Forman and his wife, Lee Forman, needed the space because they wanted to use it for a museum for the bags that Lee collected for 40 years.
“I retired in 1999,” he said. “In 2001, my late wife convinced me that we needed to start a museum of bags.”
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Lee’s love affair with bags began with limited-edition Bloomingdale’s shopping bags designed by well-known artists. Her collection grew to more than 9,000 items and included bags from presidential campaigns going back to 1948, a record store bag signed by the Beatles and a cheeseburger bag signed by Elvis Presley.
“We started looking for a home, a place where we could store the bags and use the bags and do what we needed to do,” Forman said. “Prospect Hill met that requirement with the room over the garage.”
It seemed they were fated to buy the house. When the real estate agent handed Lee a booklet with the houses that met the Formans’ requirements, she dropped it on the floor and it opened to Prospect Hill. The Formans put a contract on the house in 2001, but the sellers withdrew it from the market. It went back on the market the following year, and the Formans’ offer was accepted.
“We launched the website [for the museum] at the beginning of February 2007, and at the end of the month, she found out she had cancer,” Forman said. “She fought it for two years and lost.”
After Lee died, Forman’s enthusiasm for the bags waned.
“I worked at it a little bit but not real excited, because it was her thing, not mine,” he said.
When the University of Akron in Ohio expressed interest, Forman happily donated the Lee L. Forman Bag Collection to its Institute for Human Science and Culture in 2019.
Soon after the Formans bought Prospect Hill, they started to learn about its past.
“We had a smattering of history,” he said. “We knew shortly after we bought it, for example, that it had supposedly been a stop on the Underground Railroad. We knew that it was started in 1854 and was the farmhouse for the neighborhood that’s now Greenway Heights.”
Eloise Lorenze, a neighbor, researched the Greenway Heights neighborhood for a Girl Scout project and uncovered more history of Prospect Hill. According to Lorenze’s website, greenwayheightshistory.com, Prospect Hill was the home of Thomas J. and Lydia L. Carper. Their 415-acre farm, much of which is now the Greenway Heights neighborhood, was known as Bellview.
Thomas Carper was a Union sympathizer during the Civil War, and records show that he had emancipated three enslaved people in 1855. But the 1860 Census Slave Schedule still has him owning 10. In 1861, when Confederate troops threatened to burn down Bellview, a neighbor saved it. After the Civil War, Carper was reimbursed for losses he suffered.
Although the property was broken up over the years, the house remained in the Carper family until the 1960s. George Wallace Carper, who ran a successful dairy farm there, was the last Carper to own the land before it was developed.
Prospect Hill has been expanded and remodeled over the years, but it retains its historic character. The formal living room has wide-planked hardwood floors and exposed wood beams on the ceiling. The living room fireplace is one of two in the house that are wood-burning. The rest were converted to gas.
The dining room has French doors that open to a screened porch. There is a guest suite on the main level with the other wood-burning fireplace. The owner’s suite, on the upper level, has a gas-burning fireplace and two walk-in closets. The lower level has another guest suite, an exercise room, a wine cellar and a rec room.
The property includes a tennis court, a children’s playhouse and a smokehouse that dates from the 1800s.
The six-bedroom, nine-bathroom, 6,840-square-foot house, on 2.83 acres, is listed at just under $3.3 million.
Listing: 947 Bellview Rd., McLean, Va.
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