The Arlington County Board has launched the process of selling one of the last remnants of Arlington County’s agrarian past, a 118-year-old farmhouse that some activists wanted to save for a community and education center.
Board members voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of selling the Reeves Farmhouse at 400 N. Manchester St., saying that attempts to find nonprofit partners to share the $3 million cost of repairing and operating the building had failed. Now, they said, is the time to sell the house while preserving most of the land around it.
County officials emphasized that they will add restrictions to any sale agreement that prevent the demolition of the two-story farmhouse, which overlooks Bluemont Park from atop a popular sledding hill. Off to the side is a collection of raised-bed gardens tended by public school students. It operated as a 168-acre dairy farm until 1954, when patriarch Nelson Reeves retired. Most of the land was subdivided and sold for homes, but Reeves continued to live in the house and garden the property until he died in 2000.
The county bought the remaining 2.5-acre property from his heirs in 2001 for $1.8 million to expand Bluemont Park. It was designated a local landmark in 2004. But after that, little attention was paid to the house itself until the local residents and historic preservationists suggested options for how to use the house. Several consultant studies warned that it would cost significant sums to repair the property and make it usable to the public.
In 2012, the county set aside $500,000 for basic structural repairs to the house and spent about $90,000 to fix the roof, rebuild the porches, paint the house and replace gutters and damaged windows. The foundation still needs work, a new heating and ventilation system is needed, lead paint needs to be removed and doorways would have to be widened if the house was to open to the public, a county report said.
Two formal requests for proposals of interest to the public did not bear fruit, officials said.
The nonprofit Reevesland Learning Center tried to persuade the county to make the house into an agricultural learning center. But despite broad public support, the group could not raise the money county officials said was necessary to make it happen.
Joan Horwitt, founder of the center’s predecessor group Lawns to Lettuce for Lunch, said the county should treat the house as it treats other park property and maintain it, rather than ask a community group to pay for the work.
“The overwhelming sentiment in the community is to rehab the farmhouse,” said Horwitt, who also faulted county officials for allowing the building to fall into disrepair. “It’s all been ignored.”
County officials pointed out that several other parks and community centers operate with a public-private partnership and warned of setting a precedent at the Reeves site. Board member John Vihstadt (I) noted Tuesday that it’s not even the oldest farmhouse in the county — that recognition goes to the Ball-Sellers House, which is owned by a local historical group.
In May 2015, the board voted to sell the then-116-year-old farmhouse because of the cost of renovations. But the vote, which came only 24 hours after it was announced, drew quick criticism from political candidates, including two who are now on the board — Democrats Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol.
A coalition of neighborhood and historic preservation groups emerged in the summer of 2015 and offered to buy and restore the property, but it could not develop a business plan that would let its operations be self-sufficient. The group disbanded and donated the money it raised to the local community foundation.
Dividing the property will allow the county to keep the sledding hill, the garden plots and a historic milk shed in county hands, county officials said.