Of Ravensworth and sites long vanished

Annandale Travel Blog

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Ravensworth historical marker

An article in the Washington Post caught my eye on Saturday morning. "Remnants of Estate Remain Amid Strip Malls, Subdivisions" read the caption. The article told the story of a 1780s house now, now for sale, nestled among a subdivision in Burke, VA.  The house is one of the few physical remains of the Ravesnworth estate that dominated Fairfax County in the period before the Civil War.  I'd heard of Ravensworth and encountered an historical marker here and a place name there. But, I'd never put the pieces of this slice of local history all together. Monday was the Columbus Day holdiday. The day would be sunny and clear. A day begging for photos to be taken.

Ossian Hall Park
Inspried by the newspaper article, I resolved that today I was going to seek out the traces of Ravensworth. Amid the first splashes of fall red and yellow in the trees, I drove off to see what I could find.  

Ravensworth was a vast 22,000 acre tobacco plantation. It occupied what is today the community of Annandale and significant parts of Springfield and Burke. Its origins went back to the 17th century when William H. Fitzhugh purchased the tract in 1685. It became a part of his land holdings in Virgnia, but he never lived in Fairfax County. Instead, the tract was divided by his two eldest sons after his death in 1701. They and their descedants lived on the property, worked the plantation, built three manor houses, and married into the Randolph and Lee families.
Price's Ordinary tavern on Braddock Road
Ravensworth remained an important property until the 1830s when plantation-style tobacco farming had become uneconomical and the community of Annandale had formed to replace it.

I began my local history quest by stopping first at the Ravensworth historical marker. It's located on Port Royal Road at the entrance to a modern industrial park on the border of Annandale and Springfield. The Ravensworth mansion, built in 1796 by William Fitzhugh, was located here. It became the summer home of Robert E. Lee and Mary Anna Randolph Custis. (She was related to the Fitzhughs.) Lee descedants lived in the house until it burned in 1926.

I returned to Braddock Road and made a right to cross the Capital Beltway (I-495) traveling North.

Green Spring Gardens Park
Braddock Road, originally a Native American trail and then a wagon road used by General Braddock during the French and Indian War, serves to link the various parts of what was Ravensworth. (It's a 6-lane commuter road today.) Near Braddock Road and Ravensworth Road stood Ossian Hall, the first of the major Ravensworth houses, built by Nicholas Fitzhugh about 1783. Nothing remains of the house today, it was demolished in 1959 for construction of a subdivision. The name is preseved by Ossian Hall Park, a county park of ballfields and groves adjacent to Annadale High School. Further up Braddock Road, at Backlick Road, is a historical marker commemorates Price's Ordinary, a crossroads tavern. (Fairfax County landowners voted to accept the Constituion here in 1787.
Mexican Bush Sage
) A McDonalds now stands on the site, testimony that hungry travelers continue to seek victuals at the crossroads.

Still further along Braddock Road is Green Spring Gardens. Green Spring Gardens is a 27 acre county horticultural park with many garden and greenhouse displays. (I spent a bit of time looking at the neary by gardens. Early fall may not be the best time to visit the gardens! I'll have to return next year and write a proper Review.) But, my main interest today was in seeing the manor house dating from 1784.  This farm was not part of Ravensworth but was adjacent to it. Significantly, the Moss family that began the farm in the 1760s diversified away from tobacco as their crop. Instead, they planted corn and wheat and raised cattle.

Gardens at Green Springs

From Green Spring I now followed Little River Turnpike back into central Annandale, once a part of the Ravensworth lands. Annandale formed as a community in the 1830s at the commercial crossroads of the Little River Turnpike, a toll road leading from Alexandria to the Shenandoah Valley, and the Columbia Pike from Washington, DC. Central Annandale is now home to a thriving Korean-American comunity and business with signs in Hangul script add flavor to the commerical center.

Oak Hill house was my next goal. Again crossing back over the Capitol Beltway I turned in at the Pleasant Valley Memorial Park cemetery. This modern cemetery houses reinterred remains discovered at what had been the 19th century Guinea Road Cemetery during a road widening project.

Green Spring Gardens manor (1784)
A historical marker commemorates the old cemetery and those who lived in the vanished community of Ilda. Ilda had been an African-American settlement of freemen and former slaves. (It is not known how many of the residents of Ilda may have once been enslaved at Ravensworth.) Only a single gravestone, of one S.A. Williams and dated 1851, was found. It has been installed at the commemorative section.

Leaving the cemetery site, I passed Northern Virginia Community College to turn onto Wakefield Chapel Road. As the name might suggest, Wakefield Chapel is near here. Built in 1899, this structure is much "newer" that the ones I'd been seeking. But, it's a very pretty one, all in white rustic gothic. It was a Methodist church for 50 years, but is now owned by Farifax County.

Gardens at Green Spring
The chapel is used as a non-denominational venue for both religious and civil wedding cermonies. In fact, a colorful Indian wedding was in progress when I stopped by.

