A 214-year-old house that served as the home of a British customs collector, the headquarters of Yankee Civil War officers, and the detention site of Hitler's foreign affairs counselor during World War II, has been destroyed by arson.
The house, Bush Hill in Franconia, is the latest in a series of historic and other sites to be destroyed by arson, a major crime that cost Americans a total of $63' million in 1975, according to figures compiled by the National Commission for the Fire Prevention.
Last fall, the 134-year-old home of Burke's first postmaster, John Marshall, was destroyed by fire, and the children's Theater in the Woods at Vienna's Wolf Trap Farm Park burned four weeks later. Both were the work of arsonists, police said.
Bush Hill, owned by Fairfax engineer Bruce C. Cuunnell, was once owned by the British customs collector oat the port of Dumfries, Va. behind its 12-inch thick brick walls, and in 1942, President Roosevelt ensconced Hitler's piano-playing counselor, Ernst (Putzi) Hanfstaengl at the former plantation.
Roosevelt wanted the Hitler aid nearby Virginia Gunnell said yesterday, because he knew Hitler's voice well. Hanfstaengl could immediately recognize a stand-in on the radio in case of Hitler's death.
Until a week before the fire, Bush Hill was used as a nursery school. It has to be abandoned, however, because vandals broke into the 16-room house a week ago last Sunday and destroyed the interior Mrs. Gunnell said.
Although her husband had nailed plywood across all windows, vandals returned again and it was set afire. Alexandria fire investigator Everett D. Dailstock said he has no suspects in the fire.
All of the metropolitan Washington jurisdictions rate arson as a major cause of fire in their communities. In Prince George's County, where set fires caused $4 million in damage last year alone, it "is the single leading cause of fire," said Capt. Duncan H. Munro.
Although in some jurisdiction, like the Distirct, Alexandria and Prince George's County there were fewer cases of arson in 1976 than in the pevious year, fire officials attribute this decline to incresed manpower in their investigative units.
"We were able to get special arson teams composed of two policemen and two firemen each who are assigned to every suspicious fire causing over $5,000 in damage," said District Fire Chief Joseph R. Jeffrey. "Like in everything else, word gets around that there's an arson unit." Jeffrey explained, "and also we are able to make more thorough investigations."
The District had 311 cases of arson last year compared with 333 in 1975. Total damage decreased slightly from $2.8 million to $2.4 million.
Prince George's County had 942 set fires in 1976 compared with 1,037, in 1973. Munro said, "We are giving it a very high priority. We believe we've stabilized the problem, but we haven't solved it."
But fire officials in Arlington and Montgomery counties said they have seen increases in arson although they do not have statistics readily available.
In Fairfax County, 506 fires in which arson was definitely detected or was suspected, were reported in the first 10 months of 1976. (Fairfax fire officials do not have separate figures for two groups). In 1975, there were 403 such fires.
Fairfax County faces a problem apparently unique among the metropolitan jurisdictions - the torching of new homes under construction. This crime increased four-fold over the past year. (Fairfax is particularly vulnerable to there fires because it is the site of much construction.)
In 1975, only four new homes under construction were destroyed by fire, but in the first 10 months of 1976, 16 had been destroyed. Several of those homes were in the same 5-square-mile area - between Braddock Road and Burke Lake Road south of Fairfax City, Lt. Richard L. Stone said.
"Most are done between midnight and 5 a.m. and the arsonists use trash and combustible materials hat construction workers have left on the site," Stone explained.
One Thanksgiving Day, another house beihg built was destroyed by fire at 2 .m. in the Middle Ridge subdivision just south of Fairfax City. The house was valued at $40,000.
According to Sgt. Wayne Logan of the Fairfax fire marshal's office, construction workers found a hole burned in the floor when they returned to work.
One year ago, approximately $200,000 in damage occured in a 2-month period to homes under construction in the same general area, near Country Club View, Robinson High School and King's Park West subdivision.
In Alexandria [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Prince George's County, however, it is a different type of arson that predominates - fires in storage and trash rooms of multifamily dwellings.
Of the 124 "suspicious" fires in Alexandria last year, 96 were in multifamily dwellings, and the majority were set in the storage rooms of gardentype apartment buildinga, Dailstock said.
Arlington fires have often been set in automobiles parked in garages under Crystal City apartment buildings. A man recently was apprehended for turning in false alarms. Chief Frank B. Kaye said, and he fires have stopped.