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Springhouse Gets Second Chance

The developers of Stockwell Manor in McLean have agreed to deed over the springhouse foundation that lies within the development site to the future homeowners association (HOA). The springhouse foundation had been the subject of contention between preservationists and the developer, Winchester Homes.

“It’s an extraordinary blessing to preserve a piece of history in McLean because so much of it has been paved,” said Steve Dryden of the Audubon Naturalist Society.

Located just off Great Falls Street and Crutchfield Street, the springhouse is on Burke’s Spring. The spring is named for John Burke, who bought the land in 1832. When he purchased the property, the springhouse was already in use.

Today, all that remains of the springhouse is a rudimentary stone foundation. When Burke owned the land, the springhouse would have been an important feature because it served not only as a place to draw water but also as a refrigerator of sorts. Before electricity, cold water and the cold ground, as found in the springhouse, were used to prolong the shelf life of food.

The foundation is in complete disrepair, but many preservationists believe it can be rebuilt and used as a teaching tool, in addition to being an attractive feature for Stockwell Manor homeowners.

“The spring is still flowing vigorously. You have here a great educational tool for the schools around it. The aquatic life will allow students to actually see an ecosystem that is functioning right in the heart of McLean. That’s very unusual.

“Secondly, they can understand through the springhouse how people used to get their water and use it as a refrigerator,” said Dryden.

The aquatic life flowing from and living in the spring continues to be a bone of contention, even though the springhouse issue is now coming to a close.

FRANK CRANDALL of the McLean Citizens Association is still in a fight with the county to have the spring declared a perennial spring. Numerous experts have certified the spring as a perennial, according to Crandall, but the county has been disinclined to reclassify it such. “This thing is going to have to be fought out because the maps for the Chesapeake Bay ordinance show it as not being perennial,” said Crandall. Key indicator species, such as clams, have been found at the site, backing up Crandall's assertion that it is perennial.

Crandall, on behalf of the Environmental Quality Advisory Council, will go before the Planning Commission on March 18 to argue his case and present his evidence of the continuous flow of the spring.

Crandall is also working to have Winchester include in its proffer a provision that would dictate how the springhouse will be protected during the subdivision’s development. “During construction the springhouse and the spring need to be covered by a super silt fence. That’s not in the proffer,” said Crandall. A super silt fence would protect the landmark from soil erosion and decay.

The HOA will be able to use the springhouse however it wishes, according to the proffer given by Winchester Homes. Dryden believes there are many historians who would be able to work together to restore much of the springhouse.

“Right now most of the stones are lying there on the ground. The stones are all there. It’s just like a puzzle. It’s a matter of putting them in place.”

“It would be great if we could find some private and public funds to undertake a partial restoration of how it used to look,” said Dryden.

WINCHESTER HOMES has been receptive to the input of citizen organizations and residents, according to Dryden. Crandall adds, “It’s encouraging when a developer ... agrees to make changes like this.”

Some residents and environmentalists are hoping that receptive nature continues and extends to trees. A big black walnut tree, 20 feet in circumference, has been located on the property not far from the springhouse. County forester Jessica Strother recently measured the tree on Dryden's request and found it to be “nose to nose” with the largest black walnut tree in the county, according to Dryden. That makes the tree a mark for preservation. Dryden estimates the black walnut is a couple of hundred years old.

Barbara Smucker has lived on Crutchfield Street for 40 years. Her property abuts the development, but she never ventured into the land that’s visible from her porch because the previous owner was a bit of an eccentric who fiercely guarded his property.

As a woodworker, Smucker was very interest to learn about the black walnut tree, saying, “I bet there will be a lot of people interested in that.”

Smucker is pleased that Winchester has agreed to change the placement of a road that would have meant the end of the springhouse. “We are all happy they did it. But, they did it after a great deal of pressure,” said Smucker.

Representatives from Winchester did not return calls for comment.