Ted McCord, 60, spends much of his time mowing around 100-year-old boxwood plants, a set of 70-year-old gateposts and a section of Civil War earthworks that is too steep for his push lawnmower.
McCord, a historian and professor at George Mason University, has been living at the 215-year-old Mount Gilead on six acres in Centreville's Historic District, for the past five years and knows exactly how to handle the mowing problem.
He plans to trim the earthworks with his weed-whacker.
"Ever since I was a kid I was interested in history," said
McCord, who remembers growing up with a father who studied anthropology and a mother who liked Civil War history. "I just kind of came by it naturally," said McCord. "Being a historian and archaeologist and being in historic preservation seemed like a good fit."
In exchange for a reduced rent, McCord maintains the three-bedroom house and property and protects it from acts of vandalism. He also does documentation and research on the historic house and its surroundings. McCord did the same for the Ratcliffe-Allison House in the City of Fairfax, where he lived for 14 years as president and curator.
Visitors to the house walk in to find a stairwell on their right and a kitchen to their left. Travelers who wanted to stay at Mount Gilead more than 200 years ago would have rested in the front parlor, while the family would use a room to the side for meals.
An enclosed porch makes up the back portion of the house, while the upstairs is made up of a small hallway and the bedrooms off to the sides.
Mount Gilead's air-conditioning is old and unreliable, so McCord doesn't use it. The door to the outside swells with the intense humidity, making it difficult to open. McCord also has another problem — groundhogs have begun to move in on the property.
But Mount Gilead has been through tougher times; it was one of the few buildings in Centreville to weather the Civil War — when so many others were destroyed or dismantled. McCord doesn't know for sure how this building survived, but he has a pretty good guess.
"We do know it's a miracle that this place survived the war. I think the reason this house survived was because it was always occupied by officers, the soldiers couldn't touch it," said McCord.
McCord knows exactly where Mt. Gilead has had its face-lifts — like the cedar closets that were installed in the 1940s or that the floorboards were flipped upside-down to get more use out of them. Maintaining the grounds can sometimes be a monumental task, he says.
Sometimes McCord has some help with the upkeep as many local Boy Scouts will volunteer to work on the house for their Eagle Scout projects. Some have helped paint the fence that surrounds part of the property and others helped lay down gravel for the driveway.
Mount Gilead is the last building still standing that dates back to the 1700s — to the village of Newgate, Centreville's precursor named for the tavern that stood on Braddock Road. Mount Gilead even has some of the tavern's planks built into its structure.
"This is the most important historical asset Centreville has and it needs to be protected against any kind of vandalism or encroachment from developers," said McCord.