A Surprising Look at Our Neighborhood’s History

Stump Hill evolved over 200 years to become today’s Clover-College Park

by Patricia Dane Rogers & Katherine K. Leon

The original version of this story, the first in a series offered by the Clover-College Park History Committee, ran in the neighborhood newsletter of July 25, 2010. Here it is again, with illustrations and new data to show you what additional research has unearthed about our unique neighborhood. It’s more than we ever dreamed it was, especially considering the way we are now, sandwiched between the urban sprawl of West End Alexandria.

So, take a deep breath and imagine clover-perfumed air. Picture expansive fields, cattle roaming, trees rustling in the wind and several fine mansions overlooking the Potomac just off Little River Turnpike (now Duke Street.) The two main roads on a 1803 map show First Avenue, which we now call Cambridge Road, and Second Avenue, today’s Quaker Lane. Old Seminary Road is today’s Janney’s Lane.

It all began with “Stump Hill,” a sturdy name to form the foundation of Clover-College Park, a community whose members over the years have comprised gentleman farmers, eccentric aristocrats, judges, journalists, generals, admirals, politicos (including a U.S. President), educators, a pottery merchant, a biscuit maker, and maybe even a spy or two.

Original plat of Stump Hill tract, c. 1803.

Original plat of Stump Hill tract, c. 1803.

In the late 1790s, Josiah Watson, a tobacco agent, filed for bankruptcy and was forced to sell his 300-acre “Stump Hill” tract to appease creditors. The property, which ran from present day Seminary Ridge to Taylor Run and was bound by Duke and Janney’s Lane, was divvied up into 49 lots and auctioned off to Old Town movers and shakers.1 One of those buyers was Hugh Smith, a prominent china and stoneware merchant. Nearly a century later Alexis duPont Smith, a grocer and commission agent (but not related to Hugh) purchased 33 acres on the north side of Janney’s and eight years after that, bought more land directly across the street. Between the turn of the nineteenth century and the 1940s, these two adjacent farms evolved and mellowed with time.

Who knew that Alexis Smith’s parcel on the south side of Janney’s (which once belonged to the Episcopal Bishop of Virginia), would eventually become College Park and that part of Hugh Smith’s even more extensive holdings would be divided and subdivided again and again to become present-day Clover?

College Park Was Built First

Alexis Smith, courtesy M. Starek.

Alexis Smith, courtesy M. Starek.

It was established in 1936, when Colonial Properties Corporation mapped the nearly 24 acres of Alexis Smith’s “Wollaston” carved from the Bishop’s property.2 “Wollaston” spanned both sides of Janney’s but Smith lived on the north side in the old white farmhouse at 1001 (to the east of MacArthur School) until his death in 1915.3 Smith, who gave his farm his mother’s maiden name,4 was born in Wilmington, DE, in 1845 and owned a grocery store near the intersection of Prince and Royal Streets.5 Later owners, who subdivided the property, changed the spelling to “Walleston.”

One of our biggest surprises during the research phase was the discovery that Bishop Johns, a former president of the College of William and Mary who came Alexandria to run the Virginia Theological Seminary in the 1860s, called his 57-acre estate, with an enormous turreted house, “Malvern.”

Thus, the name of the subdivision created from the Bishop’s remaining parcel (Malvern Hill) now made sense—as did ecclesiastical references to streets such as Chancery and Cathedral and, of course, Trinity. Former College Park residents who recall hunting in a sycamore forest before Trinity was cut through to Quaker Lane should realize that they were traipsing around in the equivalent of the Bishop’s “Back Forty.” He left it all to his daughter, Julia Johns, founder of Alexandria Hospital. Alexis Smith bought his portion after her death.6

We don’t yet know why Colonial chose to name the subdivision College Park. An interesting tidbit is that one long block of Trinity was to be called “Cornell Drive” but the Bishop’s influence obviously prevailed.

Colonial first built the stone houses on Yale Drive and Janney’s Lane in the 1930s. The next cluster was built on the west side of Cambridge and in 1950, the company sold the undeveloped lots to Anco Builders.7 Some early College Park houses were architect-designed and built by independent contractors. The dormered house at 402 Cambridge Road, for example, was designed in 1941 by Milton Grigg, a noted restoration architect for Colonial Williamsburg and Monticello.8

A Decade Later, Clover Bloomed

Hugh Smith, 1805.

