Save Araby Property

Charles County is fortunate to have within its boundaries beautiful and historic properties. I have the great privilege to be the owner of the historic home and part of the historic property known as Araby. I am awed when I think about how George Washington came here as a visitor. In Colonial times, the historic Araby property belonged to a well-to-do merchant and his wife, William and Sara Wilbeck. The Wilbecks' daughter, Ann, married George Mason, who is famous for his authorship of the Virginia Bill of Rights, which served as the model for the U.S. Bill of Rights. Mason Springs gets its name from the Mason family, which owned this property for many years.

In the 1930s, Araby was acquired by Admiral Frank-Jack Fletcher and his wife, Martha. The admiral is well known to World War II historians for his pivotal role as commander of the carrier Yorktown at the Battle of Midway. Many people in the community remember the Fletchers. Mrs. Fletcher was, I am told, a founder of the Charles County Garden Club. She was instrumental in the rebuilding of General Smallwood's Retreat.

Today, the unique Araby estate, its natural settings and views practically intact, is threatened by the proposed developments of Falcon Ridge and Hunters Brooke. Advocates of development in this area confuse the issue when they attempt to limit the description of the historic resource to the historic house. The house is just one of a number of important elements which contribute to this historic landscape.

As owner of the historic Araby house, I have been asked how a portion of the landing belonging to Araby is now owned by the developer of Falcon Ridge. In 1974, Martha Fletcher, who was then widowed, chose to sell Araby. She was advised to divide her property into two parcels. The smaller of the two parcels, including the house, was offered for sale. The balance of Araby remained hers, and when she died shortly thereafter, it went to her heirs. I was never an owner of this portion of Araby. The heirs, who were never residents of Charles County, were interested in selling their part of Araby. It is this acreage which is now owned by Arlington, Va., developer Mohammed Tobah, and it is here he proposed building 184 homes.

I am extremely disappointed that the county planning commission has been so willing to accommodate the Falcon Ridge proposal. This land is, after all, still historic property. Just because the acreage was sold separately, the historical importance does not disappear. The developer claims that there will be no impact on historic Araby. I wonder how 184 houses can be built on Araby land and have no impact. Where is the county's concern in protecting historic property? Charles County commissioners have recently announced a "Passport to History" program for schoolchildren to visit and learn about the rich history of the local area. Will students be visiting Araby only to see a cluster of new homes crowded close to this historic house? Or will they be seeing an estate with all the feel of Colonial times? Are there so few places in the county where homes can be built that the county should approve an intense development on historic land? But the impact on Araby will be even greater than this 184-house development, because Falcon Ridge has been linked to Hunters Brooke, meaning a 503-house village will be erected beside Araby, forever changing its rural character and not at all in keeping with the Colonial aspects of this 300-year-old estate. Would you characterize this change as "no impact"?

It was gratifying to see the interest demonstrated in history when the Charles County commissioners pledged funds and the publisher of the Maryland Independent newspaper spearheaded the effort to purchase the letter written by General George Washington to General William Smallwood in 1783. A great success story! Hopefully the efforts by Save Araby, Mattawoman, & Mason Springs (SAMMS) will be equally successful.

There are parallels between these efforts. Certainly we all share a reverence for history and an interest in preserving important artifacts for future generations. But there are differences, too. For one, had the campaign to purchase the letter failed to bring it to Charles County, I doubt that this historic letter would have been destroyed. But if these developments are allowed to be built, this land will be permanently lost to history. It is evident that there is great interest in Charles County about its history and heritage. If there is a need for homes in the county, must they be built on this land, which, in addition to being historically significant, is also environmentally sensitive, and where intensive development would be so out of place? Surely, this land has a far greater window into the past.

ELLEN CLINE

Indian Head

A VA Success Story

The VA saved my life!

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Retired Master Sergeant

Washington