The last remaining dairy farm in Arlington, a landmark of the county’s rural past, will be preserved for future generations as a new historic district. In a unanimous vote by the county board Saturday, Reevesland — a 135-year-old farmhouse that now sits on a 2.48 acre parcel of pasture land bordering Bluemont Park — won the protection of the county’s historic preservationists after some debate over how much of the property should be included in the district. County Manager Ron Carlee and parks department officials recommended that a portion of the land, purchased by the county from the Reeves family in November 2001, become an extension of the nearby park. Yet public testimony showed almost overwhelming support for preserving the entire property.
“History does not inherit only bricks and mortar,” said Kathleen Snyder, a resident of Fourth Street, close to the historic home. “It also encompasses the atmosphere of a place and the views.”
The view at Reevesland was the element on most people’s minds as they addressed the board. Standing on the Reevesville property is a bit like a trip back to a different era of Arlington’s history, Snyder and many others said, because the wide open green lawn offers a panorama that is much like it was at the turn of the 20th century. Should the land fall under the authority of the parks department, that view could be lost.
“Just think how wonderful it will be 50 or 100 years from now when schoolchildren can see this old farmhouse, a reminder of the way Arlington used to be.”
The farm was first purchased in 1866 as a 160-acre farm by William H. Torreyson.
The property stretched west of Four Mile Run and south of Wilson Boulevard, extending beyond Route 50 to Glen Carlyn Road. It was later operated by Torreyson’s daughter, Lucy, and her husband, George Reeves, from 1898-1949. Their son, Nelson Reeves, was made a partner on the farm in 1924, the third generation of family to work that land. He and his wife, Louise Reeves, kept the farm running until July 1955, when it released its last shipment of milk. But the Reeves family stayed on their property, selling off land as the county’s population grew. Some local residents still recall the Reeves’ as a colorful part of Arlington.
Judy Massabny, whose home borders Reevesland, remembers when her husband Richard tilling soil for a tomato patch with Nelson Reeves when they moved to Arlington, sitting on the family’s porch during the summer and the kindness the Reeves family showed to almost everyone who crossed their property.
“From our first days in Arlington, we felt we’d captured part of rural America,” she said. “You can’t separate that building from the land any more than you can separate the White House from the South Lawn.”
Nelson Reeves died in July 2000 at the age of 90, but 10 members of his family spoke on behalf of the home and the push to preserve their family’s legacy in Arlington.
“I am quickly becoming part of the history of Reevesland but I will always carry the love of it in my heart,” said Marcia Rodgers, the first child of Nelson and Louis Reeves, who grew up on the property.
And changing the property, said Ronald Reeves, who was 9 when the last milk left the farm, would not be in keeping with his father’s wishes.
“He wasn’t much for change,” he said, pointing out that every facet of the home is still the same as it was when his father inherited it.
By designating the property an historic district, any change or renovation made to the property must be met with the approval of the Historic Affairs and Landmark Review Board and a “certificate of appropriateness” must be issued. The certificate would state that the change is in keeping with the historical atmosphere of the property.
“It will add a level of review prior to any future development,” said Kathy Overton, a resident of Boulevard Manor, near the site of Reevesland.
Overton cited the importance of the surrounding land to the home‘s historic feel.
“Reevesland is a unique link to our agricultural heritage,” she said. “The open land is what gives this place context and meaning.”
Even when the property was owned by the Reeves’, the family brought many in the community there, hosting yearly Easter egg hunts and allowing children to sled down on the farm’s sloping hillsides.
“When we sold the home to the county, we did so because we wanted to preserve our family’s legacy,” said Cheryl Scannell, a daughter of Nelson and Louise Reeves. “Our family agreed not to develop Reevesland. If we had wanted to, we could’ve done so very easily.”
The county manager’s recommendation for the property, formed in conjunction with the Parks Department, was originally to designate a 33,000 square foot segment of the property as a historic district and reserve the remainder for Bluemont Park. Just how the Parks Department’s share would be used was to be determined later when a master plan could be formed. The proposal states that the land would be altered in a cycle of the county’s Capital Improvements Program. Using the land for the adjacent park might’ve been a logical choice but some questioned whether the Parks Department would show the property the reverence many feel it deserves.
“What’s really at issue here is the Parks Department’s desire to do what it wants without respect to the [historic board’s] role,” said Gerald Laporte, former president and current board member of the Arlington Historical Society. “Things might be a little different if we had a Parks Department that has a track record of more sensitivity when it comes to historic preservation.”
Laporte added that Arlington has already lost many other historic properties because land surrounding them was sold and developed.
“They are so often torn down because they’ve come to be thought of as only old houses in the way where someone wants new houses to be built,” he said.
Children will likely be sledding on the Reevesland property this winter but even though the land is now a historic district, County Board member Chris Zimmerman said some changes may occur there as it becomes even more of a public space.
“This will not be frozen in amber,” Zimmerman said. “It is something that will be used and enjoyed by Arlingtonians.”
Along with sledding and Easter egg hunts, sections of the property are included in some cross-country races.
“This area is an active one for recreation right now,” Zimmerman said. “Designating something a historic district sometimes means you will see change.”
On the original recommendation, Zimmerman said, “I do think it is justifiable but I don’t think it is the best choice.”
County Board Chairwoman Barbara Favola echoed Zimmerman’s remarks saying, “An historical designation really isn’t going to prevent us from doing what we want to do. Sometime down the road, we will have to develop a master plan for it but we are going to be very respectful of the property.”