The object of this drive along Wakefield Chapel Road was Oak Hill. This third of the Ravensworth manors is still standing. The house was built by Henry Fitzhugh (father of William and Nicholas) for the Ravensworth land agent in 1779.  Oak Hill is still privately owned, but opened to the public once a year. It sits majestically amid the surrounding suburban homes constructed in the 1970s, partly visible from the street, but well hidden by foliage, including original boxwoods. However, the house did not take on its present Georgian form until rennovations in the 1930s brought in modern plumbing and electricity.

Perennials garden
(Around 1934, new owners hired an architect to add dormer windows to the attic and a Mount Vernon-style porch to the front of the original two-story wooden frame farmhouse.)

A short distance down Wakefield Chapel Road from Oak Hill I found a red clapboard and brick house.  A sign in front announces it is "Turkey Branch Farm, circa 1820". Turkey Branch is another private home and, nestled among mid-20th century suburban homes, it has not been a farm for some time. (The word "branch" is a regionalism for a tributary rivulet or stream. Turkey Branch runs nearby.) However, the house has associations with Ravensworth. It most likely began as an outbuilding on the plantation. Perhaps the name Turkey Run was adopted when its land was spun off from the estate.

Perennials garden
Smaller than Oak Hill, it is evident the house has grown by accretions and additions over time.

Wakefield Chapel Road led back to Braddock Road near where the tour began. But I had one more site to see. The house mentioned  in the newspaper article. It was located further along Braddock Road in the other direction, then some distance along Guinea Road in Burke. The house, described in the article as built in the 1780s for Ravensworth's farm manager, is at the end of a surburban cul-de-sac. It fits in with the much newer Colonial-inspired tract houses, if a bit eclectic looking. It's a real survivor. The present house is actually formed from two cottages that were later connected. After the demise of Ravensworth, it was a farmhouse and passed through several families who farmed the surrounding acreage.

Pineapple Sage
 By the 1950s it had become a equestrian center. (The stables can still be seen.) Finally, the remaining land was sold in the mid-1970s for development. I parked near the cul-de-sac and observed the property from the sidewalk. Indeed, a For Sale sign was posted. The present house is actually two houses that were later connected. (Reminded me in a way of Ash Lawn-Highland.) As I often do at local history sites, I wondered who had walked here. Had Fitzhughs or Lees visited? I imagine the neighbors are aware of the history. Out enjoying the beautiful October afternoon, they did not seem to mind my curiosity about their neighborhood. I'm glad I found that article. This was a good drive and reminded one that history is just around the corner.

 

geokid says:
I really enjoyed this blog!!! Thanks for the posting.
Posted on: Feb 08, 2009
reikunboy says:
sounds like an interesting historical trail to follow
Posted on: Jan 29, 2009
binky says:
I was just in Virginia this weekend. Very beautiful state. You captured it well in your photos!
Posted on: Oct 15, 2008
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Ravensworth historical marker
Ravensworth historical marker
Ossian Hall Park
Ossian Hall Park
Prices Ordinary tavern on Braddoc…
Price's Ordinary tavern on Braddo…
Green Spring Gardens Park
Green Spring Gardens Park
Mexican Bush Sage
Mexican Bush Sage
Gardens at Green Springs
Gardens at Green Springs
Green Spring Gardens manor (1784)
Green Spring Gardens manor (1784)
Gardens at Green Spring
Gardens at Green Spring
Perennials garden
Perennials garden
Perennials garden
Perennials garden
Pineapple Sage
Pineapple Sage
Mexican Bush Sage
Mexican Bush Sage
Entering Annandale
Entering Annandale
Little River Turnpike historical  …
Little River Turnpike historical …
Korean-American businesses in Anna…
Korean-American businesses in Ann…
Guinea Road Cemetery historical ma…
Guinea Road Cemetery historical m…
1851 gravestone
1851 gravestone
Guinea Road Cemetery reinterment s…
Guinea Road Cemetery reinterment …
Annandale Campus, Northern Virgini…
Annandale Campus, Northern Virgin…
Fall colors commence
Fall colors commence
Wakefield Chapel (1899)
Wakefield Chapel (1899)
Oak Hill (1779)
Oak Hill (1779)
Oak Hill grounds
Oak Hill grounds
Open House at Oak Hill
Open House at Oak Hill
Original chimney at Oak Hill
Original chimney at Oak Hill
Boxwood path at Oak Hill
Boxwood path at Oak Hill
Boxwoods and Oak tree at Oak Hill
Boxwoods and Oak tree at Oak Hill
Turkey Branch (ca. 1820)
Turkey Branch (ca. 1820)
Ravensworth farm managers house (…
Ravensworth farm manager's house …
Grounds
Grounds
Ravensworth farm managers house (…
Ravensworth farm manager's house …
Annandale
photo by: Andy99