Huntley's past in full view

by E Bellizzi August. 11, 2017 698 views
The view from inside historic Huntley House looking at what was once a clear view all the way to the Potomac River.  Today, despite the growth of various trees, it remains a stunning vista.

The view from inside historic Huntley House looking at what was once a clear view all the way to the Potomac River. Today, despite the growth of various trees, it remains a stunning vista.


She opened the back door and the view took my breath away.

I could have stayed there for hours, imagining what was beyond the lush vista ahead. He picked an incredible location. Others felt the same: “The house stands boldly on a hill spur, looking over broad acres of corn, rye, wheat, oats, and fertile meadow - a sight to see.”*

He certainly should’ve known about quality home locations. His grandfather was the owner of some the most prime real estate in Virginia: Gunston Hall, home of one of our Founding Fathers, George Mason. So, Thomas Francis Mason knew a thing or two about where he wanted to build his summer retreat, called Huntley. Considered an outstanding example of the Federal villa style of construction, historic Huntley is on the National Register of Historic Places.


Restoration and conservation


The Fairfax (Virginia) County Park Authority purchased the buildings on the Huntley grounds and the surrounding 2.75 acres in 1989. Restoration work that began in 2010 brought Huntley back to its external appearance in the early 19th century and made the interior suitable for exhibits, learning labs, and other cultural programming. The project also included restoring the remaining outbuildings - the ice house and the privy - to their early 19th century appearance.

The importance of Huntley’s restoration was not lost on the National Park Service (NPS). Huntley was awarded a $100,000 grant from NPS’s Save America's Treasures program, which was created to preserve significant historic properties and collections.

Items from a time long ago unearthed on the historic Huntley property

Items from a time long ago unearthed on the historic Huntley property


Passing through the house visitors can walk in Mason’s steps: with the exception of a few beams that have been replaced, the original floor remains. According to my tour guide, “When they did the renovation, every brick, every nail was cataloged and they dug down to the foot of the foundation and looked at everything.”

One of the most exciting results of the renovation was the beautiful, detailed work that was uncovered by conservators working on the fireplace. After removing 200 years of layers of paint, “we are reluctant to put paint back on it,” said my tour guide. Who can blame them, it looks remarkable!

Close up photo of the incredibly detailed craftsmanship of Huntley's fireplace- buried under centuries of paint - now visible thanks to restoration efforts.

Close up photo of the incredibly detailed craftsmanship of Huntley's fireplace- buried under centuries of paint - now visible thanks to restoration efforts.


Carrying on a legacy of public service

Thomas Mason (1785-1838) lived most of the year at his primary residence in what is now Old Town Alexandria (Virginia). He served as as a prominent lawyer, mayor, justice of the peace, president of the Middle Turnpike and Alexandria Canal companies, and the first judge of the District of Columbia’s criminal court.

A full-time overseer was responsible for managing the 624 acres of farmland that was once part of this estate, much of which is now a preserved parkland, Huntley Meadows Park.

View from the front of the house looking inside.

View from the front of the house looking inside.



Captivating view, always a fresh breeze

“One thing to remember while you’re up here (in the main house) is that while they had trees, they were nothing of this height (that we see today),” said my tour guide. “It was mostly farms out here so you have to imagine there aren’t any (tall) trees or roads, or any infrastructure and you could see all the way to the Potomac (River) Bay. So, there was always a very fresh breeze.”


During Mason’s time, when cities weren’t very clean, it was very common for people to get out to the country for the health benefits that came with taking in fresh air. There were three epidemics during Mason’s time in Old Town Alexandria.


This lovely, red brick passageway leads to the front door at historic Huntley.

This lovely, red brick passageway leads to the front door at historic Huntley.


The war came to its door

“One account during that time (the Civil War) is from a man sitting out here and he can hear the First Battle of Manassas,” said my guide. “So, there were no trees, no buildings to absorb that, and you think of that constant pounding for hours and hours, 30 miles from here. Sobering, certainly.”


Closer to home, during the winter of 1861, troops from the 3rd Michigan Infantry camped at Huntley.

After the war, the property was sold to Albert W. Harrison and Nathan W. Pierson, who were farmers from New Jersey. In 1871, they divided the property. Harrison kept the portion containing Huntley, which remained in his family's hands until 1946.



Constant vigilance for heritage protection

Friends of Historic Huntley (FOHH) is a non-profit citizen group committed to working with the Fairfax County Park Authority to ensure the preservation, restoration and appropriate use of Historic Huntley and to enhance the public’s knowledge of the site and the broader historic development of the neighborhood.

FOHH continues to monitor ongoing land use planning for potential impacts to historic Huntley’s viewshed. Most recently, FOHH, Friends of Huntley Meadows Park, and Fairfax County worked together to protect Historic Huntley’s viewshed from a proposed plan by Dominion Virginia Power. As a result, Dominion will modify its power rebuild project along the southern boundary of Huntley Meadows Park.

The privy on historic Huntley property.

The privy on historic Huntley property.


Learn more

  • The grounds: The grounds at Huntley are free and open to the public daily from March to November from dawn to dusk.
  • Huntley tours: Huntley is open for tours from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturdays from the end of April to October. For details, see the Huntley Meadows Park site: fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/huntley, call the park at (703) 768-2525, or find Friends of Historic Huntley on Facebook.

*1875 Syracuse Journal report of a visitor to Huntley.

Join the conversation
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There are 7 comments , add yours!
Sigrid Strohschneider-Laue 1 year, 1 month ago

What a great story!

1 year, 1 month ago Edited
Pete Fitzgetald 1 year, 2 months ago

Great story and photos, thank you for sharing.

1 year, 2 months ago Edited
E Bellizzi Replied to Pete Fitzgetald 1 year, 2 months ago

Thanks, Pete! This is one of those places, I'm sure we all have them in our town that fall under the category of "I should visit that place someday!"  Finally did :) - B

1 year, 2 months ago Edited
Daanish Farhan 2 years ago

What a great series! Love the info and knowledge and nice composed shots!

2 years ago Edited
E Bellizzi Replied to Daanish Farhan 2 years ago

Thanks so much.  Greatly appreciated! I think walking on the original floors was the neatest part of the tour!

2 years ago Edited
Tawnya Boe 2 years, 1 month ago

All of your photos tell this great piece of history!  #5 must be favorite. stars I like the leaves in the foreground, at the top - it's unique. The brickwork is dreamy. I want that. lol ....excellent editorial to accompany the photos. Thanks for sharing this! 
p.s. I left a reply for your comment on my "rustic old train station". Some folks here aren't getting notifications of their replies, so I thought I'd mention it.  :)

2 years, 1 month ago Edited
E Bellizzi Replied to Tawnya Boe 2 years, 1 month ago

Tawnya, pardon my delayed acknowledgement.  Thanks so much!  I like #5, too...imagine riding up to that front door!  I will say it was an incredibly hot day when I took these...and I wanted to moan and complain.  Then you remember: Oh, these folks didn't have AC and they still got up every day and made things happen!!  Hope to have my next story posted next week.  Thanks for flagging your reply to the train station blog.  You're right, I didn't receive a notification.  Regards, Beth

2 years, 1 month ago Edited
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