Huntley Meadows Park
Welcome to Huntley Meadows Park
Nestled in Fairfax County's Hybla Valley, Huntley Meadows Park is a rich, natural and historical island of over 1,500 acres in the suburban sea of Northern Virginia. It harbors a nationally significant historic house, majestic forests, wildflower-speckled meadows and vast wetlands bursting with life.
Some of the best wildlife watching in the Washington metropolitan area is enjoyed here. From the ½ mile wetland boardwalk trail and observation tower, people have excellent views of beavers, frogs, dragonflies and herons. Huntley Meadows is well known as a prime birding spot, with over 200 species identified in the park.
Whether you come to hike, wildlife watch or simply to relax, Huntley Meadows Park will provide you with a premiere nature experience.
Wetlands: A Natural Treasure
Huntley Meadows lies in a wet lowland carved by an ancient meander of the Potomac River. The resulting freshwater wetland is one of the most rare habitats left in Fairfax County. Acre for acre, a healthy wetland supports more life than almost any other habitat. Wetlands also purify polluted waters and control the destructive power of floods and storms.
In colonial times, this land was part of the extensive plantation holdings of George Mason IV. Thomson Mason, a grandson of George Mason, built a home on the property in 1825. The villa, now known as Historic Huntley, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Virginia Landmarks Register, and the Fairfax County Historic House Inventory. An exhibit of Historic Huntley is available online. Mason family ownership lasted into the late 1800s, with track of the land being sold to other farmers. The house, along with a large portion of land, was sold to Albert W. Harrison who converted the grain farm to a dairy operation.
In the late 1920s, entrepreneur Henry Woodhouse reassembled many of the parcels, purchasing 1500 acres from 10 landowners. He dreamed of transforming Hybla Valley's dairy farms into a dirigible base. After he lost nearly all of the property, the federal government acquired the land. During the 1940s, the Bureau of Public Roads tested asphalt road surfaces. The Virginia National Guard's Battery D, 125th Gun Battalion used the land to provide anti-aircraft protection for the nation's capital during the 1950s.
Finally, the Navy conducted highly classified radio communication research before declaring the land surplus circa 1970. President Gerald Ford signed 1,261 acres over to the citizens of Fairfax County for use as a park in 1975. Under the Federal Legacy of Parks Program, the County paid only one dollar for the land. In 1992 the Fairfax County Park Authority, with financial assistance from Ducks Unlimited, purchased an additional 165 acres of adjacent wetland and upland. Huntley Meadows Park is currently 1,557 acres.
History is a Mystery at Historic Huntley
It’s easy to let your imagination run away with you at Historic Huntley, the newly-restored villa once owned by Thomas Francis Mason, grandson of Founding Father George Mason. Perched atop an imposing hill at Huntley Meadows Park, the wondrous structure built in 1825 overlooks a massive expanse of what was then farmland, and features a large main room flanked by four identical side rooms with fireplaces and separate entrances. However, its original purpose is a mystery.
“The fact is, we don’t really know what it was used for,” said Huntley Meadows Park manager Kevin Munroe. “We think it was a summer home and that side rooms were for guests, but we haven’t been able to find any records that say that for certain. There’s nothing that tells us that the Masons ever lived here for more than short stays.”
A paint chip analysis enabled historians to identify the home’s original colors, which have been restored. The floors are the original wood floors, as evidenced by the varying widths of the hand-cut planks. Still, many other questions remain.
“We don’t know how it was furnished, and we don’t know whether there was any landscaping,” Munroe said. “At that time, the view would have been all fields and you would have been able to see the Potomac River in the distance, and maybe even Mt. Vernon.”
Equally puzzling is the purpose for three separate buildings on the site. It’s clear that one was used in part as an outhouse. Another appears to have been an ice well and root cellar, although there is no evidence that cooking ever took place on the site. The third building is as much a mystery as the main house.
“Some people call it the slave quarters, but we really don’t know,” Munroe said. “Slaves were a part of the farming operation, but it’s unclear exactly where they lived.”
Historians surmise that in Mason’s day, the property was a status symbol where summertime guests were invited to escape the heat of Old Town Alexandria and enjoy parties on the breezy, sculpted hillside overlooking the impressive 624-acre view. Perhaps they enjoyed popular refreshments of the day like lemonade or tea or port brought in for the occasion. Maybe they were invited to spend the night in their private quarters inside and come and go at will through their separate entrances. Regardless of Historic Huntley’s original purpose, one thing is for certain: You’ll be intrigued by the endless possibilities as you tour the site and let your imagination take flight!
Friends of Huntley Meadows Park, a not-for-profit devoted to preserving and protecting Historic Huntley, has advocated for the site for 20 years. By joining this esteemed organization you can help support a local historical gem. For membership information, call the park or visit them online.