Landmarks At Home On Register

By Kafia A. Hosh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 12, 2008

During the summers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, wealthy Washingtonians escaped the city's blistering heat to cool off in vacation homes nestled along the Blue Ridge Mountains. More than 100 years later, many of the houses still boast their original architecture.

Last week, the houses' appearance helped them earn a spot on the Virginia Landmarks Register, a list of sites important to the state's history. The designation was awarded to the Bear's Den Rural Historic District, which covers about 1,900 acres along the Loudoun and Clarke counties line. About 20 percent of the district's 152 buildings are within Loudoun, said Chuck Johnston, Clarke's planning director.

Also named to the register last week was the Arcola Slave Quarters, a stone building that housed up to 32 slaves. Loudoun officials had announced plans to refurbish the building into an educational resource center, and they said last week that the listing in the Virginia register will make the project eligible for larger state and federal grants.

Clarke officials nominated the Bear's Den district for inclusion in the register. The listing does not require Bear's Den property owners to comply with any architectural guidelines but rather reflects the county's policy of documenting its historic resources, Johnston said.

Bear's Den is Clarke's fourth rural historic district, Johnston said. The county held two public meetings in the past year at which dozens of residents spoke in favor of the nomination, he said.

Most of the district's buildings are houses, and a few are outer structures such as barns, stables and garages. The homes include quaint cabins and elaborate houses. They have scenic views of the Piedmont to the east and the Shenandoah Valley to the west.

Many of the houses were built with stones native to the area and have their original roofs and windows.

"It's a unique collection of really well-preserved buildings," said Maral Kalbian, an architectural historian who prepared the county's nomination. "Often changes can be made to buildings that affect their architectural integrity. In this case, you have very few cases of that."

The houses were once owned by members of Washington's elite, including doctors, entertainers and real estate investors who spent their summers in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Many are still owned by Washington area families, but the majority are occupied year-round, according to the nomination report.

The Arcola Slave Quarters is believed to be one of the few stone slave quarters left in the nation. Loudoun officials nominated the building for the state register.

The structure, owned by the county, lies within the Arcola Center project, a planned 400-acre development that will include retail, office and residential areas. Buchanan Partners, the project's developer, has promised to provide $500,000 toward the cost of restoring the slave quarters, which will be furnished to look as it did before the Civil War.

Some have estimated that the restoration project will cost $3 million to $4 million. But the county will not have an official estimate until a restoration plan has been completed, said Steve Torpy, assistant director of the Loudoun parks department.

The county's efforts to raise money from grants will be aided greatly by the building's inclusion in the state register, Torpy said.

"That is when we go after the big dollars," he said. "I don't see this nomination as an ending point; I see this as a beginning in the next step of the process."

Arlean Hill, president of the volunteer group Friends of the Slave Quarters, said she hopes the county follows through on its plans to restore the stone building.

"You can't just adopt a baby and let it starve," said Hill, whose ancestors were enslaved on an adjacent property. "You have to respect our heritage, and part of that respect means that you have to preserve some of our history."

The Bear's Den Rural Historic District and the Arcola Slave Quarters also have been nominated for the National Register of Historic Places.

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