The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors this week unanimously approved a historic district of about 70 acres, centering on Georgetown Pike and Chain Bridge Road in McLean.
The new district, to be known as Langley Fork, Contains six 19th century buildings, including Ethel Kennedy's Hickory Hill home. Kennedy has supported the historic district, as have the owners of the five other historic buildings and several residents. A number of residents were indifferent to the plan, however, and two opposed the historic designation, according to a neighborhood survey by Dranesville Supervisor Nancy Falck.
The most vocal opponents have been Philip Nadeau, who owns a 1930s Amoco gas station at Georgetown Pike and Chain Bridge, once the site of a blacksmith shop, and Mortimer Liebowitz, owner of Morton's Department Stores, who owns a 1912 house and 19 acres zoned for half-acre lots on the edge of the historic district.
At a public hearing before the supervisors Monday, an attorney for Liebowitz, Michael Giguere, asked that most, if not all, of the Liebowitz property be excluded.
Supervisor Martha Pennino (D-Centreville) said she couldn't see how a historic district could create much of a hardship for anyone "because it doesn't restrict development." The board voted, however, to delete most of the Liebowitz property, except for a section along Georgetown Pike.
The board rejected Nadeau's request for exclusion of his gasoline station. Nadeau told the board simply, "I do not wish to be included." In an interview last week, Nadeau's wife Nanci, said, "We're opposed because there's nothing really historic about our property and we already have enough restrictions on our business."
The Depression-era gas station is in a residential zone, but is permitted to stay in business because it predates Fairfax zoning ordinances.
Designation as a historic district does not change the zoning of any land or prohibit development, but it does protect historic buildings from demolition or unsightly development nearby. Any new buildings or changes to buildings within the historic district -- any construction that requires a building permit -- must be approved by the county Architectural Review Board.
Donie Rieger, a member of the Fairfax history commission, told the supervisors the new historic district would protect "the county's earliest roads and hamlets and one of the few to remain relatively unchanged" over the past 100 years. Georgetown Pike "was one of the main arteries west in the 18th century" Rieger said, and there are still hay scales and many historic artifacts buried around its intersection with Chain Bridge Road, once known as Little Falls Road.
The quiet crossroads has been threatened by development since the 1950s when the state highway department proposed widening both Georgetown Pike and Chain Bridge Road. That widening would have meant the demolition of at least one historic building, and pavement up to the front doors of two others. A committee of local residents, including John F. Kennedy, then living at Hickory Hill, the home he later sold to his brother Robert, persuaded the highway department to drop the project and reroute Chain Bridge onto what is now Dolley Madison Boulevard.
In 1974 another group succeeded in having Georgetown Pike declared a historic Virginia byway. The pike, once known as Sugarlands Rolling Road, was a privately built toll road where tobacco casks were rolled from inland farms down to the Potomac River.
Besides Hickory Hill, the new district includes the Langley Toll House, where fees once were collected on the private toll road, and Langley Ordinary, a tavern for drovers and farmers and a Civil War headquarters and hospital for Union troops.
Three churches also are included in the district: Gunnell's Chapel, a small, wooden church built for blacks after the Civil War, and two Methodist churches, one now Langley Friends Meeting House and the other the home of the Country Day School.
Jo McCormick, whose family owns the Country Day School (Mackall House) and strongly supports the historic district, said last week her family unearthed numerous 18th and 19th century objects while restoring a barn behind the school, now the family house. Included among the finds was part of a Confederate soldier's headstone. The name is missing but the inscription reads, "7th Georgia Regiment, July 21, 1861."
The county also has applied to have Langley Fork designated a federal historic district. If approved, it would restrict use of federal funds for any road or other construction projects within the district. Some undeveloped Central Intelligence Agency land along Georgetown Pike is included in the district.
Langley Fork is the first county historic district to include a large number of buildings. The eight other districts were established to protect Woodlawn, Sully and Huntley plantations, Colvin Run Mill, Dranesville Tavern, Bull Run Stone Bridge and St. Mary's Church. The county's most famous historic sites, Mount Vernon and Gunston Hall, are considered adequately protected, since they are surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods.
Fairfax planners already are working on a 10th historic district to protect Hope Park Mill, also known as Robey's Mill, one of the county's few surviving mills with machinery still intact. The 1820 plantation on Pope's Head Road includes the original mill, a miller's house, slave quarters, dairy and spring house. Hearings on the proposed district are expected to be scheduled this fall.