Interview with Homer Carhart Carla Rollandini (caretaker) sitting
Conducted by Mia Gardiner for the Providence District History Project Providence Perspective
It is March 7, 2008 and I have the pleasure of interviewing Homer Carhart who has been living in Annandale since 1948. The interviewer myself is Mia Gardiner and we are at Homer's home in Annandale. The purpose of our interview is for the Providence District History and I am sure that Homer has lots of things to tell us about the way things use to be from 1948 on until today because he has wonderful stories to tell.
Mia: Homer thank you for spending the time with me.
Homer: My pleasure.
Mia: You have been here since 1948 and have seen a lot of changes. Tell us first a little about your background, where did you move from, what made you come to Annandale and what's made you stay?
Homer: Let me give you a synopsis of my life very quickly. My parents were missionaries and met as missionaries in Chile and during a sabbatical I was born in California and they took me down to Chile when I was two months old but of course I don't remember any of that. But, I grew up in Chile and then came to this country on furlough when I was about 7 and 8 years old. I remember especially celebrating my 8th birthday in Washington, D.C., which I thought was kind of prescient in my having lived here since that time. When I finished high school I came to the States to go to college at Wesleyan University which is in Mitchell, South Dakota home of the Corn Palace, well renowned. And from there I got 3 majors in Chemistry, in Math and in Music. Realizing I was not likely to make a living in music since I had not studied piano or anything else as a child I decided that I better be a chemist. So I went to the University of South Dakota and got my Masters Degree and from there to the University of Maryland in College Park and got a PHD.
Then my first job was with Gallaudet College and in those days, it is Gallaudet University now, we had a total of 160 students. The number was controlled by the number of dorm spaces, we had dorm spaces for 60 girls and 100 boys and I taught there until the World War II broke out. I had already done some work for the Naval Research Laboratory, a small job that they farmed out to the University so they knew me there and when the war broke out they called and said we need you come to work for us. So I went to work for the Naval Research Laboratory and spent over 50 very pleasurable years there, very exciting years - over 50, 52 years or something like that - had a ball. It was really fun doing research. While there I had been living in the District of Columbia on Fairlawn Avenue and decided it would be nice to move more into the country and one of my colleagues at the laboratory was living in Annandale and he told me about a community meeting set up called Columbia Pines so we came out and Page 1 looked and I though gee the houses are a little too expensive for my being able to hack it, but we kept coming back and coming back. Finally we decided to let's go and buy it. But these houses were not built then - we bought it off of blueprints and the developer -
Mia: You bought it off of blueprints, there was just land here?
Homer: There was just land here but there were some other houses just up the street that fellows were working on when we first came out. The builder was a fellow by the name of Sydney Weinberg and he had an idea of building a community of about 250 houses here which would have been the first really cohesive community in the county as far as I can remember. But, he went broke after about 70 houses or something like that. Fortunately my house got built before he actually went broke. A few things didn't get done but they were trivial.
Mia: What year was that?
Homer: 1948. We moved in, in 1948.
Mia: May I ask what the house cost?
Homer: the interesting thing is that, Sidney Weinberg, this land was all wooded, and he actually set up his own sawmill and cut down the trees; there were magnificent trees in here. In studying the lay of the land there was a huge oak tree right about where the middle of the living room is here, and it was a magnificent tree but he downed it and made the lumber off of it and the sub flooring of all the houses here are with that lumber which was not cured properly. So, one of the characteristics of Columbia Pines is that the floors creak and it was because the wood was not cured properly.
Mia: Well if they had to cut the trees down at least they used them for the housing.
Homer: One thing that Sydney Weinberg tried to do was he tried to save the trees, he cut down only the ones that was going to be in the way of construction. And we ended up with about 5 trees, original trees, on the property that were original trees and that was really nice, well now a couple of them have died.
Mia: Do you still have some of the originals?
Homer: Yea one of the trees out in front.
Mia: What are they? Are they Oaks?
Homer: One is a Hickory and the Oak tree I finally had to cut down because it got badly damaged in a storm. Then we had a magnificent Oak in the back that got hit by lightening so we lost it that way, but he (Sydney) actually tried to save the trees. The community when it was first built, Rose Lane which comes from Columbia Pike and is the center street in our community was just nothing but mud. We would come out here when they were building it slowly just to see if progress was made and you had to be careful not to get stuck in the mud. But the houses up Rose Lane closest to Columbia Pike were built first and I remember one time coming down Rose Lane all muddy and there was a little kid standing in one of the yards there, he was just standing there and then we realized he was stuck in the mud and he was actually not even crying. My wife said, wait a minute stop and she got out and pulled the kid out of the mud and the parents hadn't been aware because he didn't cry. The parents were in the house and didn't see him, but of course we saw him and he was real cute.
