Historic Huntley has at last been reconnected with its long-lost sibling down the road.
A Federal period villa built in 1825 for Thomson Francis Mason, a grandson of George Mason, Historic Huntley overlooks over the broad valley farmed by generations of Masons and was once part of Hunting Creek Farm, now the site of Huntley Meadows Park. The park has completed its restoration of Historic Huntley, which will open to the public beginning May 19.
“It’s very exciting, and I think it sort of completes the Huntley Park picture,” said Kevin Munroe, Huntley Meadows Park manager, during a media tour Thursday. “Down there, in that park, the people living here in the 1800s, that was their land. So now that this is open, it completes it and connects the two properties, and I think that’s really important to stress that connection.”
Thomson Mason graduated from Princeton in 1807 and practiced law in Alexandria. He served on the town council and was mayor five times. In 1838, he was named the first judge for the criminal court for the District of Columbia.
He and his wife, Betsey, may have used Huntley for entertaining and as a summer retreat. The surrounding farm provided oats, wheat, corn, hay, clover and other crops grown by slave and tenant labor.
During the winter of 1861, troops of the 3rd Michigan infantry camped at Huntley while their division quartermaster and his wife lived in the house. After the war, Huntley was farmed until the 1930s by Albert Harrison. It changed ownership several times, and in later years, after being abandoned, it suffered considerable vandalism.
With help from Congressman Jim Moran, the Fairfax County Park Authority was later awarded a $100,000 grant from the National Park Service, which helped fund extensive restorations. In the following years, the park board approved $3 million for site improvements, including archaeological and cultural landscape reports, the restoration of the exteriors and renovation of the interiors of the manor house.
Restoration of the exterior included demolishing non-period additions to the structure and reconstruction of the exterior to appear as it did in the early 19th century. The site was acquired by the Fairfax County Park Authority in 1989 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Virginia Landmarks Register and the Fairfax County Inventory of Historic Sites.
During the Thursday tour, Karen Lindquist, historic preservation program coordinator, explained how the home’s exterior was originally oiled brick and was later painted toward the end of the 19th century. The restored color reflects the original light yellow paint.
The site also features an ice well for storing not only ice but keeping perishable foods fresh during warmer months, said J.G. Harrington, lead tour guide for Friends of Historic Huntley.
“This was used for decades and decades, and it was the way people kept things cool,” Harrington said. “You had to be fairly well off to have access to something like this, and of course the Masons were very well off.”
The house is at pinacle of a tract of about 800 acres Thomson Mason owned. “It was built at the highest spot in those days because you wanted to avoid malaria, and you wanted to get the best breezes because there was no air conditioning, just like no refrigeration,” Harrington said. “So this was the best spot from all of those perspectives. And it does look out on all of his land.”
The front entrance opens up to provide a panoramic view of the valley and farmlands below. In the 1800s, it was likely you could see Mount Vernon from the house. Today, the view is of trees.
The house, at 1,400 square feet and with two stories, a basement and eight fireplaces, was large for its time, Harrington said. It likely housed 10 to 15 rooms.
The home also includes the original wood floors. “It’s actually one of my favorite things about the house,” Harrington said. “You can tell they’re original for one really easy reason: they’re not all the same width. And at the time when they built the house, they didn’t have modern methods of woodworking.”
The site also includes a separate outhouse -- the “necessaries” -- with seats for four. A learning lab is now located in the manor house basement.
Karen Lindquist, historic preservation program coordinator, said she was excited about the results of the renovation.
“To see what it looked like, and to have it back, is marvelous, because we have too few of them,” she said. “But the process keeps going on and will keep going on. It’s not an end product. And we’ll learn a lot more as we go on and changes will be made, so it’s not static.”
The site will officially open to the public with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 2:30 p.m. May 19. Public tours, entertainment and other activities will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. Event parking is located down the hill at Faith United Methodist Church, 7010 Harrison Lane. The site will be closed during the winter months.
Site administrators are seeking volunteers to help run programs, tours and special events and help care for the site. If you’d like to be a part of the Historic Huntley team, contact Friends of Historic Huntley at FOHHuntley@aol.com or Huntley Meadows Park at 703-768-2525.
Historic Huntley is located at 6918 Harrison Lane, just north to the entrance to Huntley Meadows Park. Visit the site’s webpage for more information.