Mount Vernon area residents fight to save Woodlawn Stables

May 9, 2012

Mount Vernon area residents are rallying to save the Woodlawn Stables, a longtime community fixture threatened by a road widening project.

The privately run stables are part of the Woodlawn Plantation, a 126-acre estate that was once part of President George Washington’s Mount Vernon property. It now is owned by the nonprofit National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pope-Leighey House also was relocated from Falls Church to the Woodlawn property in the 1960s, after it was threatened with demolition because of the widening of Interstate 66.

Route 1, which runs through the Woodlawn property, is slated to be widened to accommodate the growing work force at Fort Belvoir. As part of the most recent Department of Defense base realignment process, Fort Belvoir gained thousands of employees from several defense agencies last fall, as well as a new hospital.

Federal transportation officials are in the process of determining the final alignment for the highway widening project. Woodlawn is not the only historic property that could be affected; Woodlawn Baptist Church’s cemetery sits close to the road, making widening challenging.

Officials are considering several alignment options, including a bypass that would cut through the stable property.

“There are pros and cons to both options. We don’t like either one, but we don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Susan Hellman, acting director of Woodlawn.

Supporters of Woodlawn Stables quickly sprang into action when they heard the viability of the stables was threatened by the road widening.

“We treasure it. It’s got a very big connection with the community,” said Shelley Castle, a former student and one of the founders of Save Woodlawn Stables. “Everybody in the community went there, even if you weren’t part of the equestrian community.”

The facility stages horse shows and used to host polo matches.

In addition to being concerned about preserving a cherished community space, Castle said it would be difficult to find new homes for the horses of Woodlawn Stables. Some of the 50 horses there are privately owned, but others are actively involved in the riding lesson program or are retired.

“We’re not saying we’re against widening Route 1; we just don’t want to see a business close down for no reason,” she said.

Save Woodlawn Stables has gathered more than 3,000 petition signatures so far, and the news has generated hundreds of e-mails to Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon).

Hyland said he also wants to see the stable facility be preserved and is trying to arrange a meeting among the parties involved.

“It’s a special place,” Hyland said. “This has been a very important part of the community.”

In a statement, National Historic Trust President Stephanie Meeks said the bypass option meets the Federal Highway Administration’s requirement to minimize harm to historic properties.

“The southwest bypass alternative would cause less harm to the historic setting of Woodlawn, by moving Route 1 further away from the national historic landmark and other historic resources such as Woodlawn Baptist Cemetery and Grand View,” Meeks said.

She said that, if the road project affected the stable property, federal rules require the FHA pay for moving costs and other expenses to reestablish Woodlawn Stables at another location.

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