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Monday, October 23, 2017

New residents of Oak Hill enjoy 'owning a piece of history'

Oak Hill is all that's left of the 23,000-acre Ravensworth Tract.
Joe Braceland, the new owner of Oak Hill, the oldest house in Annandale, didn’t even know the mansion existed six months ago.

Joe, his wife Laura, their two daughters, ages 9 and 13, and their two cats moved into the historic property this summer, he said on Oak Hill Day Oct. 21.

One of the rooms open to visitors on Oak Hill Day. 
Because of the house’s important place in Fairfax County history, the owners must abide by a long list of easements, including the requirement that the home be open to visitors one day a year.

As a result, the Bracewell family was standing by as strangers trooped through the home’s first floor while a volunteer guide discussed Oak Hill’s history, architecture, and famous guests, including Thomas Jefferson.

The Georgian-style Oak Hill mansion was built in 1790 by William Fitzhugh on the Ravensworth Tract. It’s been added to over the decades, but several original elements of the house remain, as well as many huge boxwood plants, some of which are more than 200 years old.

Joe and Laura Braceland
Owners have to abide by an 18-page easement that requires them to maintain the historic character of the house, forgo adding on to it, agree not to divide up the property, and take care of the boxwoods, among other things.

The Bracelands had previously lived in Annandale, then moved to Fairfax. “We were perfectly happy where we were,” says Joe, who works in IT. After Laura saw the “for sale” sign for Oak Hill, “we took a look and we all fell in love,” he says.

Laura, a graphic designer and preschool teacher, is a big history fan, Joe says, while he was happy to find a house with a huge yard. Oak Hill is in the midst of a suburban neighborhood and is not clearly visible from the street.

The previous owners, David and Amanda Sheetz, moved out of the area after living at Oak Hill since 2008, when Fairfax County saved the mansion from a developer. According to county property records, the house sold for $1.42 million.

“Every day we wake up and realize we own a piece of history,” Joe says.

The dining room
Living in a historic property can be challenging, he notes. “It keeps me busy on weekends.”

The day they moved in, on one of the hottest days of the year, the air conditioner wasn’t working, the sewer was backed up, and the cellar area was covered in mud.

“We’re learning a lot about boxwoods, including the different pruning techniques for English versus American boxwoods,” Joe says.

The room where historians think Thomas Jefferson slept.
The Bracelands have heard all the stories about the ghostly happenings at Oak Hill – Ann Fitzhugh was stabbed to death there, the legend goes – but they haven’t seen or heard anything suspicious.

There are rumors about items being mysteriously switched around on the mantel and a blood stain on the ceiling. Joe attributes the so-called blood stain to chimney dust that got wet. And he says the story about Ann Fitzhugh couldn’t have happened because the timing doesn’t add up. She was accidentally killed by a Continental soldier during the Revolutionary War – decades before Oak Hill was built.

“If it’s a friendly ghost who would help with the dishes,” he says, “that would be great.”


  1. If only we can turn the clocks back we would actually be living in a nice place.

  2. Your article was much better than the “tour”. What a wasted trip to see nothing.