You know the field at the top of the hill? Apparently there was a grave of an American Revolutionary soldier, I can't possibly tell you the name, but when I was little most of the tombstone was still there.
I suppose we moved up to the hill in ... 1946. The estate was privately owned by Marilyn Lillian Thorpe. Apparently it was at its peak about ten years before that when the gardens were still very attractive. Lillian used to throw fancy garden parties, so it was terribly sophisticated stuff. Merl Thorpe was into oil and magazine publishing or something like that. The place was really elegant in a slightly after art-deco kind of way.
The windmill was still turning. It was still pumping when I was a kid. On the major drive shaft there was a flange, which was actually to keep the rain from leaking into the plate that went around the drive shaft and I used to be able to stand on the little flange and ride up and down on the drive shaft of the windmill. It was the old well and later on a new well was put in way out farther in the field with an electric pump, at which time the windmill, except for decorative purposes, went into disuse.
There was a wonderful sign that used to hang out on Fort Hunt Road that said Hollin Hall. It was a metal cut out sign. It had two trees, one was a little fir tree and a bigger one like oak tree and there was a cardinal sitting in the kind of like oak tree and squirrel sitting down on the ground looking up at it. It was all open work. I have no idea what became of the sign.
The Old Mansion is terribly sensitive to pressure and if you close one door downstairs, you may open three upstairs or vice versa. On occasions when I was sort of house sitting the Old Mansion house and there were some freaky occasions when I knew I was the only one in the house and I had closed all the doors and I would come back a little bit later and all the doors would be open. There was one time I remember in particular. The kitchen side of the house, the windows were open to let a little air in and I came home one afternoon, came into the kitchen and I heard children playing downstairs, so I carefully opened up the little door at the bottom of the kitchen stairs and tippy-toed my way up, looked around, and needless to say, no children anywhere to be seen, I started running up and down halls, checking rooms, going up on the third floor and constantly, I could hear the children. They seemed to be coming from those two front rooms in the old servant's quarters. I called my papa on the telephone and said "I believe there's ghosts in this here house'" I even held up the phone and said. "Can you hear them? Can you hear them?" What it is, the house being on a hill, it was really acting like radar.
One of the Thorpe sons was a music critic for the Star. At any rate, he was a musician, and a little opera was done. This was long before the church was there or everything cultural got there. Later on, when the church got into action, all kinds of things started to happen. First the Boxwood Concerts.
They started out rather quietly, like Charlie Byrd coming over to play, and a couple of folk singers called "Bud and Travis." Originally the stage was in the lower bowl which is now Mason Hill. There was a little tiny stage that wasn't very big. It was like a band shell and the acoustics sounded just lovely.
Then the productions got more extravagant. The stage got to be ten times bigger and it pulled a couple of real turkey events, the Don Cossack Dancers or something like that, which went over like a lead balloon. The big event was the "Limelighters." An enormous crowd showed up and it rained. I'm not sure they had rain insurance or not. Anyway, that kind of ended the "Boxwood Concerts" series.
A couple of years after that, some friends and I decided that was an ideal place to hold a theatre. We called it the Boxwood Theater. We did that for seven years in all. We were playing in the oval grove at the top of the hill. We did Tom Thumb the Great followed by Oedipus at Colonus, followed by Cadus and Marisand, Victims of Duty, and finally a play called Clearer Tomorrow. From there we wanted to keep "Boxwood" alive. We did a season of "Boxwood" in Georgetown. Next year we did Romeo and Juliet, and the Girl of the Golden West over at the top of the hill. Next year, we moved down to the swimming pool, where the concrete slab is now. We did Peer Gynt, Mid-Summer Night's Dream.
The opening night of the first Boxwood show, they paved Mason Hill Drive. Cars couldn't get up it and because they had to reroute a lot of stuff the water was turned off. So not only could they not get to us, but once they got there they had no water to drink, or for the johns or anything. We'd been warned about the water, so we had vats of it ready to do whatever we had to do. It still didn't save people the inconvenience of walking up from Fort Hunt Road to the top of the hill. People did it though.
The year after that the girls decided they wanted better parts so we did a whole season of heroines. There was Alice in Wonderland, Electra and Undine. Next year we did' only one piece called Dimension of Miracles. By the next year things took a very different turn. We did The Maids of Jenine, in the chapel, and King Henry the V which Robert Dunn directed. We did that all over the grounds. That was the end of my career and the Boxwood theatre.
I can remember the first time I saw a puppet, which was in Alexandria.
In the window of Mike's Hardware Store was a puppet theatre built by some
Cub Scouts. I went home and made up a little puppet of colored
construction paper and cut it out and tried to glue it together with
Vaseline. It didn't work.
Year by year the place begins to look more rundown. I don't think it has lost all it's charm. Naturally the olderit gets, the more money it should cost to really keep it up properly. Gone are the days of the formal gardens, full of roses and fields of dahlias.
When I was at my youngest there was a tree behind the junior house. It had a low fork in it and we used to get up in one little branch. The branch is gone, but the tree's still there. I spent my teenage years in an old apple tree. It had good swinging branches. I walked out of it one day. I had this branch I used to walk on a lot. I had no idea what was on my mind, I simply walked right straight off the end. My father was standing at the back of the potting shed, and happened to be looking out and he just roared. I could've broken my neck. I think he would've roared anyway. Down in the woods behind the turkey sheds, there was a tree with a swing in it.
The whole area was a land grant to him (George Mason). I think he might've built Little Hollin Hall but I really don't think he lived that far down the road. I'm sorry that the area has suffered from overbuilding as much as it has. The last section of woods that was ripped out was really important. It was like wild, wild forest even though It was maybe 100 yards wide.