The gray clapboard farmhouse still stands where Jeff Carter and his friends built it 70 years ago, on the highest point of what was then his farm on the edge of McLean.
Jeff Carter died 10 years ago, and nearly half of the three acres where he raised his family has given way to modern roads and subdivisions of compact houses. Soon the dilapidated farmhouse will go, too.
But Jeff Carter's daughter, 62-year-old Lucy Carter Carrick, is not so easily moved.
"This is my daddy's land, my land," she said decisively last week, "I could never leave it."
Lucy Carrick is the last of the four Carter children to remain on the homestead, and under an unusual real estate agreement Carrick and her husband recently completed with a local developer, she won't be leaving.
The affection Lucy Carrick has for the land is apparent. Last week, as she stood on the porch of the old farmhouse, she fondly recalled her childhood there. She pointed to the spot where her family kept the chickens and the cow, the old pump house that provided water long before there was indoor plumbing, the fruit trees she climbed as a girl, collecting peaches, pears and apples for her mother, who turned them into rows and rows of jars of preserves.
Carrick and her husband Theodore moved to the house shortly after her father died in 1971. But in the past several years, the Carricks, who shared the home with Lucy's brother Russell until his death two years ago, found it increasingly difficult to maintain the old house.
County officials began to hint about condemnation. Neighbors complained the house was an eyesore. And the Carricks, whose only income is Theodore Carrick's retirement benefits, were having trouble paying the taxes on the 1.8 acres of the original farmland that they still own.
For a while, the Carricks and Russell Carter considered selling the land and buying another house. But the idea of leaving the land came hard to them.
In 1980, the Carricks asked McLean real estate agent Deborah Alexander if she had any ideas. She did, and after several months of negotiations, she helped the Carricks conclude a land trade with a local developer, Eugene M. Lawson, Jr. of American Homecrafters Ltd.
In the agreement, the Carricks traded Lawson 1.4 acres for a new house built by Lawson next to their old homestead and $10,000 cash. The Carricks kept two-fifths of an acre, the site of their new house.
The Carricks are pleased with their new, three-bedroom rambler, finished only last week. On a tour of the small white house, they pointed proudly to the cathedral ceiling over the living and dining rooms, the wall-to-wall carpeting and the new kitchen appliances.
Lawson, in his McLean headquarters, said he is equally pleased with the deal, which he said was attractive because undeveloped land is hard to come by in McLean and because he did not have to sink any cash into the land purchase.
Lawson plans to raze the old farmhouse soon and build three houses, similar to the Carricks', on the remaining land. The houses are expected to sell for about $150,000 each. He said he expects to make a $30,000 profit, which he said is half of what he could have made if he had purchased all 1.8 acres.
"There is no doubt that it would have been more profitable to buy the land outright from the Carricks and build four houses on it," said Lawson. "But that is not what made the deal attractive. It was a chance to do something good for good people and for the area. The only difference between one builder and another is his reputation for accommodating his clients."
Lawson said the Carrick house is worth about $130,000, or the value of the land he received in the deal. He said the house and the cash bonus paid to the Carricks cost him about $100,000. He also paid $30,000 to Lucy Carrick's sole surviving sister, who would have inherited part of the land. Lawson said he has been paying taxes on the 1.4 acres, amounting to $5,000 a year, since 1980 when he took over the land lease and began working to obtain the many permits needed to build the Carrick house and develop the remaining land.
Fairfax County has assessed the Carrick's new house, just off Dolley Madison Boulevard, at $117,000; the 1.4 acres the Carricks traded to Lawson is assessed at $116,500.
"This was a very human approach to a human problem," said Alexander, the Carricks' real estate agent. "That is what made it an unusual business transaction. The deal was economically feasible for the builder and economically feasible for the Carricks as well,"
When the Carricks first came to her, Alexander said, she advised them that if they decided to sell the land, it probably would not bring enough to buy a new house in McLean, where the average home price is $200,000. By trading the land, the Carricks also were able avoid a capital gains tax.
"It was a case of cooperation working to everyone's advantage," she said.
Lucy Carrick said she won't be upset when the bulldozers come and tear down the house where she grew up. "It was a happy house," she said. "Full of good times and good memories. But it's old and ready to go."
Theodore Carrick isn't so sure his wife will feel the same way when workers actually begin razing the old home.
"She won't be able to watch," he said. "When the time comes she will be hurting, so will I. The passing of a house is like the passing of a loved one."
During the negotiations with Lawson, Lucy Carrick remained firm on one point. She insisted that her new home be built next to an old holly tree, which now stands as a dividing mark between her childhood home and her new house.
"My daddy planted that holly tree," she said. "He brought it up from the river where he used to go fishing. I was maybe 10 years old when he planted it there and I've watched it grow.
"I could never leave it."