Hugh Smith, 1805.

Clover was created from 48 acres that once belonged to Hugh Smith. Over time, Smith, a Brit, expanded his original Stump Hill holdings all the way to Janney’s Lane and Stump Hill became the more mellifluous sounding “Summer Hill.” Rozier J. Beech, a Maryland builder, bought the majority of the tract from Virginia Bullock-Willis in 1946. By then, she called her homestead, “Woodleigh.”9 Originally built around 1859 by an Old Town dry goods merchant, G. K. Witmer, “Woodleigh” once boasted an orchard of “2,000 choice fruit trees.” She sold her remaining acreage and 20-room antebellum house to Bishop Peter Ireton in 1953 but the high school wasn’t built for another decade.10 The house, which was razed to build the school, sat at the top of what is now the semi-circular driveway facing Cambridge Road. Photographs of it have yet to be found.11

"Four Winds," built 1859 by Wilmer Corse, courtesy Susan McElhinney.

“Four Winds,” built ca. 1853 by Wilmer Corse, courtesy Susan McElhinney.

Bullock-Willis, an author of children’s books, was an Alabama belle with family ties to many of Virginia’s First Families, including George Washington.12 Woodleigh, then “Woodley,” was a gift from her mother, who purchased it from a former Mosby’s Raider, James Morehead Rixey in 1910.

Rixey and his wife, Rebecca, got the land and house from the heir of biscuit-maker turned banker, Andrew Jamieson. The deed of sale stipulated that 180 square feet be reserved for the public’s use of a spring on Janney’s Lane. To this day, the spring is commemorated by an alcove in the stone wall at 810 Janney’s. Dated Easter 1906, it says “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” and bears Col. Rixey’s initials.13 John Kelly cited our research on this and related topics in two Washington Post, articles. See “Mysterious Stones in Alexandria Hint at a Watery Past,” November 5, 2011 and “Janney’s Lane in Alexandria Named for Railroad Innovator,” November 11, 2011.

Movers and Shakers

Starting in 1804, Old Town residents, seeking refuge from summer heat and yellow fever, bought their country lots on old Stump Hill. Soon farms, orchards and summer homes dotted fields off Quaker Lane, Cambridge Road, and present day Longview Drive. Of all the early houses near Longview, only one remains.

If we had been around back then, our neighbors would have included:

Bryan Hampson (1757-1834), a prosperous grocer, who purchased Lot 2 of the Stump Hill tract in 1804 and built a modest red brick summer house.

Hugh Smith (1769-1856), who owned a pottery as well as a thriving china shop, began with 13 acres in 1804 and added 81 more including part of the 48 that became Clover. Smith bought Hampson’s house in 1819. He sold four of the five acres surrounding it to his next neighbor, A.C. Cazenove with the stipulation that Cazenove not plant trees or build any structure to block the river view.

The original early 19th century lock and key in the house  Bryan Hampson sold to Hugh Smith in 1819.

The original early 19th century lock and key in the house Bryan Hampson sold to Hugh Smith in 1819, courtesy Jefferson Nesmith.

Anthony Charles Cazenove (1775-1852), Smith’s neighbor, was a Swiss émigré and the local agent for the DuPont family’s gunpowder interests. He built a substantial house and farm on Lot 1 of the Stump Hill tract and called it “Summer Hill.” He gifted his beautiful home and 26 acres to Louis Cazenove, his son, heir and business partner. Carydale Towers East replaced the house and its celebrated gardens.

Louis Albert Cazenove (1807-1852), added Hugh Smith’s house to his Summer Hill holdings in the 1840s. He leased the entire property to Richard Andrew, an British gardener, reserving the Hampson/Smith house for his personal use as a summer residence.14 Andrew, who proceeded to plant roses, boxwoods, and a vineyard that spanned both sides of present-day Longview Drive, also built a large greenhouse. He ran frequent ads in The Alexandria Gazette for his “Summer Hill Nursery” where, among other things, he sold camellias and orange trees as well as tulips, narcissus and asparagus roots.

Wilmer Dent Corse (1826-1896), who was a wealthy banker and brother of Montgomery Corse, a highly decorated Confederate Army General, bought 67 acres of Hugh Smith’s property in 1852 and built a charming cottage called “Four Winds” on what is now Nob Hill Court. The house burned down in the mid-1950’s.

