The fate of a McLean property with historical ties to the War of 1812 and the Civil War will be decided by a task force that has been assembled by Dranesville Supervisor John Foust (D) and Fairfax County Park Authority Board member Kevin Fay.
The formation of the task force was announced last week.
The property, which is listed on the National Register of Historical Places and on the Virginia Landmarks Register, is known as historic Salona, the 19th-century estate where President James Madison is thought to have fled when British forces set fire to the White House in 1814.
The Salona property comprises about 52 acres, including a residential segment of roughly 7.8 acres in which the Salona homestead sits at 1235 Dolley Madison Blvd., according to a press release from the county parks department.
The residential acreage is protected in perpetuity by a 1971 easement granted to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, according to the release.
In December 2005, the property owners, Dan and Karen DuVal, placed an additional 41.5 acres of the Salona property under a conservation easement in which the Fairfax County Park Authority was named as the grantee, the release states.
According to the Park Authority, the $16 million spent to acquire Salona represents the largest real-estate investment ever made by Fairfax County.
The Northern Virginia Conservation Trust was designated to enforce the terms of the easement.
Ten acres within the newer 41.5-acre easement abutting Dolley Madison Boulevard were designated for active recreational use, with the remaining 31.5 acres used for passive recreation, such as trails.
At a public hearing in McLean in November, the Park Authority suggested using those 10 acres to build two athletic fields, a parking lot for 100 cars and a dog park.
“The county in general, and McLean in particular, have a great need for natural turf soccer fields,” said Andy Galusha, park authority project manager for the Salona Park Master Plan. “Those fields were agreed to as part of the terms of the 2005 easement.”
Nearly six years later, sentiments toward building athletic fields on the Salona property are mixed.
“When the easement was negotiated 5 1/2 years ago, recreational ball fields were one of the approved uses for those front 10 acres,” said Whit Field of the NVCT. “However, so much time has passed since then, that I think it is time to re-evaluate the best use of this property that is probably one of the most special pieces of land in the county.”
Salona’s current owner, Dan DuVal, feels the same way.
“Ball fields were a permitted use under the 2005 conservation easement,” DuVal said. “But I think the McLean community was very clear and virtually unanimous at the November meeting that they really wanted to see something more consistent with the cultural and historic nature of the property.”
According to Foust, the nine-person task force will provide input to the Fairfax County Park Authority for development of a Master Plan for the future of the 41.5 acres under the easement, which will be known as Salona Park.
Foust said the mission of the task force will be to work with the community and stakeholders to identify, evaluate and recommend alternative uses for the park.
“We have a very talented and diverse group,” Foust said of the newly developed task force. “The members represent a wide range of public interests, and I expect great work from them. This is an exciting opportunity to receive community input to the master planning process for Salona.”
According to Foust, the task force will have its first meeting June 29. Fay was unavailable for comment.
“The property’s history actually begins in 1719,” said McLean community historian Carole Herrick. “That is the year that Virginia colonist Thomas Lee took out a land patent on the property.”
Herrick said the Salona estate was later passed down to Matilda Lee, who later became the wife of “Lighthorse” Harry Lee and the mother of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
“Even with that provenance, it is still probably most famous for being known as the estate that President James Madison fled to in 1814 when the British burned Washington,” she said. “Madison likely spent the night at Salona as the city of Washington was being burned by the British.”
According to Herrick, nearly 50 years later during the Civil War, the estate was occupied by Union troops and was made the headquarters of Union Gen. William “Baldy” Smith.
“That is significant because Smith was from Vermont and was instrumental in forming the Vermont Brigade,” she said. “The Vermont Brigade is known as the first Union brigade formed with regiments comprised from a single state. That first state regiment of about 5,000 troops camped out on the Salona estate for roughly six months, from October 10, 1861 to March 4, 1862.”