There's a slice of honky-tonk half way between Fairfax City and Centreville, where every Saturday night for more than 45 years couples have danced the Texas two-step, the cotton-eyed Joe and the waltz, all to the twang of live country-western music.
For the patrons who come from Chantilly, Manassas and Baileys Crossroads, Hunter's Lodge at the corner of West Ox Road and Lee Highway is home, where you met your betrothed, and for some, where your children did the same.
For country-western musicians, Hunter's Lodge was where you performed when you were nobody and where you showed up for 3 a.m. jam sessions when you were somebody. Loretta Lynn played there. Willie Nelson played there. Mel Tillis played there. Jerry Lee Lewis tried to play there but was kicked out for having a bad attitude, legend goes.
This summer is the Lodge's finale. On June 2 the Lodge property was sold to the San Diego-based Price Company, which plans to tear it down and apply for zoning to build a convenience store, according to vice president Don Howell.
Lodge regular Sunshine Cocergine has organized a petition drive and so far has gathered about 200 names of people who are opposed to the club's destruction, but officials in the Fairfax County planning office say there is no way to fight it.
Tommy and Doris Sanders, who own the license to operate the Lodge, are planning a farewell blowout with five bands Aug. 30. Doris Sanders said that she is looking for another location for the club but so far has not found one.
"Sad. It's not so much what we're going to do. It's just no place to go," said Doris Sanders, who with her husband took over the club in 1982 after a decade as regular customers. "This is a place that does not change."
The club's popularity, and its decor, have seen little alteration since the early 1940s, the earliest old-timers can recall. (County records confirm the club existed before 1941.)
Every Saturday night the dirt parking lot fills with cars and pick-ups, and every weekend a house band and a guest band take to the stage with fiddle, pedal-steel guitar and bass to play classic country oldies first recorded by Hank Williams and George Jones as well as newer, country rock tunes from groups like Alabama.
From the outside, the Lodge resembles a barn. Inside, the wooden walls, floors and low-hanging beams complete the down-home feel. The Lodge seats up to 400 and its lively atmosphere is often described as family-like. Here, customers order long-neck Coors or Bud Lites from the beer-only bar, ladies in full denim skirts with white flounce swirl across the sizable dance floor, men with cowboy hats, boots and beards greet one another with hearty backslaps.
This is a place where newlyweds Davida and Skeeter Michael took their wedding party Saturday after the reception. "I met my wife here," explained Skeeter on his nuptial night, dressed all in white from trousers to cowboy hat.
"I'm 45. I've been going there the Lodge since I was 18, 19 years old. When I first went it was a rough and ready place. They packed 300 people in there . . . . I love the people that come there. If I didn't go there after my wife died I'd have gone nuts," said longtime patron Nick Nicholson.
Gary Justice, whose father Roy, a country-western musician, owned the bar between 1966 and 1982, is still a regular. "I grew up here. Mel Tillis discovered his bassist here. This place is music. It's heritage. It's country. It's the last of the big honky tonks in the area . . . . I met my first wife here. I met my second wife here. And I met my girlfriend here."
"I'm going to cry my eyes out when it goes down," said Lucy Hotchkiss, who began coming to the Lodge in 1957.
Maxine Faircloth, who owned the Lodge property between 1962 until she sold it to the Price Company in June, said she is sorry to see the Lodge's destruction. Faircloth sold about 45 acres to the Price Company in total, including the Lodge property."Progress has to go on," she said.