Farewell to Christmas Past

Farewell to Christmas Past

He hasn’t sold Christmas trees since 1987, but when the winter months come around people still show up at Peter Nordlie’s house. They are attracted by a sign, left over from the Christmas tree days, that hangs out over Hunter Mill Road. The sign reads, ‘Nordlie’s Christmas Tree Farm.’

"I liked the sign, so I kept it," Nordlie said. "I have to put up another sign every year that says, ‘No trees.’"

His house is an old farmhouse, built in the 1880s. Nordlie has been there since 1960. But now he’s moving out, and he plans to live on a 37-foot houseboat, traveling up and down the East Coast.

"I lived here half my life," Nordlie said, sitting in his kitchen. "I had an absolutely great life here. But it’s over. My wife died before Christmas, and there’s no point of rattling around here anymore."

Nordlie’s wife was Norma Mae, but he called her Brownie. On a recent Sunday, as he led a tour through the house, Nordlie paused for a moment, looking at a favorite picture of his wife. She was sitting in a field of tall grass and flowers.

"This life is over," he said. "I need to start a new one."

SO NORDLIE HAS BEEN meeting with potential buyers. He said there has been a lot of interest over the house, which is listed at $875,000, but there have been no contracts. The house is surrounded by subdivisions: It neighbors the Sunnybrook neighborhood and faces Tamarack from across Hunter Mill Road. But whoever buys the house won’t be able match nearby development. Two proffers govern the property.

"You can’t divide the 2.6-acre lot and you can’t knock down the house," Nordlie said.

Those rules were established by Fairfax County in 1987 when Nordlie sold the four acres where he used to grow Christmas trees. Modifications can be made to the house — Nordlie himself built an addition in 1992 — but the historic character must be stay intact.

"That basically means the house has to stay the same when you look at it from the road," Nordlie said.

BUT 1987 was not the first time the property was divided. Around 1940 the owner moved the farmhouse away from a nearby barn. The barn was then converted into a second house, which still stands a few hundred yards away from Nordlie’s house.

Richard Cockrill, who now lives in Purcellville, remembers the day workers moved the house away from the barn. Cockrill was born in 1934 and the house transplant was one of his earliest memories, but he still has a vivid recollection of that day.

"The house was up on skids," Cockrill said. "It was rolling along on top of some logs, and there were 20 or so guys who would grab the logs from the back and then run around in front and lay them across. There was a humungous bulldozer pulling it."

Cockrill's grandfather John, who everyone called Holly, was one of the first people to live in the farmhouse. He may have built the house, but Cockrill wasn't sure if that was the case. He remembers that his family decided to separate the house and the barn after his grandfather died. Cockrill never lived in the farmhouse, but he lived nearby as he grew up.

"We used to drive 26 cattle down Hunter Mill Road to a pasture near Difficult Run [at the present location of Angelica Run Horse Farm]," Cockrill said. "We'd leave them there all day, then drive them back in the afternoon. It was a gravel road back then, and maybe one or two cars would pass us on the way back."