George K. Witmer (1822-1901), a dry goods merchant, bought all but 10 acres of Corse’s property and built the house that would later be known as Woodley/Woodleigh. According to a Civil War era map, the enormous orchard he described in a Gazette ad, stood north of the house and extended past Clovercrest. The Federal Government seized the house and sold it to William Silvey, a New Jersey real estate speculator. Silvey purchased the property for $180 in 1864 and sold it back to Witmer for $480 when the War was over. Witmer’s mansion played a major role during the occupation.

The Oct. 3, 1862 entry in The Civil War Diary of Anne S. Frobel of Wilton Hall notes that it served as headquarters of Union Army Brigadier General Daniel E. Sickles just after he returned from the Peninsula Campaign. “We were obliged to go to Gen. Sickles headquarters for a pass to town,” Frobel wrote. “He has fixed himself up in Mr. Witmer’s house on the hill above the Turnpike road. And such a looking place they have made of it. The yard and the top of the hill and the beautiful fine old oak grove filled with tents and soldiers knee-deep in dust. They have trampled every spire of grass and broken down and scattered about all the beautiful ornamental lattice work in the yard…a pass was given us from a tent in the yard.”

Andrew Jamieson (1825-1901) was the city’s customs collector, a banker, gentleman farmer and namesake of his grandfather, a baker of biscuits favored by Queen Victoria. He owned property on both sides of Duke Street, bought Witmer’s house and land in 1866 and named it “Woodley” for an estate in the family’s native Scotland.

Niche in wall at 810 Janney's Lane.

Niche in wall at 810 Janney’s Lane.

The first homes that Beech built were on the east side of Cambridge Road in 1948. Initially, he lived at 409, now a bright yellow house with telltale clover cutouts in its front gates. According to former neighbor, Nancy Smith, his play on the meaning of “being in Clover” was intentional. Cloverway, which was developed between 1948 and ’50 came next, then Skyhill, built from 1950 to ’53, and then, Crown View Drive, starting in ’55, with 403 reportedly the first house on the street.

Clover developer Beech's house on Vassar Road under construction, 1956, courtesy Helen Baughman.

Clover developer Beech’s house on Vassar Road under construction, 1956, courtesy Helen Baughman.

Later, Beech moved to 812 Vassar where he lived with his mother and sister and raised orchids. He continued to build, completing Crown View, Dartmouth, Clovercrest and the rest of Vassar, in the ‘60s. Clients loved that he allowed customization (with the possible exception of bathroom colors, reportedly selected by his sometimes dictatorial sister.)

But perhaps his crowning achievement was to build the white brick ranch house at the foot of Dartmouth and Crown View, preventing the developer of the Chauncey Heights Apartments from extending Dartmouth through to West Taylor Run. A 1958 article in The Post quotes James Garnett, who led 150 members of the Clover Civic Association in a protest of the proposed street. “The traffic would blight an already established residential area,” Garnett said. City Council rejected the proposal for the access road but with the help of Mr. Beech, the threat was permanently averted.

History Footnotes

  • A Union blockhouse was located on the south side of Duke Street near the intersection of Colvin and Roth Streets.
  • A brewery stood on the south side of Duke Street near the current Jeep dealership.
  • The tollbooth for the Little River Turnpike stood on Duke Street, just east of Longview drive.
  • Janney’s Lane, (formerly Old Seminary Road and before that, Stump Hill Road), was named for Eli Janney, a Confederate veteran and engineer who served on Robert E. Lee’s staff. He lived at 406 Janney’s and was responsible for hundreds of inventions. His claim to fame: the patent for the railroad car coupler.
  • The spring mentioned in the Rixeys’ deed is inscribed with the initials of James Morehead Rixey and a Maltese cross, indicating his status as a Confederate veteran.
  • What was once the site of the Watkins farm on the west corner of Cambridge Road and Duke Street, eventually became our local 7-Eleven store. The building housed a notorious massage parlor upstairs, the “Tiki Tiki Health Club.” 15

Afterword

Special thanks to neighbors and former neighbors who contributed to this story. The list includes Louise and Peter Abbruzzese, Edna Knight Roberts, Dorothy Mulligan, Martha Kerr, Marion Kerwin, Hood Barringer, Helen Baughman, Nancy Pera, Nancy Gilbert, Bill and Nancy Smith, their sons, Leith and Billy, Matty Heller, Plato and Ethel Cacheris, Richard R. G. Hobson, Mike Hart, Sabrina Dively, and the late Firth Morris, whose garden was filled with oyster shells that once fertilized Witmer’s orchard.

