Where We Live

The Two Worlds of Windover Heights

By Ann Cameron Siegal
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, April 25, 2009

Chuck Sloan's commute to his law office, just off congested Route 123 in the heart of Vienna, takes about two minutes.

Judi Medwedeff walks three blocks from her home to the salon where she's a hairdresser, near the same busy street.

And yet each lives in a 19th-century house tucked away in a hilly, wooded setting. The walk to work takes them along shaded, winding lanes and past other architectural delights with welcoming porches and well-tended gardens.

Life in the historic district of Windover Heights can straddle two worlds. Mala Farrington said the community is perfect for her and her husband, Ben -- the classic town mouse/country mouse couple. "I couldn't live where I wasn't close to everything, and he couldn't live in a concrete jungle," she said.

Daill Hyde was a toddler when her family left Windover Heights more than 50 years ago, but she returned to her childhood home in 1972 to raise her own family. The cedar trees along Windover Avenue are fewer and residents can no longer burn leaves in the street or sled down Lovers Lane without fear of running into cars, but a grocery store is still within an easy walk, just as it was for her mother in the 1940s.

Cow paths, created when Harmon LeRoy Salsbury's dairy farm dominated the area in the late 1800s, were paved to become some of the neighborhood's narrow lanes -- several with turns so tight that they're challenging to navigate by car.

The Windover Heights historic district, known locally as the Hill, was established by the city of Vienna in 1979. It was carved from the broader Windover Heights subdivision, which was originally delineated in 1894.

Sloan said the smaller neighborhood was in danger of being consumed by Vienna's commercial area. Absentee owners, high turnover and a lack of maintenance left many homes looking shabby.

Whether the revitalization of the neighborhood or the historic designation came first is a periodic chicken-and-egg debate in the community. "Each upgrade gave others confidence this was going to be a stable neighborhood," Hyde said.

A stroll around the neighborhood today -- and by foot is really the only way to savor it -- reveals the efforts by residents to preserve the neighborhood's walk-through-time character.

You won't see air-conditioning compressors or window units marring the exterior of the Sloan house. "We didn't want AC because we wanted to hear the children playing outside," Daphne Sloan said. Residents say the neighborhood's elevation and tree canopy help keep temperatures down in the summer.

With its original siding and trim, the Sloan house is representative of late-19th-century architecture, while the Medwedeff house is an example of the painstaking remodeling many Windover Heights residents have done.

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