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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Oak Hill, Annandale's historic gem, welcomes visitors once a year

Oak Hill

Once a year, Amanda and Dave Scheetz open their house for public tours, while county leaders greet visitors.

While the Scheetz’ are gracious hosts, the event is a county requirement: It’s part of the easement they must comply with for living in Oak Hill, the oldest house in Annandale, in the midst of the Wakefield Chapel community.

This year’s Oak Hill Day featured displays from local history groups, farm animals from Frying Pan Farm Park, music performed by a Lake Braddock Secondary School students, cookies made by Annandale High School culinary students, and remarks by Fairfax County Supervisor Sharon Bulova and Braddock Supervisor John Cook. Several descendants of former residents dropped by, too.

 Oak Hill is thought to have been built in 1790 by Richard Fitzhugh, a great grandson of William Fitzhugh, who owned the 22,000-acre Ravensworth Tract.

The Scheetz created a garden, based on historic designs, where a previous owner had put in a swimming pool.
The house has been expanded and modified in subsequent, and much of the property has been sold off to developers. It currently has six bedrooms and five and a-half bathrooms on a two-and-a-half acre lot with many 200-year-old boxwoods. The owners are prohibited from making any architectural changes to the historical parts of the house.

Cricket, a goat from Frying Pan Park
During the Oak Hill open house on Sept. 29, a volunteer guide, John Brown, of A Look Back at Braddock, recounted several stories about happenings at Oak Hill. One famous visitor was Thomas Jefferson, who slept there, most likely in a first-floor bedroom.

In 1861, there was a shootout in the Oak Hill kitchen between three Union scouts and four Confederate cavalrymen. At the time, Oak Hill was in between the Southern troops stationed in Fairfax and the Union army, which was within 10 miles of Alexandria, Brown says, so spies and scouts frequently traveled through the area.

Then, there’s the story about the ghost of  “Miss Ann,” Richard Fitzhugh’s daughter, who fell in love with a British soldier. During the Revolutionary War, troops from the Continental Army searched the house looking for him. The family was hiding him and Ann in a secret room. The captain escaped, but the troops killed Miss Ann by mistake. People who had been in the house over the years say they’ve heard what sounds like the officers’ boots running up the stairs.

That story is probably not true, Brown says, because the house most likely hadn’t been built during the Revolutionary War. Judy Anderson, whose mother was born in Oak Hill, says her mother “was adamant that the ghost story was a myth.”

From the left: Joyce Deputy, Amanda Scheetz, Dave Scheetz, and Judy Anderson.
Current owner, Dave Scheetz,  has heard strange noises in the house, however, and says a few weeks after moving in, there was a strong odor of gunpowder. “We couldn’t explain it, and it never happened again,” he says.

Anderson was at Oak Hill Day with her sister, Joyce Deputy. Their mother was part of the Watt family, which owned the house from 1896 to 1930. During that period, the property had 200 acres with fruit orchards.

The Watt’s sold Oak Hill to the Howrey family, which put in bathrooms and electricity. In more recent years, attempts by developers to tear down the house were beaten back by community residents, local historians, and county officials.

Buying the house was an “emotional decision,” says Dave Scheetz, a government contractor who acknowledges he has “an unhealthy interest in history.” The previous owner was a developer who had declared bankruptcy, and it had been on the market for several years, when the Scheetz bought it in 2008. The house had started to degrade, the roof was leaking, and the property was overgrown, he says.

Two of the chimneys were damaged in last year’s earthquake and had to be replaced, says Amanda Scheetz, a music teacher at Keene Mill Elementary School. “The earthquake shook up the house pretty well. It swayed like a rubber house,” she says, and there are several new cracks.

The Scheetz’s haven’t found any hidden treasures inside. There are probably lots of old items buried on the property, but the easement prohibits them from digging up the grounds and disturbing the artifacts.

Mark Whitenton and Paul Goss of Company D of the 17th Virginia Fairfax Rifles, a Civil War re-enactment group, give a rifle lesson at Oak Hill Day.

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