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Building on History

New home arises on part of Mount Vernon Trolley line.

There’s a house being built on a lot adjacent to Fort Hunt Road that has a bit of history to it. Of course, most lots in the Mount Vernon area have similar pedigrees. But this oddly-shaped parcel has an interesting story.

Ron and Pam Covais of Alexandria are building a new home on a small part of the former right-of-way of the Mount Vernon Trolley. The interurban line ran from Washington to Mount Vernon, via Alexandria, and operated from 1892 until 1930. The trolley cars carried untold thousands of visitors to General Washington’s home, and on the early morning northbound runs, milk from local farms to Alexandria and Washington. Two years before the opening of the parkway in 1932, crews ripped up the rails and crossties, but left a few reminders of the rail line. For example, Whittington Boulevard in Stratford was formerly the trolley route, as are parts of East Boulevard Drive.

Another strip of the right-of-way lay hidden among the trees and tangle near Fort Hunt Road for 60 years. It runs southwest between a point opposite of Plymouth Haven Baptist Church and the intersection of Elkin Street and Whittington.

Some of the folks who lived on Buckboard Drive in the Riverside Gardens neighborhood treated the 50’ x 1,500’ strip as an informal adjunct to their backyards. The actual landowners, heirs to Benjamin P. Hunter, whose farm yielded the right-of-way to the rail line, made no attempt to do anything with the strip. Fairfax County viewed most of the land as unbuildable. Then things changed.

By 2002, residents, real estate experts and lawyers had become engaged in a tussle over the strip of land. Some on Buckboard claimed ownership through “adverse possession,” an established means of acquiring unused land over time. A local lawyer bought one piece from one of the Hunter heirs, added that to another parcel and started building a new home. Shouting, meetings with politicians and lawsuits soon followed.

By about 2005, the situation had calmed, and the disputes apparently resolved. Mr. and Mrs. Covais bought the northeast tip of the former right-of-way in 2012 and obtained all of the requisite permits for a single-family dwelling. Their property consists of lots 91 and 91A on the Fairfax County map [above].

“We recognize the sensitive history of the matter in the neighborhood,” Ron Covais said recently. “We want to respect all of the legal issues and the rights of our neighbors.” He and his wife have engaged an arborist to work with county officials to ensure the narrow, unbuildable portion of the lot will be attractive to adjacent homeowners.