Mia: It is a good thing.
Homer: Yes, so we got him out. But the community because they really didn't finish a lot of things it made a very cohesive community. Columbia Pines Homeowners Association was really very cohesive and very strong and we have done a lot with the county at first to get things done in terms of roads and facilities and so on. But one thing Weinberg wanted to do was he needed a water supply and there wasn't any around here so there was a fellow by the name of McWhorter and there is a street in his name here in Annandale, who had a couple of wells and he got him to expand his wells and develop a water supply. It wasn't adequate and in the bad weather, as time evolved, there was a couple of time we had to hook up the fire hydrants in here to the City of Falls Church fire hydrants with the fireman's hoses just so we could have water in the fire mains.
Mia: Hoses all the way from here to Falls Church?
Homer: To their farthest reach in a fireplug to our farthest reach in a fireplug.
Mia: Where would that have been? Someplace down town?
Homer: Someplace down across Holmes run, down that area.
Mia: Down Gallows Road Holmes run or the other one?
Homer: I don't remember.
Mia: It had to be a long line of hoses.
Homer: But the houses in the community here, the hoses had to be a little higher or the pressure wouldn't be enough and they couldn't flush their toilets. So we furnished them with water in buckets so they could flush their toilets. It was a little primitive but it was all right.
Mia: It worked. How did they eventually solve or when and how did they solve the water problem?
Homer: Eventually we got tied into the Fair Oaks Colony, I think it was the Alexandria water system and we got our water from the Occoquan River. The gas situation, our houses here are heated by gas and originally they told us that we could have the option of having either gas or oil but as time moves along in order to get a gas line out here, Sydney Weinberg had to make a deal with the gas company that all the houses would have to have gas so they could sell enough to make it worth while to put the gas line down. So they put a line all the way up to Alexandria again just for the community and certain stations of the community here were not finished when we first moved in. Right in the middle of Rose Lane going down a little bit there was an open gulch and the storm sewers in the community dumped into that gulch. This made an excellent place for the kids to play so they would get down into the gulch itself and get into the storm sewer and yell through all the openings in the sewers along the street to all the kids and they were having a ball. As parents we all got a little nervous about that so we ended up by filling the gulch in and carrying it all the way out to Rose Lane.
Mia: I guess the kids were not happy about that.
Homer: The kids didn't like it.
Mia: No, no.
Homer: They other thing they like to play was - Mr. Oliver, a street was named for him, had a big dairy farm right next to us.
Mia: Right on Columbia Pike?
Mia: A dairy farm?
Homer: Between here and Gallows Road.
Mia: Gallows uh huh.
Homer: And, the kids used to go over there and play on the farm and once in a while some kids would get lost because we were surrounded by woods and sometimes the kids would get lost and the community would organize a search party.
Mia: How many times did that happen? regularly or just once in a while?
Homer: No, it was rare, you had enough concern if the kids did not show up when it was time for dinner and
Mia: Just enough of a thing for it to be memorable even if it was rare.
Homer: Yea, yea, but one of the nice features about having a dairy farm was in any new community like this they would take all this good top soil that was in the community and they would bury it and put clay on top of it. It seemed like a standard procedure because when I first came out here and looked at the property I knew exactly where my garden was going to be, but, that was all clay. And then they had banks sitting up here and I ended up with a garden with essentially good Virginia red clay. The beauty of having a dairy farm right next door was being able to get manure and compost
Homer: And we made deals with the farmer's sons to cut a lot of brush and stuff like that and mix with manure and made compost out of that so we could have gardens; so it was fun.
Mia: Speaking of children what were the schools that your kids went to when you first moved here?
Homer: Annandale Elementary is now the (Homer asks Carla the name of the facility) Senior Adult Day Care for the Health Department and Head Start for children. The building is cut half and half. (Carla advised) That was the elementary school and it is kind of ironic that our kids went there and later on my wife Julia got dementia and she ended up there, now she is in Leewood but for a while in the daytime she went there. Grocery stores, there weren't any.
Mia: Not any? Not even a little country store?
Carla: West Lawn.
Homer: No, right here in Annandale.
Carla: Oh, right.
Homer: I am sorry; I should have prefaced it that way.
Mia: In this area there were no stores. Homer: No, right in this immediate community there weren't any grocery stores. There was sort of a little farmers market down on; I think it was probably Backlick Road. It was sort of a tin shack kind of a thing and you would get fresh vegetables in season there but otherwise the closest big grocery store was West Lawn.