We also thank the research staff in Special Collections at the Kate Waller Barrett Branch of the Alexandria Public Library, Leslie Anderson, Julie Downie and George Combs; the keeper of Fairfax County Circuit Court’s Historical Records, Katrina R. Krempasky, and our friends on Longview Drive and Viewpoint, especially Joy Rouco, Dr. Ross Witter, Linda Woodhouse, Jeff and Achsah Nesmith and Elliott McElhinney Krash and her sister, Susan McElhinney who grew up at “Four Winds” and actually remember Mrs. Bullock-Willis and “Woodleigh.” Last but not least, we thank Katherine Duncan Andres, who spent a halcyon childhood in one of the historic homes, which, back in the ‘40s, had a pasture in front and a barn in back that housed cows and horses. “The fields were full of clover and wild daffodils,” she recalled. “It was magical – a part of my Virginia heritage.”

Endnotes

  1. The original 1803 Stump Hill Map signed by city commissioner, Francis Peyton, is in Fairfax County Deed Book S-2: 122-3.
  2. Colonial Properties Corporation recorded the creation of “College Park,” December 17, 1936, Alexandria Deed Book 133:9-11. The deed includes the original plat as well as restrictive covenants.
  3. “Alexis Smith’s Funeral Today,” The Washington Post, August 2, 1915, states that services for Smith would be conducted at “Wollaston.”
  4. Interview with Smith’s great grand-daughter, Millie Starek of Alexandria, VA, November 21, 2012.
  5. “Harmon & Smith” was a grocery and wholesale feed store. See the 1881-‘82 edition of Chataigne’s Alexandria City Directory, 84.
  6. According to Fairfax County Deed Book F-5: 357, Alexis Smith bought 31 ½ acres of the old “Malvern” estate, December 28, 1888. Following his death, his son, Linton Smith, sold several lots fronting Janney’s Lane, leaving the 23.9 undeveloped acres that are now College Park proper.
  7. Alexandria Deed Book 300: 166, records the sale of the undeveloped part of College Park to Anco Builders. The land included parts of Yale, Vassar, Princeton, Trinity and lower Dartmouth Road.
  8. Patricia Rogers, January 10, 2010 telephone interview with Edna Knight Roberts, whose parents commissioned architect Milton Grigg to build their Williamsburg-style home.
  9. See Alexandria Deed Book, 232: 25, August 5, 1946, for Bullock-Willis’s deed of sale of 48.4247 acres to “R.J. Beech, Inc., a Maryland Corp. qualified to do business in the State of Virginia.”
  10. Witmer advertised the sale of his “large and comfortable,” new house and orchard in the October 4, 1860 edition of The Alexandria Gazette.
  11. See Alexandria Deed Book 355: 264-5, April 17, 1953, for Bishop Ireton’s purchase of the house and 11 acres. A February 28, 1956 article in The Washington Post described the ”vacant main house on the ‘old Woodleigh estate’ as a rambling white frame building that had been vandalized.
  12. Auburn University Library records describe Bullock-Willis (1878-1965), the widow of George Bullock Willis, as a “poet, author, artist and world traveler.” Fluent in French, she held a graduate degree from George Washington University, served as an interpreter for the French Embassy and was an accomplished equestrienne. According to her obituary in The Tuscaloosa News, she wintered in Alexandria, dividing her time between Woodleigh and family cotton plantations in Alabama and Mississippi.
  13. See Fairfax County Deed Book Q-3: 493-6.
  14. See Fairfax County Deed Book H-7: 82-87, September 27, 1910, for the deed of sale describing the “ground and water rights dedicated by the said Rebecca C. Rixey and her husband.”
  15. “Massage Ring Well-Organized, Raids Discover,” The Washington Post, June 1, 1978, notes that the Tiki Tiki was part of a “sophisticated” and “widespread massage parlor and outcall business based largely in Alexandria.”