Day One Hundred Eighty: June 28
My adopted hometown of Northern Virginia, like my hometown of Atlanta, has the nasty habit of plowing its history under with yet more asphalt, yet more concrete, and yet more sprawl. But beneath the hurry, generations of Virginians lived here and died here. Six miles north of my house lies Sully, the 3,000 acre estate of Richard Bland Lee; son of Henry Lee of Leesburg, brother of “Whitehorse” Harry Lee, brother of Charles Lee the Attorney General under Presidents Washington and Adams, and uncle of General Robert E. Lee. In 1958 the Federal Government seized all but 65 acres of the old Lee estate to build Dulles Airport, the first of many affronts to history on this land.
Meanwhile, eight miles south, the post road grew up between Alexandria and Fauquier Court House (now Warrenton) in Virginia. At the crest of a long, low ridge, a tavern was built, that spot being fortuitous because it was halfway between Alexandria and Fauquier Court House. Appropriately, the trading village that grew up around it was named Centreville because it was the center of the trip between two much more established cities. A mile north of the tavern, where the post road intersected Sully, the Lee estate, was the marked place where the post road turned off the path to Sully. This place was named Sully Station. Those roads stand today; the post road is now U.S. 29 Lee Highway, the road to the Lee Estate is Virginia State Route 28, Sully Road, and the neighborhood and post office at the juncture of the two is named Sully Station. We are living in history that dates back to the early 1720s.
Today’s picture from the life in a day was taken at Cabell’s Mill, three miles northeast of the Centreville tavern. Built between 1753 and 1759, Cabell’s Mill operated as a water-powered grist mill until 1916 when the Walney Family acquired the mill and converted it into a guest house. Over the years it was acquired by the Lawrence family, and when the last surviving member, Ellanor Lawrence, died in 1971, she willed all her land to the county for use as a park. Today Walney Road cuts through E.C. Lawrence park; on the other side of the park is the estate of the Machen family, German immigrants who opened the tavern three miles south where the Centreville Regal Cinemas now stands at the intersection of Machen Road and Sully Road.
Next time you fly in to Dulles Airport, if you land on a northerly heading, look down at the ground just before you land. There, at the south end of the airport, you’ll find the ruins of Willard, Virginia, condemned by the state in 1960 because it was on land to be part of the new Dulles Airport. Most of the houses and buildings have decayed without upkeep, but you’ll still find a latticework of streets and decrepit buildings out on the southern edge of the airport campus. Willard Road used to run from Chantilly, Virginia to Willard, Virginia, but now that Willard is no longer, Willard Road instead just dead-ends abruptly at the Dulles Airport boundary fence.
The small town of Floris, Virginia has met a similar, but not identical fate. Floris, most notable for hosting Fairfax County’s Frying Pan Farm Park and the Kidwell Farm, was a thriving community until the late 1950s. Since then, it has been squashed by the northward sprawl of Chantilly and the southward sprawl of Herndon. Floris is still a census-designated place and rates a tiny sign on Centreville Road that simply says “Floris”, but you’ll never see it on the map.
The fair lakes at Fair Lakes still stand at the corner of Fair Lakes Parkway and Fairfax County Parkway, though by now they have had artificial fountains installed in them to increase the “atmosphere” (and the rent!) at the nearby office park. There is a rich history beneath the layers of townhomes, parking garages, and shopping malls. Speed through and you may miss it. But stop to read the highway markers and you will discover there is much more than meets the eye to this place. We are more than just polyglot big-box stores and Starbucks.
We are dust to dust, ashes to ashes, but those that went before us connect us to a sense of place. Temporary as we may be, we make impacts here that can outlast us.