Elliot and Vicki Haugen have always enjoyed country living, with its wide-open spaces and lush greens.
But when the couple moved to the Washington area from Missouri seven years ago, they didn't expect the country. They were resigned to accept that it would be nearly impossible to find large gardens, let alone a spacious piece of property, within a 20-minute commute from Elliot's job in downtown Washington.
Then one of Elliot Haugen's co-workers suggested he visit Lake Barcroft, a community that surrounds the 135-acre lake of the same name in Fairfax County. He found a green neighborhood, with water views and beach access, tucked away off Columbia Pike seven miles from the District line. "You usually think of lake communities in far-off locations or places that are not as developed," he said.
There are 1,044 households that belong to the Lake Barcroft Association, the community association that owns and runs the lake and provides residents access to its five small beaches. Of those houses, 225 are on the waterfront. All residents pay $260 annually in homeowners fees, plus an average of $600 per home toward maintaining the lake and dam, said David Goslin, president of the association.
The neighborhood's houses, built during the 1950s, were modestly designed, Goslin said. Today, many have been heavily renovated; styles include unassuming ranchers and sophisticated Colonials. Lots are about half an acre, with most sporting lush trees, well-manicured lawns and carefully plotted gardens.
Swimming, fishing and wind surfing are allowed on the lake, as are some small boats. It is also home to wildlife including beavers, great blue herons, geese and sea gulls.
"You just don't know how nice it is until you've been out there," said Heather Thomas, a three-year Lake Barcroft resident and a real estate agent with Long & Foster in McLean.
Once people move to Lake Barcroft, they stay put, Thomas said. "Turnover is enormously low," she said. She estimated that in many neighborhoods in the region, people tend to move every five years. In Lake Barcroft, she said, "People know their neighbors and will live here for 40 years."
Because of the slow turnover, it can take some patience for newcomers to find a house. "Usually, once someone makes the decision to come to the neighborhood, it just takes finding a home that suits them," Thomas said.
"There's a guy, [who doesn't live in Lake Barcroft,] that keeps coming to the newcomers club," she said. "Now, he'll eventually move here once the right house becomes available."
The lake was built early in the 20th century by damming Holmes Run. It was surrounded by thick forest and used as a reservoir, said Anthony Bracken, 71, a neighborhood resident and author of the book "Lake Barcroft History."
By mid-century, with the construction of a new reservoir in Occoquan, Lake Barcroft became an expendable surplus for the Alexandria Water Co. In 1950, the water company sold the 135 acre lake and 566 acres of surrounding land to developer Joseph V. Barger for $1 million, said Bracken, who spent a year researching the neighborhood for his book.
Without a major commercial anchor, home sales were initially slow. In 1950, there was no Capital Beltway or many of the communities along Columbia Pike and near Seven Corners.
As the suburbs grew, however, home sales in Lake Barcroft began to flourish, Bracken said.
On June 21, 1972, the remains of Hurricane Agnes dumped record-setting rains along the East Coast. The rain caused an earthen portion of the lake's dam to give way, according to Bracken's book. Residents awoke to discover the lake had drained completely.
After a period of shock, residents re-grouped and formed a Watershed Improvement District, which enabled the community to levy taxes and float a bond to restore the lake and strengthen the dam.
Those times were difficult, but served to unify the community, Bracken said.
Barcroft's amiable vibe, said Phillip Kemelor, 48, was a major factor in his decision to move his family from Capitol Hill to Lake Barcroft five years ago.
"It was pretty wild to see how nice the lake was," Kemelor said, recalling his initial visit to Lake Barcroft.
"On Capitol Hill you [can] walk 10 minutes to get a cup of coffee. But here you can walk 10 minutes to get to the beach," said Kemelor, as he played catch with his son, 5. "It's a pretty good trade-off."
Vicki Haugen, 55, said her family knows more neighbors by name than they have in any other place they have lived.
"You see people out walking and you actually know them," added Elliot Haugen, 58.
"People in the community are from a lot of different backgrounds and the lake acts like the glue that holds this community together," he said.
Goslin, 68, the president of the Lake Barcroft Association, said he has noticed the demographics of the neighborhood slowly change as long-time residents age and move on.
"There're now zillions of children on the beaches and the community is filled with a great civic spirit," said Goslin, a resident since 1989. "It's a very unusual place. The lake is the center of the community."