Mia: All the way to West Lawn?
Mia: And, how did you get to West Lawn from here? Did you go down Gallows? Was there a Route 50?
Homer: We took Graham Road I guess.
Mia: Graham Road.
Homer: Probably, yes.
Mia: Uh huh.
Homer: Well, one of the things that did was to induce a lot of us to get a second car because we were isolated enough here so that the ladies here were stuck in the house. So a number of us went out and bought a second car so they could at least go shopping. Julia use to go to Baileys Crossroads to shop too for groceries and stuff and business is not now what it was then. It was different
Mia: It was just a little crossroads, wasn't it?
Homer: It was very different, very different it was a crossroads.
Mia: Well what high school, did the kids go to Annandale High School?
Homer: High School
Mia: Was there an intermediate school?
Homer: They went to Annandale High School.
Mia: What did they do for middle school? Did they have a middle school?
Homer: There was no middle school.
Mia: They went from kindergarten to 8 and then
Homer: Not kindergarten first grade and
Mia: First grade.
Homer: there wasn't any kindergarten; they went directly from elementary to high.
Mia: Then they went to Annandale High.
Mia: Is Annandale High still in the same location?
Mia: Same school, hmm.
Mia: What about medical care? There was no Fairfax Hospital.
Homer: The hospital was here.
Mia: In 48?
Homer: Yeah, the hospital was here.
Carla: It was smaller but it was here.
Homer: Although I ended up in Arlington Hospital for something.
Mia: We lived in Holmes Run Acres which is down Gallows Road and it was built in 51' and I don't think there was a Fairfax Hospital yet, that is probably why you ended up in Arlington Hospital or Alexandria.
Homer: Yeah, that could be.
Mia: What about doctors, I mean this is the country what about doctors, we are inundated with doctors.
Carla: Around the corner. The doctors would have offices in their houses, across from the church right? Wasn't there a doctor that you went to there?
Homer: Doctor Prosiano.
Carla: Across from where Magruders was.
Mia: What was his name?
Homer: Right across Gallows from Magruders.
Mia: Uh huh. Was he like a family practice?
Homer: Family practice, kids and everything.
Mia: So he had the whole community covered?
Homer: Yes, everything. It was kind of fun, I can't say pioneer but
Mia: Well in a way you were.
Homer: The beauty of the thing was that it made a very cohesive community; we had I'd say about 70 houses and a very strong citizens association then
Mia: Well you are in the Mason District now at the time I don't know what the distribution of District's were
Homer: I don't know what they were.
Mia: but it is very close to Providence District and what do you think of that would be very important to include in the Providence District History are there any events that you can think of that were really changing in the area or was it just a gradual development? Was there some significant wow - where now developing this area where we're no longer the country?
Homer: I don't think there was any particular wow event. The change in ethnic background became apparent as time wore on in the whole area here. Let me make a couple of remarks and here again I don't know what district they would be in but in the Annandale area the Annandale Fire Department was very active and they use to have a meeting hall on the top floor that acted somewhat as a community center. Page 8 But a more important community center, in terms of activities and so on, was the Methodist Church at the top of Rose Lane up here. The Pastor there was very social minded and he opened up the church to activities that were not necessarily connected with the church. One of them was an organization of men called the Men's Club, a very imaginative name The Men's Club and we got together for dinner and we got a speaker, and the ladies of the church would fix our dinner for us and we paid for it and they made a little money that way.
But, some of the real old timers in the area like the Lynch family and the Hurst family, Mason Hurst and Omar Hurst well known, the Webbs and so on were all part of that mix. I belonged to it and it was fun. One of the very interesting stories that came out of that was Mason Hurst, who was a real estate guy here had gone into a little bit of the history, he was a history buff, and when they went to widen Little River Turnpike or Duke Street or whatever you want to call it they wanted to flatten out some of the humps and make it more level. But they found in tearing up the old road, that there were a whole bunch of cobblestones in there and he looked it up and found out that George Washington could not stand to have the Hessian soldiers, they were prisoners of war, be idle so he put them to work making cobbles and making the road. And it was one of the first paved roads in the United States.
Mia: How interesting. Homer:
Now you are going from here to out West and the Little River Turnpike was actually a Turnpike in the sense that the Gate Keeper and he had a little hut that he stayed in with a pole that they called the pike that would be blocking the road and then you had to pay and he would lift the pike so you could get across. That little cabin was still here when I moved here and I am sorry I didn't take a picture of it.
Mia: Did it have a name?
