Maps put Independent Hill at the northeast corner of the Quantico Marine Base, nine miles south of Manassas. But even though the name has been a part of Prince William County history for more than 160 years, don't go looking for a quaint country town. There isn't one.
Independent Hill is a place without boundaries, let alone the community associations and clubhouses that characterize much of suburbia. To those who drive through, it's the still somewhat-rural crossroads where Route 234 (Dumfries Road) joins Route 619 (Joplin Road). The few houses are widely scattered. The town center, if there is one, seems to be Samsky's, a 56-year-old general store.
But to some, it's home. Sam Keys, a native, and his wife, Betty, have lived on Joplin Road for more than 50 years. "There were only four or five houses and an undertaker's house nearby then," said Sam Keys, a carpenter who built their cozy Cape Cod himself for less than $2,000.
Family hands dug the well. "If we didn't do it ourselves, it didn't get done," he said.
Betty Keys liked it that way. Now, she said, "It's much too crowded for my taste."
Although the population isn't dense, traffic coming from more-developed areas has become a concern. Pam and Larry McAllister won't let any of their six children walk the block to the soft-serve ice cream window at Samsky's because the trip involves crossing Route 234. Larry McAllister, a resident for 29 years, said that it sometimes takes 20 minutes to make a left turn from his driveway onto the highway, adding, "Then you take your life in your hands."
The origin of the name Independent Hill seems to be a mystery. Some say it's because the area is 426 feet above sea level and folks there have always prided themselves on being independent. A more popular story involves a man named Hill who often closed his store at odd hours whenever he felt like going fishing, leaving folks to say, "There goes independent Hill."
Records show that the community had its own post office from 1841 to 1931. Col. William R. Creighton, Union commander of the 7th Ohio Infantry during the Civil War, reported a skirmish at Independent Hill in March 1863. Cole's store, mentioned in reports during the war, appears to have been a gathering place for soldiers from both sides.
These days, the din of traffic in front of John Samsky's stone Cape Cod is unrelenting, drowning out conversation as Samsky's wife, Fay, and three of their grown children sit under mature backyard trees, reminiscing about this central Prince William County community.
When Keith Samsky, 41, and his older twin sisters, Debbie Hamilton and Betty Walker, were growing up, Independent Hill offered them outdoor adventures almost without boundaries. "It was just our friends here," Hamilton said. "We got to appreciate being outside in nature."
Their free time was spent climbing trees, playing baseball or building bonfires by the sledding hill. "We were never bored," Walker said.
So comfortable were the 3-year-old twins with the rolling hills and woods around their house that, unbeknownst to their parents, they struck out on their own on the three-mile trek to their grandmother's house.
Their frantic mother caught up with them far down the rural road. Hamilton recalls telling her they were careful to step to the side when "that big truck came by."
The Samsky family once owned 400 acres of farm land on what is now Marine Corps Base Quantico; Samsky's Ridge became part of the Marines' training grounds. John Samsky, 81, subsequently paid $10,000 for 193 acres of what he describes as "almost worthless land" in Independent Hill. He recently sold one acre adjacent to his home for $149,000.
While the extended family raised cattle, hogs and chickens, Samsky and his brother Andy ran the general store. His four children each helped in the store from the age of 7.
As teens, Samsky's children inadvertently thwarted their father's efforts to make some money from the pinball machines at a former recreation center next to the store. "We had keys to the place," Keith Samsky recalled, "and always invited our friends over to play for free."
John Samsky now leases the store and has sold most of his land, retaining about a fifth of the original acreage. The 132-acre George Hellwig Memorial Park, developed in the 1980s, was once part of his property. A neighborhood library and the Park Authority's headquarters also occupy the site.
Today, Independent Hill shows up in datelines when the county school superintendent makes a pronouncement because the school administration offices are there, on the grounds of what was once an Air Force radar station. The county's animal shelter, landfill and juvenile detention center also are in what's generally regarded as Independent Hill, although each bears a Manassas postal address.
Prince William County is one of the nation's fastest-growing, but it's unlikely Independent Hill will see dense residential development anytime soon. Dumfries Road is one boundary of the county's designated Rural Crescent. According to Raymond Utz, chief of long-range planning for the county, the area west or south of that boundary is zoned for 10-acre lots. The area east, around the landfill, is slated for light industrial development, but details have not been determined.
The Virginia Department of Transportation has, however, begun extensive upgrading and widening of Route 234. In the process, a portion of the road will be rerouted to avoid a dangerous bend at Independent Hill. . Ryan Hall of the transportation department said that part of Dumfries Road would probably revert to a local-use street with a new route number and name.
The possibility that diverting traffic would have a calming effect on Independent Hill appeals to the Samsky clan. Said Walker, "Then, it might . . . [change] back to what I grew up with. You might be able to hear the birds sing again."