When Theodore Roosevelt visited his friend Presley M. Rixey in Arlington, the president liked to ride his horse around the property and stop at this log cabin for ice cream.
The 1836 cabin was built out of chestnut logs by farmer Caleb Birch on land he inherited from his grandfather James Robertson. A second log cabin was joined to the first about a decade later, with a continuous roof, or “dog trot,” as it was known, connecting the two.
Rixey, who had been White House physician for Herbert Hoover and Theodore Roosevelt, purchased a large tract in Arlington in 1899 for a summer home. The log cabin was part of the property, but Rixey didn’t live there. He built a grand mansion that is now the central building of Marymount University.
The log cabin, which had been uninhabited for many years and covered in brush and Virginia creeper, was discovered by Richard Wallace while he was clearing part of Rixey’s land for the Washington Golf and Country Club course. Wallace had worked in the White House, chauffeuring Roosevelt’s children to and from school but had left to work for Rixey.
Wallace fell in love with the cabin, and Rixey deeded it to him. Local lore has it that Wallace is said to have persuaded Rixey to alter the golf course by moving the No. 10 green rather than destroy the cabin. This story doesn’t seem to hold up, given the location of the cabin and what is now the 12th hole (then the 10th hole) at Washington Golf. But Johnathan Thomas, past president of the Arlington Historical Society and historian at Washington Golf, says he finds the story credible because he thinks the cabin has been moved.
Eleanor Templeman, who has written extensively on Arlington history, makes a similar claim in her writings about Birchwood, as the cabin became known. She also wrote about how much Roosevelt liked Wallace’s ice cream, and how Wallace allowed Roosevelt to lick the paddles once he had finished churning.
When Walter Horn and his wife bought the cabin from Wallace in 1936, it had fallen into disrepair. The two schoolteachers lovingly rebuilt the cabin by taking it apart and reassembling the logs and chimneys. They found old coins in cracks between the logs that dated from the late 1700s. They also discovered a Civil War bayonet behind the back porch.
“Their vision of its potential charm and historical value have preserved what is one of the oldest-standing houses in Arlington County,” Templeman wrote in “Arlington Heritage: Vignettes of a Virginia County.”
The Horns eventually leased the log cabin to the Birchwood School, a private nursery and kindergarten that ran from the 1950s to the 1970s.
Jane E. Coates, a real estate agent, bought the home in 1975 and rented it out over the years. She claimed in a 1989 Washington Post article that the log cabin is haunted by Caleb Birch’s ghost. According to what Coates told The Post, the ghost was more playful than threatening. He turned lights on and off, moved photos and opened cabinet doors.
As the stories of the ghost spread, Coates received several unsolicited offers to buy the home. But she turned them all down.
“My husband calls it my playhouse,” she told InsideNova in 2007. “I love showing her off.”
The two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,320-square foot home is listed at $715,000.
Listing: 4576 26th St. N, Arlington, Va.
Listing agent: N. Jay Thierry, Century 21 New Millennium
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