Homer: No it was just like a
Mia: The old fashioned version of a toll booth.
Homer: Yes, exactly and if you go to the Nature Center on Hummer Road they have a list of some of the charges for how much it cost for the man to lift the pike so you could get through, so much for a sheep, so much for a cow you know that kind of thing a wagon it was kind of interesting. The community certainly grew and continued to grow but the beauty of it is that here in Columbia Pines we have this little enclave of houses and we are quite interdependent and community surrounded by the woods. One of the things we did every Christmas was to cut down our own Christmas tree.
Mia: Oh, how nice.
Homer: And, I would take the kids out on a sled if it snowed and we would take it out and go find a tree, chop it and bring it in. Of course it was a Virginia Stroke Pine which was not a very handsome tree but
Mia: It was local, it was local
Homer: the kids loved it because they pick it out.
Mia: Yes, yes.
Homer: Finally when they began to become scarce and I bought a synthetic tree the kids wouldn't have anything to do with it, - no, got to have a real tree.
Mia: What did you do for entertainment in those days, it wasn't like the movies were down the block and D.C. wasn't as easy to get to as it is now. What kind of things did the family do for entertainment or what kind of things did you and Julia do?
Homer: Well, we use to go into town a lot and with the kids and of course we'd also go to the mountains a lot, Skyline Drive in that area. Televisions were not in existence they just started coming in and I drugged my feet on that but then I realized that my kids were at some body else's house watching television and I had no control so I better get one. So that became a form of amusement but we did other things and one of the things that we did was we organized a garden club and a lady who lived down the street a little bit was quite interested in getting one started and because of the red Virginia clay and I knew nothing about gardening. I thought I better learn how to tame this clay for when I have a garden. And by garden I mean a vegetable garden as well as flower. So I started to read up on gardening to the point where this lady says - Homer you are a gardener, - no pun on your name, so lets organize a garden club so I said okay but one proviso that it does not become a flower arranging society. And she said that is not what she wanted but she wanted to actually be able to grow things. She then said we are going to need some officers and so on and would you be the president, I said why don't you be president and she said no she did not want to be president but if you are the president I will do all the work. How could you lose?
So we organized the thing and we use to get people to come out and talk to us like the organizers of the Washington Star in those days a fellow by the name of Franklin and other people of that ilk. And they were glad to come out and talk to us on how to grow vegetables as well as flowers and how to tame the soil. We then also organized a Cub Scout Troop and then a little later on the girls got one and so we had activities going on there. And our Cub Scout Troop became the base from which several other troops peeled off and we had a very Carla: One of the oldest Boy Scout Troops in Northern Virginia is at Annandale Methodist - we are Troop 150. Page 10 Homer: Yes that was the one in the church and I was the institutional representative there for that, and my program was that I was sort of the go between, between our activities here and the headquarters of the scouting. And the headquarters of scouting is like the government, they have too damn much paper. So I said look, the reason for having scouting at all packs for the Cub Scouts and Troops for the Boy Scouts is for the kids not for the parents. But the activities that you guys at the headquarters want us to get involved in has an awful lot to do with the parents and that's not the idea so to heck with you guys. And they almost threw us out. But, it turns out we were so successful that they couldn't because we have all kinds of ribbons on our flag for accomplishments and so they had to back off. But I thought, ha I won one battle. I was just appalled at how easily organizations become bureaucratic, it is amazing.
Mia: And how easily development gets out of hand as we're watching what is going on around us now; the development of Merrifield and Tyson's. And Annandale I hear is next, that they are thinking of developing the Center of Annandale and who knows what. Your music, which is such an important part of your life did you have time for it back then or is that something that you finally had time for after you retired? Homer: The music I started in college and I play the piano a little, but I'm interested in composition that is what I started in college and I use to write what I call nonsense songs for my wife Julia, particularly at Christmas time. I would write a whimsical verse and the music and I would give it to her at Christmas time and we have some of those published in a book.
Mia: How many CD's do you have now?
Homer: Carla: 11.
Mia: 11 CD's of your music that you have written and most of them are played by?
Homer: Noel Lester who is head of music department at Hood College, he only did one really.
Carla: He did one only and all the rest are recorded by Derek Wooly at his music studio over at Edsel Road Art of Music and he uses a keyboard with all the latest technology, you wouldn't believe what he's got. And he did all the graphic art on his cover.
Mia: 11 CD's and a book.
Homer: Yes. And he did the covers.
Carla: Derek does it, he knows photo shop and he is amazing. (Short regrouping to by Mia to make sure all questions were covered.)
