Edith Sprouse

Edith Sprouse is an area historian and vice-chaiman of the Fairfax County Historical Commission.

The name Groveton seems to have come from Groveton Farm. The name goes back to about 1870, I believe, and I think it included the land where the high school is now built. It also included the area on the west side of Route 1. It was owned by a family named Collard. That's where Collard Street got its name and just off of Collard Street, there is a little graveyard in the yard of one of the houses, with, I think, two Collard tombstones. Collard may also have had a dairy farm. Groveton had a citizen’s organization back in the 1920's, one woman told me, but then it died away; and that was long before most citizen's associations came to be in this neighborhood.

When we moved into Hollin Hills we were the last house on the street and the people who lived behind us never spoke to us because, we were told, we spoiled the view. I must confess that when someone built a house below us we were slightly the same way. The first families moved in about 1950. For a long time I wrote the (Hollin Hills) Bulletin. The editor of the Bulletin gets a box full of old copies. I took out excerpts of what was happening when they built the community, how bitter the architect was because he had designed all these beautiful contemporary houses and people were putting up clotheslines and hanging up their laundry and spoiling the beautiful design!

In the 1930's, the idea was to make a George Washington National Airport at Hybla Valley and it was to be an international terminal for dirigibles. A survey was made all along the East Coast of the air currents. The topography there was found to be the most suitable spot. They had a very fancy dedication and they got some surveying spikes that belonged to George Washington. They were all ready to set up business at the time of the Hindenburg disaster. That put the quietus to talk of lighter-than-air-craft.

About 10 years ago for some reason I got fascinated by ghosts and so I went to the files of the Washington Post and I read any information they had printed on ghosts, and I talked to people. The newest ghost I could find had appeared on Telegraph Road in 1961. You know where the Coast Guard station is? There's a gravel pit across from it, and there was a marvelous clipping in the newspaper that the police had been called in to investigate this ghost who'd been seen in the gravel pit. He was six feet tall and he had a black stovepipe hat, a black cape, black pants and black boots. His face was very cut and scratched. They interviewed the man at the Groveton Substation. Be took a very dim view of the whole thing, but said, ''We're here for law enforcement, and if the ghost is here we've got to check it out.

Most ghosts were quite a bit older than that. The closest one is at Stoneybrooke on Telegraph Road. The man who was the resident caretaker there has said that they hear doors that won't stay closed or open and they've heard lots of strange noises. Before Stoneybrooke was turned into a community center, the people who lived there said that they saw a coach and a team of white horses going around the driveway when it was foggy. (I've found there are certain conditions that have to be met before you see them, because more than once people have said, ''Well, you only see them when it's foggy.” The man who lived at Stoneybrooke was Commodore Walter Brooke, in the Virginia Navy during the Revolution. I don't know whether he was the man in the coach and white horse who was going around the driveway or not, but the park employees still say there are some kind of strange, ghostly noises going on at night at Stoneybrooke.

A little farther down the road, down toward Hayfield there is supposed to be seen, also in the fog, a horseman with a beautiful young girl riding behind him - only the horseman has no head. He was eloping with this girl, and in his great haste, he careened right into the fork of a tree. That decapitated him. I was told that Mrs. Frances Nevitt, who lives down on Telegraph Road, might know some more about this ghost story, but I've never asked her. She has taught in the Fairfax County Schools for many years, and her house goes back to 1830-1840.

Of course George Washington is a natural for ghosts, but I've only heard two stories about him. Most of my ghosts, are along Telegraph Road for some reason, I guess because it's a very old road that the ghosts just kinda congregated along. They called it 'the back road', but it was the major thoroughfare in the 18th century. There weren't any front roads. You know how it got its name?

Evidently from the telegraph line - the second telegraph line in the country?

Yes, 1846 -a telegraph line to Georgia and New Orleans.

There's another house on Telegraph Road, called Belvale, and I went to talk to those people because I had heard they had had a ghost. They had not one but two. When they first moved in the fuses kept blowing and they blamed that on a ghost, and then they had a housewarming party, and the man who owned the house decided he would scare everybody. He dressed as a ghost and went outside waving his sheet, only he was somebody else over there waving their sheet, and it wasn't anybody at the party, so he was a little worried.

