Historic House In Burke Yields Ghostly Legends

Historic House In Burke Yields Ghostly Legends

The sitting room in Phillip Mengel's house is steeped in history. Dating back to 1780, the sitting room originally was a log cabin from the Fitzhugh land that was deeded to the family from England back to 1694.

Fitzhugh's grandson and heir built a farm called Ravensworth on the property, which was destroyed by fire. The Ravensworth farm manager owned the log cabin that is presently Mengel's sitting room.

"This is the original house here, this room. It was a log cabin. Supposedly the log cabin was deeded by the Fitzhughs," Mengel said, standing among the antiques that dominate his house. Over the years, additions were made to the house. In 1993, Mengel bought the house and made an addition of his own.

"When we got here, we added this," he said, standing in the back room. "We call it a 'great room.' We tried to maintain the feel of it."

One wall from the original log cabin is still visible in the room. The kitchen is on the other side of a stairway from the sitting room.

"This is another building. They joined them together. That's the original building. The logs are covered with chestnuts," he said, pointing to the preserved wall.

SINCE 1780, the house has changed hands several times according to land records found in the Virginia Room at the Fairfax County Library in the City of Fairfax. The house, which is referred to as "King’s Grant" in the books, sits off Guinea Road in a neighborhood called Ruffner Woods. It was owned by the Fitzhughs as part of their 12,996-acre tract of land that stretched from present-day Springfield, west to Fairfax, encompassing Annandale and the Braddock District. This is where the name "King’s Grant" was derived.

The Fairfax family owned it, and Albert Dewey and cousin Sarah Fairfax made additions around 1900. According to legend, Dewey drank a lot and hid the whiskey bottles from Sarah in the manure piles around the stables. He died shortly after, and Sarah maintained the property by farming and selling the produce until she died in the house in 1936. Tales of her ghost still haunt the area. Mengel's heard the rumors as well but hasn't seen anything abnormal in the nine years he's lived there.

"She died in my son's bedroom," he said. "They played that up when they were selling it. The legend is she knocks the drink out of their hand. We've never seen any sign of it."

Mr. and Mrs. Ruffner purchased the house around 1950 and operated a riding stable on the land, which was then 12 acres. Although the records say this was 1955, the riding stable advertisement in a 1969 Yellow Pages phone book for "Patty's Riding Stable," stated the family had owned the property since 1950.

Devon Schreiner is one of the daughters of Patty Ruffner, namesake of Patty's Riding Stable. She and her sisters, Robin Williams and Mary Keith Conneen, were all familiar with the ghostly happenings around the place. They were not scared, though.

"Someone would be knocking at the door, and when you answered it, there would be no one there. My sister saw a woman dressed in black, early attire. We welcomed it. We called her Sarah Fairfax," she said.

They moved their riding school from its original location on Seminary Hill in Alexandria to the property and operated the stables the entire time they were in Burke. Schreiner attended Burke Elementary School, Wakefield Forest Elementary, Woodson High School and West Springfield High School through the years. She had fond memories of the house, which their family owned from 1948-76, she said.

"I would not trade that way of life for anything," she said.

One of the roads in the area is Ruffner Woods Court.

OUT BACK, which was the front before the paving of Bronte Drive dictated otherwise, there is a cook house made of logs. It's been restored and is supposedly connected to the main house with a tunnel. Mengel doesn't know anything about the tunnel. Schreiner heard of the tunnel as well but has never seen it. A cave-in years ago occurred on another part of the property, but it wasn't determined to be part of a series of passageways.

"There was a cave-in by the pond, but we didn't know," she said, remembering that they were not allowed near the area then. The cookhouse was their riding store, "Tack and Tog Shop," and then an office, said Schreiner. She remembered a large cauldron by the fireplace in the one-room house.

The back yard is lined with boxwood trees, which were common in the earlier years. Mengel knows his house is unique but claims it is not on the official historic register.

"If you go down to Williamsburg, you'll see a lot of boxwoods. You're not going to find very many like this. It's not on the register," he said.

Although it was not on the official historic registry map in the Virginia Room, Schreiner claims it is registered as a historic structure.

"It is on the registry. The house and the two acres it sits on can never be destroyed," she said.

Anita Ramose is a historian in the Virginia Room at the library. She took riding lessons in the early 1970s at Patty's. The only landmark she remembered from that time was the Burke 7-Eleven.

"We used to go all over Burke, and there was no one there. Once you went beyond Patty's, it was all woods," she said.

Mengel, whose niece took lessons there as well, remembered the farm before the surrounding houses were built. On an aerial photo in the Virginia Room, dated 1960, there are two ponds and a dressage course for horses on the property.

"This whole thing was part of it," he said.

The Ruffner family moved out to Marshall to maintain the country lifestyle they were accustomed to. Development was not a welcome sight to the family.

"It was an issue of being almost forced out," Schreiner said.