In 1902, Willie Lee Clark cleared some timber from his 218 acres of land in Fairfax County to build a home. The house still stands, but the land has been whittled down to little more than six acres, and his son, W.B. Clark, says he is determined not to give that up.
The Fairfax County Park Authority wants the stately, three-story white Clark house and 6.5 acres of land where it sits on a grassy hill along Columbia Pike next to the Barcroft Plaza Shopping Center in Baileys Cross Roads. The authority intends to use the land to expand the adjacent Parklawn Community Park and to make minor improvements in the house so it can be used for community purposes.
Clark says Park Authority officials "talked like they were going to take it; condemn it and take it; it just broke my heart.
"I have no interest in selling and I'm going to fight it all the way."
Standing on his lawn, pointing to Parklawn Park, Parklawn School, the shopping center and the neat homes nearby, Clark said, "I used to own all that land over in there. Now they're trying to kick me out. I never should have sold 218 acres and just kept six, and they got the nerve to come in here and take the last six."
Clark, who is 69 years old, said he sold most of his land in 1952 "so that other people could enjoy it. We just kept six acres to keep the business going here and keep my boys going."
The Park Authority has not yet made an offer to Clark, since the funds for the parklawn Park project do not become available until 1981 or 1982, but the authority is "headed in that direction," according to Louis Cable, assistant director in charge of programs and planning for the Park Authority.
The money for the Parklawn Park project, and many other projects, will be available over the next five years as a result of a Fairfax County bond referendum approved by voters last June. The Park Authority was allocated $39 million to spend on parkland acquisition and development in Fairfax County's eight magisterial districts.
Most of the money is to be spent for community parks "in everybody's backyard," Cable said. That decision was based on results from the county's new Planned Land Use System (PLUS), a comprehensive plan for land use and public facilities.
In the Mason District, where the Clark House sits, $4,540,175 was allocated for 21 development projects and 13 acquisition projects amounting to about 77 acres of land.
The Park Authority hopes "a friendly settlement" can be made with Clark after an offer is made, Cable said. But if that doesn't happen, the authority could take steps to have Clark's property condemned or legally appropriated for public use, Cable said.
While the Park Authority has not yet made any decision to initiate such action, Cable said, "That option is there." If that was the route the Park Authority chose to take, Cable said, it would first have to "pass a resolution to go to condemnation." Then it would approach the Circuit Court, where a panel of commissioners, including experts in real estate and appraisals, could be set up by the court to hear the condemnation case. After the panel heard Clark's case and the Park Authority's, it would reach a judgement, which would be forwarded to the court, Cable said.
"In an urban county like this, there are public service needs" that warrant such action, Cable said.
The Park Authority needs more community parks in the Mason District, Cable said, because under a standard goal established in 1976 to provide 8 1/2 acres of community parkland for every 1,000 people, the Mason District falls far behind. It lacked 288 acress as of March 1977, he said.
Community parks such as Parklawn are generally intended to be used by residents who live within a three-quarter-mile radius. Based on the number of residents who live within that radius of Parklawn Park, the Park Authority says it needs an additional 8.1 acres of land.
The authority needs Clark's property in particular, Cable said, to expand the 3.8-acre Parklawn Park which is adjacent to Clark's land. "It makes good sense where it's appropriate to expand an existing park," Cable said.
He also emphasized that "1961 and '82 is a long way off and a lot of conditions can change."
But the three-year cushion gives little comfort to Clark, who says, "It's just like a big cloud that's come over us."
Clark contends that he already lets people use what land he has left. "The kids plays in there," on a mowed field at the bottom of a hill, "every evening and I'll never put anything else in there."
The bonds that tie Clark to his family home appear as strong as the solid oak from which it was built. "I was born here and when I got married I went right over across the road and built this other house," he says. Clark and his wife, Anna Louise, still live in that home at 3905 Braddock Rd. in Fairfax County. That house is not being sought by the Park Authority.
He grew up in the house on the hill with two brothers and a sister. They explored the big house from the widow's walk to the ground. "Now my little grandchildren come out here and play in the yard," he said, where there are Norway maples, cedars and black walnut trees, flowers, azalea bushes and a holly tree that Clark trimmed into a mushroom shape. And there are purple martin houses, of which he boasts, "I'm famous for my purple martins."
His mother lived in the house, and until she died in 1972, the family kept the large house filled with the flowers she loved. Now his two sons, Larry, 36, and Wayne, 29, live there, along with Wayne's wife Linda and their sons, Robbie, 2, and Joey, who was born in the home one year ago.
W.B. Clark & Sons, Inc. operates out of the house as well. Larry and Wayne run the business now, which their grandfather established 50 years ago. They sell topsoil, firewood, gravel, railroad ties, wood mulch, straw and fertilizer. W.B. Clark retired two years ago and helps out now. Taking a break from the phones in the bright little office, Clark walks around the place, putting his hands in red clover-covered topsoil and exclaiming, "Isn't that beautiful!"
"I hate to give this up on account of my boys," Clark said. "They do over $200,000 a year in business. And if they take it way from us my boys won't know what to do," he said. Clark said if the house and land were taken he would not relocate the business. "Where could you get land for another place with this?," he asks.
As the phone rings, two lines at a time, Clark says, "You see how busy I am? That's why I don't want to give this place up. It's a gold mine, and it would put a lot of men out of work." One of the four full-time employes, foreman John Adams, has worked there about 20 years, and the business contracts much of its work out to seven other people, Clark said.
His sons say they would be very bitter if the Park Authority took the house. "I don't know waht I'd do. I'd never live in Fairfax County again," Larry says. His father reasons with him saying, "It takes a man to smile, Larry, when all else goes wrong."
But later, when the son is back at work, Clark says, "I just love that place and I know it will kill me if I have to give it up."