Mia and Carla: There was a discussion about Little River Turnpike and the district lines and I think a bit of Little River turnpike runs down into Providence District before the boundaries were changed.
Mia: They are always changing the district lines.
Mia: There was something I meant to ask you and let me just remember and I will turn the recorder back on.
Mia: Was your community at all involved in the building of the pool down on Gallows Road, the Holmes Run Acres pool, which was the first pool in the
Homer: Do you mean swimming pool?
Carla: Royal Crest is the one he belonged to.
Homer: No. A number of us were members of the Royal Crest.
Mia: And your community Civic Association and the Men's Club of the church when they did service projects what kind of things did they do? You said that the Men's Club at the church did service projects and you have a very active Civic Association.
Homer: We have citizen's meetings and things like that in the church we had halls where we could meet and we did use the fire department some.
Mia: What kind of county problems did your Civic Association have to deal with?
Homer: I'll give you a personal example here because the builder went broke things were left in somewhat disarray in terms of cleaning up after so there was a lot of rubble around the place. And, because he still had a lot of lumber and equipment and stuff like that in the areas where he was still building he hired a night watchman to keep an eye on things. It turned out the night watchman built himself a little shed, just off my property here on top of the bank and because of the type of soil and rubble around here we had a lot of rats and this guy would go out and shoot the rats and eat them. But, the trouble was he would go along with his rifle and he also enjoyed hitting the bottle and he would go walking through here with a loaded rifle drunk as a Lord. Page 12 He use to cross my property here all the time with his rifle and I got worried that he was going to stumble and accidentally discharge his rifle. So, I went to the builder and I said hey you hired this guy now get rid of him and he sort of was dragging his feet, so I went to the county and the police department and I said hey we have got to get rid of this guy, he is a danger to the community and kids. They can't just arrest him like that but when I described his living conditions, he had no bathroom, the police said let me tell you what, let me take you over here to the Health Department. So, we went over to the Health Department and talked to them and they said ah that guy is a menace to the health of the community so they took over and got rid of him. So several things like that would happen and another one was the redistricting of the schools and that was a big thing. They were essentially going to split our community in two. We thought that was kind of silly because our kids played with each other so they should go to school together. So, we got involved in that with both feet and I also got involved in it personally and I made sort of a demographic study of the area and I got all my arguments together as to why we should keep communities together and presented that to the school board and it flew, they bought it. So then
Carla: Homer writes well.
Mia: Carla is saying that you write well and I am sure you do.
Carla: He does write a letter often when something is going on, which is a good way to communicate and get action.
Mia: It absolutely is it absolutely is. Well we have been chatting more than half an hour.
Homer: That is okay.
Carla: But that was a good chat though.
Mia: I knew that interviewing Homer would be a pleasure. If you think of any other things that you want to include in the Providence History, just give me a call. Carla: Does Providence start at Hummer and Gallows intersection there?
Mia: I really don't know, I probably since I have been interviewing for the Providence History I probably should know but I will look that up and know it the next time we speak. But if you think of something and you think that would have been interesting to stick in the interview call me up, I am a hop, skip and jump away and it will give me an excuse to see you again. You realize we have seen each other twice in one week that's pretty good.
Carla: We have enjoyed it we keep thinking about your Cabin in Standardsville
Mia: I know, hopefully some of you will come up to our cabin, we would love that. So thank you so much Homer. You know one thing that we did not mention is that you are 93 years old no you are going to be 93. Carla: No he is 93 and will be 94 in May.
Mia: I lost a year. Okay.
Carla: It is easy to do.
Mia: You will be 94 in May that is absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much.
Homer: For many years we did some very interesting things in the community. I learned that the clay around here is deficient in two very important minerals for plant growth and that is magnesium and boron. And so I would recommend that people get Epson salts, which is magnesium sulphate and borax which you can buy both of them in the store, and mix it with sand and scatter it through the lawns and gardens, but be judicious in how much. Then it turns out in those days they use to sell lime straight lime which is very caustic and will burn plants. Then they came out with snake lime which is not as bad but is still very caustic. Then I learned that Bogamers in town was selling something called Dominic Limestone which obtained a high value of magnesium in it and so the local hardware store here started to supply and I went to them and said if you stock this stuff I will write it in my column and you will have customers, so we made a deal. To my knowledge this is the first time that was used in this area. It is common now but then most people used lime. Dominic limestone will not burn plants or anything like that cause you get the magnesium in the thing, which is necessary for chlorophyll so we did stuff like that for the locals.
Mia: You put your chemistry back ground to good use,
Carla: There you go.
Homer: Sure, sure.