Before he even bought the ring, David Cuff knew exactly where he would get married.
As a child, Cuff, now a 36-year-old history buff, used to ride his bike up the former tobacco plantation’s gravel road. He has long admired the historic 1740 home. So when he wanted to marry Jenn Petko, he knew for sure: Bel Air was the place — it always had been.
“It was basically the only thing I cared about. I knew I wanted to marry her, and after we got Bel Air, I knew I could propose,” Cuff said of the former plantation, which sits hidden on 25 acres of land in Woodbridge and is owned by Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large), chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors.
“I did it backward,” Cuff said with a chuckle.
“It’s a look into our past,” Cuff said of the cemeteries. “We can learn about a lot from people who are buried there.”
Petko, a third-grade teacher at Triangle Elementary School, said, “I teach Prince William County history, but he’s really into it.”
“I’m kind of a nerd about it,” Cuff said in a stage whisper.
The historic Bel Air home is at the core of Cuff’s dreams. He loves digging up seeds of the past; he nearly held his breath during a tour of the grounds last week as Stewart shared a tidbit about a feast that was given on the front lawn after the Battle of Yorktown. He thinks that the author of the story of George Washington and the cherry tree, Parson Weems, might have even penned the tale there.
It was a piece of writing that finally connected Cuff, who grew up in Woodbridge, with the house on the hill.
Cuff, who knew Stewart had bought the house a few years ago, found a book about a former landowner. He reached out to Stewart, and when he and Petko arrived at Bel Air to drop it off, they were treated to a tour and stayed for hours.
“It’s definitely original,” said Cuff, who said he bought a ring after Stewart agreed to host their wedding there.
And for the couple and their 75 guests, Bel Air was free. Stewart didn’t charge them for the grounds (but they hired Stewart’s wife as their caterer).
“You know, we’re not fancy people,” Petko said. (“Speak for yourself,” Cuff chimed in.) “So it’s nice that the wedding had a laid-back feel to it.”
On the guests’ tables at the June 20 wedding were pink, ivory and mint centerpieces and place cards with typed out details of an 1843 wedding at Bel Air between Marine Lt. Robert Tansill and Frances “Fannie” Ann Weems. (Robert was 34 years old at the time and his bride, the “beautiful Fannie Weems,” was 18, said the card, which also featured the couple’s headstones.)
“It was beautiful,” Petko and Cuff said in unison. “We had people who lived a mile from here and never knew it was here,” Cuff said.
“On Google Maps, when you look at a satellite view, you can barely see a structure,” he said. “Some people thought it was a wood stick house, and then they got here and saw this grand brick house, and they were just shocked.”
The only thing the couple worried about was an incoming storm. They said it was as if the rain waited for them to take pictures, and then fell.
“People were drenched,” Petko said.
“And water kept building up on the tent,” Cuff said. “So we had to push it from up above, and it would just spill over the sides.”
Stewart, in the middle of a downpour, told the guests to come inside as soon as the storm let up. But no one moved from the party tent; they just kept dancing.