The Beacon of Groveton), Spring Bank Colored School, a one-room school house that may have been the last of its kind in this part of the county, (Richmond Highway and Quander Road), the Mount Pleasant Tourist Home, a quant wooden structure on N. King’s Highway (Huntington Station Shopping Center), and motor lodges galore where summer vacationers spent the night and grabbed a bit to eat.
And perhaps the grandaddy of all the ghosts was the Dixie Pig restaurant, a culinary landmark that served North Carolina-styled BBQ for many years (northeast corner of Richmond Highway and Beacon Hill Drive).
All these and others are gone, taken away during the suburban building boom that swept across Northern Virginia like a tsunami. Sadly, none of the homes have a marker, and only two of the rest of the above (Beacon Hill Airport and Fort Lyon) has one.
So what is left here that is becoming older and might be worth saving?
(By the way, I have not forgotten about Historic Huntley. It survived, but does not have the visibility it would have if it were located on or just off Richmond Highway).
I used to think there wasn’t anything in that regard until last week when the “Smart Markets Huntington” farmer’s market moved from the Huntington Station Shopping Center parking lot to across the street at a vacant lot between the metro station and Mount Eagle Park and next to the Courts at Huntington Metro.
Steps from the tents stand two structures. One is a two story, five-window wide brick home that appears to this amateur to be built in the Colonial Revival Style. Notable are symmetrical attached wings and a portico.
The other is attached and is a wooden smaller home with a gable front. Both were last used by the Capitol Park Police as their Headquarters.
The question now is what do with this pair of homes.
Quite frankly, both have seen better days and to some people, they might not seem worth saving.
But that is often the case with preservation. It isn’t until new life is breathed into a place that everyone realizes how something old or older can add character and serve the community.
And it’s worth pointing out that a building that is “only” 75 years old can be worth saving. A recent example took place in Old Town Alexandria when the Carver building in the Parker-Gray neighborhood, built in the 1940s, was saved and adaptively re-used. I don’t know when these homes were built but a guess would be the 1940s.
Before we go any further, let me say I am not “anti-development.” Quite the contrary, readers of my blog know I am a proponent of “smart growth” and support it. I read “Greater Greater Washington" everyday and I know of the importance of transit-oriented development and density. Our suburban footprint is being transformed with more walkable places and that is a very good and needed thing.
In the case of these two homes, they are in a prime redevelopment spot and are, in fact, targeted to be torn down as part of an on-going mixed use development at the south side of the metro station.
So I am torn between the two approaches.
But given what I said about the lack of actual historic places in this part of Southeast Fairfax County, shouldn’t we try and save these two?
I am currently organizing such an effort. I’ve never done such a thing so I can use all the help I can get.
A friend of mine told me the first step is to get the assets on the Inventory of Historic Sites. It still may not be enough to save the two, but I believe it is worth trying,
This is where I could use your help.
The only thing I know about these two buildings is that they seem to have architectural merit, and that there could be some history attached. They might have been associated with Mount Eagle before it was demolished in the late 1960s. I’ve been told they were also used by a doctor.
If saved, my thought is they could be incorporated into the re-development as an adaptive re-use. One idea I have is to house a small museum for the history of this area - Southeast Fairfax County. Ronald Chase has done a terrific job with the Gum Springs Museum. This counterpart would fill in the gap from Great Hunting Creek to Hybla Valley.
In addition to the museum, the building could host other tenants. Perhaps the Smart Markets farmer’s market could be a partner and find a permanent home on the lot in front. Once fixed up, the rehabilitated homes would serve as an attractive and useful gateway piece for those using Metro or the King’s Highway.
At this early point in my effort, so much is uncertain.
But I do know one thing. If those words about heritage resources mean anything, then we who live here owe it to ourselves and the community to try and save these two homes.
Fifty years ago, the late Nan Netherton tried to save Mount Eagle. Unfortunately, our nation’s sense of historic preservation was in its infant stages, and in the end, the developers had all the cards. In 1968, on what must have been a very sad day for some, the fire department was brought in. Down in flames went the historic home and the visible attachment to our history.
We need re-development, but in this place we call home, can’t we save something old every now and then?
Mount Eagle - “Montebello at Mount Eagle,” Nan Netherton.
City View - Beacon Hill Airport website.
Groveton - “Groveton: Images of America,” Charlotte Brown.
Historic Homes on Richmond Highway - Ghosts on the Hill.