The 16-acre Paxton property in Leesburg has been unused for nearly a year, but local residents and community groups have dozens of ideas for what do with it.
The 50 people who gathered at Leesburg Town Hall on Wednesday night lack the authority to make a formal decision on the property, which is east of Ida Lee Park. But the Rev. John R. Ohmer, who organized the meeting, said he hoped the discussion would help dissuade the estate's trustees from their plan to demolish the buildings and sell the property.
The property was owned by Rachel Paxton, the widow of a wealthy industrialist from Pennsylvania. When she died in 1922, her will specified that her 32-room manor and surrounding buildings be used to benefit "convalescent" children, which originally meant those recovering from illness but was later interpreted by courts to include poor and neglected children. The manor most recently housed the Paxton Child Development Center, which reserved a number of places for disadvantaged children. The center closed in June.
"This is not a battle of my choosing," said Ohmer, who, as rector of St. James' Episcopal Church in Leesburg, is automatically a member of the estate's board of visitors, which advises the trustees. "Mrs. Paxton entrusted her faith community to see that her will was carried out." Ohmer said the board of visitors planned to submit the recommendations in a report to the board of trustees.
The Leesburg Town Council expanded the town's historic district in May to include the Paxton estate, preventing a demolition permit from being issued. The trustees sued the town, and the case is still in the courts.
Opponents of demolition contend that the trustees want to sell the property to focus on issuing grants and scholarships. They also point out that the site, also known as Carlheim Manor, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The 1870s Victorian-style mansion and stone outbuildings are considered rare examples of Loudoun County architecture just after the Civil War.
In addition to the buildings' historic value, others cite their practical uses.
"A lot of the childhood diseases are gone, but that doesn't mean we're running out of needy children," said J. Randall Minchew, a lawyer who represents the board of visitors.
A telephone call to the office of Grayson P. Hanes, a lawyer representing the trustees, was not returned.
Several people at the meeting Wednesday suggested that the property be used as a facility for autistic youths, consolidating the Leesburg administrative offices of The Arc of Loudoun County, a group that provides support for people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities, and Aurora, its school in Purcellville.
"They would have a better connection with the school and reduce overall expenses," said Chuck Allen, whose 9-year-old son attends Aurora.
Elizabeth Burns, a mother of four young children who lives at a family shelter while her husband stays at a nearby men's shelter, recommended that the manor be used for tutoring homeless children. "They're failing for no fault of their own but because they have no continuity," Burns said.
Alfred Dennis, who owns a 125-acre farm in the Leesburg area, urged that the Paxton property not be turned into another subdivision.
"We're very concerned about growth everywhere and that there won't be any open space," he said.
Comments on the Paxton property can be submitted until Friday for inclusion in the report to the board of trustees. Call 703-777-1124 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.