main banner

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Oak Hill, Annandale's oldest house, welcomes visitors one day a year

People lining for up for a peek inside
The annual Open House at Oak Hill Saturday afternoon drew a mix of history buffs, curious neighbors, descendants of the Fitzhughs, and former residents to the oldest house in Annandale.

Oak Hill, at 4716 Wakefield Chapel Road, was built in 1790 by Richard Fitzhugh, a great grandson of William Fitzhugh, who owned a large tract of land in Fairfax County known as the Ravensworth Tract. By 1782, Ravensworth was the fourth largest plantation in Fairfax County and had 203 slaves. There's more information on the Look Back at Braddock History website.

Among the famous guests who visited Oak Hill was Thomas Jefferson, who most likely slept in a room on the first floor, says Mary Lipsey of the Fairfax County History Commission. Over the years, the house, originally built in the late Georgian style, has gone through some extensive changes. It was expanded in 1830, restored and remodeled in the Colonial Revival style in the 1930s, and a sun room was added in the 1970s.

Former residents and Fitzhugh descendants with Fairfax County
Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova and Braddock
Supervisor John Cook (on the right).

The house was saved from development twice. The Yeonas Construction Co., which built the Oak Hill subdivision, had planned to tear it down, but John Mathers stepped in and purchased the property in 1969 to prevent it from being destroyed. He lived there with his family for five or six years.

Amanda Scheetz 
“It was in terrible shape,” said Mathers at the Open House. “The first thing I did was tear out the elevator.” He put in new plumbing and wiring and used authentic materials to repair the floor. His daughter, Mary, who was 6 when her family moved in, says living in the house was a “magical” experience and give her and her brother a lifelong appreciation of history.

The second time the house was threatened was in 1995 when then-owner Andrew Sheridan, a dentist, sold it to Seville Homes, which planned to build two large houses on the property.

Oak Hill Citizens Association President Jan Hedetmiemi recounted how her neighbors and Sharon Bulova, who was then the Braddock District supervisor, rallied to save the house. The Northern Virginia Conversation Trust got involved and a deal was brokered with Steve Korfanta of Seville to back off from his plan to tear it down. Oak Hill remains privately owned, but the county got a historic preservation easement on the property, which means it can’t be changed.

The living room

The easement also requires the property to be open to the public one day a year. Members of the Oak Hill Citizens Association spent the past week weeding the yard, painting the fence, and clearing debris from the yard to prepare for the Open House, Hedetmiemi says.

During the event, authors and researchers Dennis Howard, Maddy McCoy, and John Brown gave presentations on the history of the African American community at Oak Hill. Staff from Frying Pan Park organized pony rides for children, student musicians performed, and the Annandale High School culinary department provided treats, including historically appropriate Johnny cakes and hardtack.

Among those with a family connection to Oak Hill was Betty Plant, a descendant of Henry Fitzhugh, who came to the Open House from Pittsburgh. She says Henry’s father, William Fitzhugh, immigrated from England to Jamestown in 1670 and married an 11-year-old heiress.

The current owners, David and Amanda Scheetz, have lived in Oak Hill for two and a-half years with their three children. It does have central heating and air conditioning, but it’s not easy living in a house built more than 200 years ago, says Amanda, a strings teacher at Cardinal Forest and Orange Hunt elementary schools. The roof leaks at times, and it was “a nightmare during Hurricane Hannah. There was a foot of water in the basement.”

The Scheetz’s filled in the swimming pool that was put in by the a previous owner and created a garden based on a design from at Mount Vernon. They didn’t find any hidden treasures when they moved in, but Amanda says the Howreys, who bought the house in the 1930s, found a lot of Confederate money stashed under the floor boards.

You’d expect a house like that to be haunted and Oak Hill doesn’t disappoint. Amanda Scheetz says she’s heard footsteps at night, which she thinks could be connected to the legend of Miss Anne, the daughter of the first Fitzhugh who lived there. On a trip to England, she fell in love with a Captain Hawkins. Back in the colonies, he came to visit her at Oak Hill. When local men heard that a British soldier was in the house, they came after him. They thrust bayonets into the wooden trap door behind which Anne and the captain were hiding. Anne, who was just 20 at the time, was killed; Hawkins survived.

“Except for the rush-hour traffic on Wakefield Chapel Road, you wouldn’t know you’re in the middle of the suburbs,” she says. And someone driving long Wakefield Chapel Road wouldn’t know Oak Hill was even there, as it’s hidden behind trees and giant boxwoods, some of them planted 200 years ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment