One of my earliest memories of moving to Fairfax County was the drive from Interstate 95 up Route 1, and then up Telegraph Road through Lorton. As a Tidewater
boy, I was intimately familiar with the history
of Princess Anne County
, which became the Virginia Beach of my youth, but hadn't learned much else about our Commonwealth yet. It therefore comes as no surprise that names like Colchester
, and Pohick
didn't mean anything to me yet.
In the 18 years since first coming to Fairfax County, it has changed in innumerable ways. Neighborhoods have sprung up from nowhere, virtually overnight, and become completely occupied within months. In the midst of all this change, it isn't surprising to notice that the threads of history sometimes become obscured by the inevitable march of "Progress."
Take, for instance, The Village at Mount Air
, near the intersection of Telegraph and 7100 (formerly Backlick Rd) in the Newington area of Lorton
. I have driven past it countless
times, even looked at houses for sale there, and never once
had I even considered
the origin of its name!For my younger readers: You may have noticed hints to the name's origin on the Mount Air website above. I can assure you that the luxury of "instant" knowledge was not
afforded us in the proverbial "way back then." While it's easy to find information like this in the "digital age,"
back in my day, you had to actually go and sit down in a library
to discover stuff like this.
So anyway, back to the present. After finding a passing reference
to "Mount Air Plantation" while reading about Fairfax County history, my memory was jogged back to the neighborhood of the same name. I began to wonder whether there was any connection between the two. The documentation I had read indicated that the plantation was high overlooking the banks of Accotink Creek
, and while I was aware that there were areas of higher elevation around that general area, I remembered that Accotink Creek
in that area was not navigable, which seemed odd, so I discounted the thought that there could be a plantation there. After all, rivers were the primary
means of travel in the 1750's, so the site didn't seem like anything approaching
a match to me.
On the way home from work one day, I finally succumbed to my own curiosity, and went for a drive down Accotink Road, and quickly came to discover that the mansion was
there right underneath my nose the whole time! I spent a good 30 minutes on-site, exploring all of the various ruins, and just generally feeling a sense of awe
at discovering that a piece of history had been so close, yet completely unknown to me for all of this time.The following information was transcribed verbatim from the Fairfax County Park Authority signs--other than the links, which I added:
Mount Air: The Story of a Home
Keeping it in the Family
The McCarty's, who built Mount Air, were an important Virginia family. Dennis McCarty patented the land where you stand in 1727. Dennis McCarty served as Sheriff, Justice of the Peace, a vestryman for Truro Parish and was a representative in the Virginia House of Burgesses. He married George Washington's cousin, Sarah Ball, in 1724.
By 1732, the McCarty's had a house and garden on the property. There was also a public warehouse on this land, used to store produce that would have been shipped to England. Many generations of McCarty descendents [sic] continued to live in the house. In about 1850, the house was damaged by fire for the first time. We learned this through archaeology and historical documents. The house was rebuilt or repaired and sold out of the family in 1860.
On the Verge of War
In 1860, Aristides Landstreet, his wife Mary, and his family moved into Mount Air. When the Civil War started, Aristides enlisted with the Confederate Army. For a time, his family remained at Mount Air, near the shifting lines of Confederate and Union troops. Finally, the estate was occupied by Union troops, and the family relocated for the duration of the war. The house and the lands suffered greatly as a result of the war. The property value declined over the years and after Aristides died in 1910, his daughters were forced to mortgage and subsequently sell the property in 1914.
From Home to Historic Site
In 1914, George (sic) [ed: "sic" in original. Her name was "Georges."] Shirley Kernan purchased Mount Air. In 1918, Mrs. Kernan made the grounds available as quarters for Army men who were constructing a railroad [ed.: See the bottom of this page for photographs of the remnants of this abandoned Railroad line.] to Camp Humphreys (now Fort Belvoir). Abandoned lumber from this encampment was used to panel one of the rooms in the main house and to construct a garage. In 1962, Mrs. Kernan left the estate to her daughter, Elisabeth Enochs. Although Elisabeth traveled extensively in her work for the Children's Bureau and as a journalist, her home remained at Mount Air. Sometime in the 1960s, Elisabeth began exploring means of preserving Mount Air. In 1969 the main house was registered with the Fairfax County Historic Landmarks Survey. Several weeks after Elisabeth died in May of 1992, the main house at Mount Air was completely consumed by fire.
It's interesting to note that, according to Fairfax County
, there was a McCarty family cemetery located 300 feet north of the main house. This is presently the location of the driveway of an average, everyday suburban home, and very close to where I parked my car during my tour of the park.
What makes that so interesting?
Well, from the Fairfax County website, while the tombstones
were moved to nearby Pohick Church
, "it was unclear whether any bodies were removed
with the stones."
The moral of this edition of Brian's Commonwealth
? Never take anything
for granted. Unseen history can lie behind any
corner, ready for you to discover for the first time.
Or under any driveway.Update
: 27th of August, 2007.
I have received and read a copy of Edith Sprouse's wonderful Mount Air: Fairfax County Virginia
, and have learned some very
interesting little tidbits about the property:
* The rail which was used to build the spur to Camp A.A. Humphreys (now Fort Belvoir) was originally ordered by the Russian government. When the unfortunate events surrounding the revolution of 1917 came to pass, the order could not be completed, so the rail was instead sent to our new spur alongside Mount Air, where it remains to this day.
* The brick verandah off to the west of the house has what appears to be cement columns. While these are not of long-term archaeological value, they are originally from the Old Botanical Gardens in Washington, D.C., and were salvaged by Mrs. Kernan when it was demolished in the very early 20th century.
* Before the farmland in this area of Fairfax County was allowed to return to its wild state, the estate at Mount Air had visibility all the way to the Potomac River. As late as 1920, it was reported that the view remained that way from the third floor.
* There was a set of lace curtains in the Living Room which were reportedly donated to Mrs. Kernan by a Russian princess.
* General William Walker, who was an American soldier executed in Nicaragua, visited the house shortly before his death in 1856. He left an inscription under one of the eaves of the house, which read: "Cada oveja con su pareja."
* The millstone pictured below served as an impromptu back porch for the mansion. It was originally from George Washington's Grist Mill, and was moved to the estate after the Mill ceased to function.
There's plenty more that I've left out—I highly recommend finding a copy of this book for yourself, so you can learn more about this truly historic plot of land.
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Ye Olde Dominion