Sully Woodlands Stewardship Education Center Construction Begins
Active construction is anticipated to be completed by early 2023. Residents should expect occasional construction traffic entering and exiting the Ellanor C. Lawrence Park/Cabell’s Mill entrance. The park is located at 5235 Walney Road in Centerville, VA.
At his death, Thomas Brown left all his land north of Big Rocky Run to his son Coleman. Coleman became a well-respected citizen of Fairfax County and served as a vestryman for the Episcopalian Truro Parish, even though he was a Baptist. He was a major contributor to and life-long member of Frying Pan Baptist Church. Although Brown never attained the stature of great landowners like George Washington or the Fairfaxes, he did enjoy a comfortable life from the products of his land.
In his old age, Coleman Brown turned management of the farm over to his son-in-law, Coleman Lewis. Lewis, who had married Mary Brown, was an ineffectual manager, and the farm’s productivity and profit slid downhill. To prevent Lewis from completely ruining the farm, Brown made the Lewis children his heirs and stipulated that they could sell the farm and divide the proceeds. None of Brown’s grandchildren were particularly anxious to settle on the farm, so in the early 1840s, they began a hard-sell campaign to encourage a cousin, Lewis Henry Machen, to buy the property. Machen agreed in 1843 and became the owner of the 725-acre estate, which his son Arthur named Walney.
Machen was not a farmer. He was a clerk of the United States Senate, a position he held for almost 50 years. His post was a political appointment, and he purchased Walney partly as a hedge against the insecurity of a job dependent on political patronage. Machen moved his wife Caroline, his daughter Emmeline, and sons Arthur and James to Walney. The Centreville farm was a four-hour journey from the capitol, and Lewis spent most of his time in Washington. Ill health and his Senate duties combined to prevent him from making the trip often.
Most of the farming duties fell on Arthur and James, boys in their teens when the family moved to Walney. Arthur was a scholar, happiest with his nose in a book. He was active in the operation and management of the farm in his teenage years, however he had a different calling and entered Harvard Law School in 1849. James, who loved farming, was left to run the farm.
Although Lewis Machen had little to do with the day to day farm operations, he took a keen interest in its management. The 1840s and 50s heralded the scientific farming movement, and Machen was an avid proponent of the latest methods and techniques. He wrote voluminous instructions to James (to James’ occasional exasperation) detailing schedules to apply and new techniques to use. Machen was a meticulous record keeper and demanded the same of his sons. The family papers contain thousands of letters and ledger entries documenting the activities of the slaves and hired hands, prices paid and received for various commodities, the amount of Peruvian guano used as fertilizer, and other details about life at Walney.
Like other Fairfax County farmers of the period, the Machens dealt with unproductive soil. Although the Browns had started mixed-crop farming, years of tobacco production were made worse by Coleman Lewis’ poor management and a general economic decline in the county in the early 19th century. The Machens grew grains (oats, wheat, rye) and corn as well as vegetables. They raised cattle, sheep and hogs. And they planted tobacco at least one year. In 1860, the Census lists them as having produced 8,000 pounds of tobacco.
Walney sustained extensive damage during the Civil War as troops from both sides crossed the property. In 1861-62, more than 40,000 troops camped in and around Centreville and cut most of the available trees for firewood, shelter and fortifications. The result of this deforestation was extensive erosion, and evidence is still visible on the property today. After his father died during the Civil War, James took over the farm and gradually moved into dairy farming, as did many of his neighbors. James’ switch to dairy farming was prompted by the growing access to the Washington/Alexandria market, falling grain prices due to the tilling of the great plains, railroad shipment, and the fact that dairying required a smaller labor force than other types of farming. It also was probably the most effective use of the property.
By 1880, James was producing 3,000 pounds of butter a year. He was still growing corn and wheat and was producing some fruit to sell. Despite reverses during the Civil War, Walney continued to provide for the Machens.
In December 1874, the main farmhouse burned. James enlarged the stone house, which is now the Visitor Center, and moved his family there.
James continued to raise dairy cattle until the 1890s and then suddenly abandoned dairying. The reason is not certain. Dairy farming remained profitable in the Centreville/Chantilly area until the 1970s, however James was in his sixties and none of his four children were interested in farming. In addition, his wife Georgie died in 1895. In their almost 30 years of marriage, they lost nine children of six years and younger. One gets the impression that James was tired. He remained an active and respected community member until his death in 1913. He also remained a member of St. Johns Episcopal Church in Centreville which his mother helped found in the 1840s. James is buried there next to Georgie and several of their children.
James began renting acreage to other local farmers before 1870. In the 1890s, he began to rent rooms in the stone house. After his death, the children rented the farm to tenants through the 1920s. The farm declined significantly under tenancy. It appears to have been abandoned for several years in the late 1920s and early 1930s before Ellanor C. Lawrence bought the farm from the Machen heirs in 1935. Ellanor continued to rent the stone house of Walney until she began to renovate it in the late 1940s.
Ellanor Campbell Lawrence grew up in South Carolina and moved in 1916 to Washington, D.C., where she met and married David Lawrence. Lawrence was a syndicated columnist and author as well as the founder and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. The Lawrences used Walney as a country estate and a retreat from the hectic professional and social life of Washington. They did not live in the stone house when at Walney.
Ellanor increased her landholding in 1942 with the purchase of Cabell’s Mill, Middlegate house and the surrounding 20 acres. This land had been under separate ownership since the time of Willoughby Newton. Ellanor and David lived at Middlegate when visiting. They entertained guests there, and family members often gathered at Middlegate for Christmas.
Under Ellanor’s direction, some of the old farm buildings and tenant structures were torn down. At the same time, the stone structures at Middlegate and Walney were renovated. Ellanor was an avid gardener, and she added landscape features and extensive flower plantings. Pasture and crop fields were left to revert to old field and forest. Ellanor was very interested in the human and natural history of the property. Upon her death in 1969, she left the property to her husband with the intent that it be given to a public agency and that its cultural and natural features be preserved. David Lawrence deeded 640 acres of Walney and Middlegate to the Fairfax County Park Authority in 1971 in memory of Ellanor.
12000 Government Center Pkwy
Fairfax, VA 22035