Historian Susan Hellman led 30 rapt listeners, Wednesday on a “virtual stroll” down Sherwood Hall Lane, visiting at old homeplaces and edifices.
Hellman titled her presentation, “A Stroll Down Sherwood Hall Lane: In Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Sherwood Library.” Hellman, on the staff of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is Assistant Director at Woodlawn Plantation and was formerly the historian for Fairfax County Planning and Zoning.
She began with a photograph taken in 1904 showing the predecessor of Sherwood Hall Lane, a broad dirt road built in 1856, called “The Turnpike.” A major artery, the full name was the Alexandria, Mount Vernon, Accotink Turnpike. It led from Patrick Street in Alexandria out to Fort Hunt Road (where it begins at Route 1, which did not exist at that time), then turned right down what is now Sherwood Hall Lane and went all the way down to present-day Route 1 before angling south towards Mount Vernon.
The first home along The Turnpike, or present-day Sherwood Hall Lane, was “Little Hollin Hall,” on the high ground on the left about a half-mile from Fort Hunt Road, at 1901 Sherwood Hall Lane. (Author’s note: The house cannot be seen from the road these days and is private. No photographs are allowed.)
An earlier name for the original section of this structure, built by George Mason III in 1721, was eventually “The Spinning House,” because that’s what it was used for. It became an outbuilding for another structure built later that first used the name “Hollin Hall.” Hellman said she believes the name came from the ancestoral manor of the Mason family in England.
This home, located about 100 yards from present-day Mount Vernon Unitarian Church on Wind Mill Drive in Mason Hill, burned in 1793. “The Spinning House” was then added onto and would later take the name “Little Hollin Hall.”
The mansion at Mount Vernon Unitarian Church, built in 1919 by Harley Peyton Wilson, is the present-day “Hollin Hall.”
Quakers purchased Woodlawn Plantation and later Little Hollin Hall plantation in the mid-1800’s to set up a “Free Labor Community.” These plantations employed whites and free blacks for wages in an effort to prove to Southerners that running plantations did not require enslavement of African Americans.
It was the Quaker Paul Hillman Troth and three other Quakers who bought Woodlawn in 1846, and his sister Elizabeth Troth Gibbs and her husband would buy “Little Hollin Hall.” In turn, their daughter Maria and her husband Charles Ballinger built “Sherwood” in 1859, now 7702 Midday Lane. Nancy Urban and her husband now own “Sherwood.”
Close to “Sherwood,” the Ballingers built “Sherwood Hall,” which looked like a small white frame church though with no steeple, in 1900, as a community meeting house, specifically for the Mount Vernon Circle of the King’s Daughters. “Sherwood Hall,” which named the lane, was demolished in the 1940’s. Its location had been at Sherwood Hall Lane and Kirkside Drive.
Descendants would build yet another home, “Little Sherwood” (1929) a short ways down at 2204 Sherwood Hall Lane.
In addition, there is the charming home “Squirrels Nest” (circa 1875 to 1909), originally built by the Zimmerman family, at 2300 Sherwood Hall Lane, and now owned by Don and Lynn Roberts.
Hellman also led her listeners further down Sherwood Hall Lane to Gum Springs. Named for a distinctive gum tree, the community was originally know as “Gum Spring” (without an “s”).
West Ford, a Mount Vernon slave born in 1784 and freed in 1805, founded the community in 1833. It provided farms and homeplaces for other freed blacks.
It is here that the massive edifice of Bethlehem Baptist Church now stands, its congregation originally founded at that site in 1863. A school, operated at the original church building, was taught by Quaker teachers who came from Woodlawn.
The graveyard for this church was the Coleman Cemetery nearby on Collingwood Road.
Hellman, ending her talk on a modern note, spoke of the significance of the Hollin Hall community with its 463 contemporary wood and glass homes built between 1949 and 1971. It was the first development in the Washington area and notable for its designs that left trees standing, harmonized with the landscape and gave residents privacy.
Among those attending Hellman’s talk were Ronald Chase, Director of the Gum Springs Museum, and Don Roberts who owns “Squirrels Nest” with his wife Lynn.