But their daughter, so they told me, had seen George Washington sitting on the sofa reading a book. Her mother said ''Well, I really think that she did see something because she's not very imaginative and she didn't tell me about this for a long time, and finally she said "Yes, I've seen George Washington - he was sitting there on the sofa reading a book!" Well, I thought this was fascinating and her mother said the daughter would be home in a minute. This is the closest I got to somebody who'd actually seen a ghost, let alone George Washington.

I heard a noise in the driveway, and into the house came a young woman with a very ashamed face, saying "Somebody's car is in the driveway and I ran into it," and it was my car. That put the end to the story about the ghost. I was too bothered about the car to ask her whether she'd seen the ghost.

Mt. Eagle was torn down about 1968 and that was very old - built around 1790 by Bryan Fairfax, son of William Fairfax of Belvoir, and who became the ninth Lord Fairfax; he was also a minister at Christ Church in Alexandria. I think his family had it until about 1830, and then there was a man named Courtland Johnson who came down from New York before the Civil War and lived there. It was a country club about 1920 or 1930. It was supposed to be very exclusive - that only first families of Virginia belonged to. I guess first families of Virginia didn't want to make it go, because it folded up. The story was that when the club went out of business, the members cast lots to see who would buy it, and a Dr. Fifer was the man who purchased it. They lived there for 20 years or more. They moved away, and it was empty for a number of years and badly vandalized. Finally, it was just torn down. I talked to Mrs. Fifer a couple of times on the phone and she said she was not interested in any publicity about her house. All I got from her was that there had been a lot of trenches on the property, Civil War trenches, and that her husband had filled them in because the horses were falling into them, and they didn't want the horses to break their legs. I also heard that Mrs. Fifer was a great one for redecorating and that she'd made many changes in the house.

I brought you a picture of one of the early residents (of Gum Springs) which appeared in this book in 1870, and there are still descendents from the Ford family. This is West Ford, a rather well-known gentlemen. He came to Mt. Vernon about 1802, and was a body servant to Judge Bushrod Washington, although the members of the family that I've spoken to tell me that it was George Washington that he was a servant of, so I'm not sure. But anyway, he came there very early, and he was freed by Judge Bushrod Washington, who had inherited Mt. Vernon from George. About 1829 when Judge Washington died he left some land in his will, and West Ford also bought some at Gum Springs. I think Ford bought some 112 acres down at Gum Springs, which he sold. Then he purchased from Mr. Samuel Collard another tract in the same area, and that was about 200 acres. Ford stayed at Mt. Vernon after Judge Washington died. Then about 1840 he moved over to live on his own acreage and then he came back to Mt. Vernon during the Civil War.

Speaking of West Ford, there is a ghost story in connection with him. He bad been over to a party on the other side of the river and he came back after having a little more to drink than he should. He went near the deer park at Mt. Vernon, and he saw a lady dressed in sparkling white with a red necklace. At this point a deer came thundering along, moaned, fell to the ground and attacked West Ford. West said that he saw the ghost had leaned down and drunk the blood from the deer and the next morning West had teeth marks all over him.

The Ford family lived in the Gum Springs neighborhood ever since then, and Mrs. Saunders, who I talked to about five years ago, her husband was the great-great-grandson of West Ford. Mr. Saunders and another man named Shriver built the apartments that are down there. The Ford family gave the land for the Baptist Church, and in 1888 John Ford gave the land for the first school down there. Mrs. Saunders told me it was right at the corner of U.S. 1 and Sherwood Hall Lane. They've had a building there that's been a lot of things it was a meat market for a while, then it was a crab house.

Mrs. Saunders said that the story in their family was that West Ford was a descendent of George Washington. She said she wasn't bragging about this, but that everybody in their family had always had kind of a quick temper. They all have the same shape nose and they all have a passionate interest in education. When her daughter gets mad, she looks just like George Washington. She doesn’t seem especially anxious to claim George as an ancestor; she was just telling me the story that had come down through her family. I've heard this story several times, that George Washington was Ford's father, and I've even heard that that's where he got his fatal illness, that he went over in the snow to see one of the slaves in the Gum Springs area, and caught pneumonia.

When we moved here - down hill from our house, there was just woods, a very nice grove of pine trees and a fairly clean creek that little boys could look for frogs in. Most of that has now disappeared, even in the short time that we've been here.

Volume One, Table of Contents
Snake Hill to Spring Bank Homepage

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