Ellanor C. Lawrence Park

CONTACT INFORMATION: Walney Visitor Center Open hours: Mon & Wed-Fri 9-5 p.m., Saturday-Sunday 12-5 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. The park's trails, picnic tables and grounds are open dawn to dusk.
703-631-0013 TTY 711
5040 Walney Road
Chantilly, Virginia
John Shafer

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Walney Waysides

This house has a history, too.

Walney has seen a lot. Three families owned the house before it was donated to the Fairfax County Park Authority: the Browns, the Machens, and the Lawrences. Over the years, it underwent many changes before it was renovated as the visitor center you enjoy today. 
A conjecture of the Walney House from about 1780.
Conjecture of the Walney House, c. 1780
Courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority
In 1742, Thomas Brown signed a "three-lives" lease on 150 acres south of Big Rocky Run. Through a "three-lives" lease, the Brown family would hold the rental rights of the property for the duration of the lives of those listed on the lease. The three were Thomas, his wife Elizabeth, and their oldest son, Joseph. In 1761, Thomas increased his wealth and property by purchasing an additional 400 acres, which would later become the core of Walney.  The original portion of the Walney house may have been built by Thomas Brown in the late 18th century. In 1765 and 1766, account records from a mercantile firm called Glassford and Henderson in Colchester show Thomas Brown purchasing a large amount of building materials, including nails, hinges, tools, and glass. Others believe the house was built in 1780 by Coleman Brown, Thomas Brown's son.
The Machens purchased the house and 725 acres of property from Coleman Brown's grandchildren in 1843. When Lewis Machen and his family arrived on the farm, it was rundown.  Lewis Machen made several renovations to the property, including restoring the stone house and turning it into a library and study while the Machen family lived in a wood frame house nearby.  Fire destroyed the wood house in 1874 when Lewis' son, James Machen, and his family lived there.  Rather than build a new house, James decided to remodel and expand the stone house.

Walney in the 1920s
Photograph of Walney House facing west, 1896
Courtesy of FCPA Archives

This photograph of Walney, taken in 1896, is one of the earliest photographs of the property. It shows the renovations made by the Machens in the 19th century.
None of James Machen's descendants were interested in operating the family farm, and so Walney was rented to local farmers. From 1904 to 1921, Walney was rented to several families, including the Northrop and Rutter families, until the house was advertised for sale in 1921 for $50,000.  The house remained on the market until 1935 when the property was purchased by Ellanor C. Lawrence and her husband, David, to use as a rural retreat.  When the Lawrences purchased Walney, they allowed two families, the Crane and Beresford families, to live in the stone house as caretakers. The caretakers paid little rent, but instead maintained the house and grounds, helping Ellanor expand and modernize both house and grounds while preserving the character of Walney.

Ellanor Lawrence had a passion for preserving her home's character. With the help of the Beresfords, Cranes, and local tradesmen, she made several alterations to the buildings and grounds.  Trees were cut, flower beds and stone walls were built, there were additions to the property, and older outbuildings were torn down. Images from the 1940s and 1950s depict some of Ellanor's renovations. The main renovations in the mid-20th century include the addition of a wing to match the original on the north side of the house, a rear two-story addition with a balcony, and a garage adjacent to the house.


Walney around 1935
Photograph of the Walney House facing northwest, ca. 1935
Courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority


Walney around 1947
Photograph of Walney, taken by Neal Gresham, 1947
Courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority

Walney HouseWalney house

Photographs of Walney, ca. 1950
Courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority

Renovation at Walney around 1980 Walney being renovated around 1980

Renovations of Walney, ca. 1980
Courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority

Lewis Machen and Scientific Farming

Lewis Machen was interested in scientific farming at Walney. Scientific farming became increasingly popular during the mid-19th century when farmers began to experiment with methods of irrigation, fertilizers and machines in order to make farming more efficient.  Lewis sought to learn what other farmers had done to improve their productivity.  He studied and recorded what others did. Here are examples of notes he copied into his journal.

A page from Lewis Machen's journalCarrots, as food for Horses.
The authority of Curwen[?]  is unquestionable. He was in the habit of employing almost constantly as many as Eighty Horses on his farm and in his extensive coal mines.
"I cannot" he say, "omit stating the great profits of carrots, I have found by the experience of the last two years that where Eight pounds of oat feeding was allowed to draft Horses, 4 lbs might be taken away and supplies by an equal weight of carrots; and the Health, Spirit, and ability of the Horses to do their work be perfectly as good as with the whole quantity of Oats."
"The profits and advantages of carrots are in my opinion greater than any other crop."
"An acre of carrots supplies an equal quantity afford for work horses or 16 to 20 acres of Oats."
My own experiences, (says Colman) of the value of carrots, which has not been small, fully certain of these statements.
2' Colman 92.

An Aryeshire cowAyreshire Cows
An Aryeshire cow, it is said by the [?] authority will yield 257 pounds butter per annum or 5 lbs per week, all the year round, besides raising the Calf.
{According to the 1850 Agricultural Census, Lewis Machen had 5 "milch" cows and increased to 10 by 1860.  However, historians do not know which breed Machen specifically owned.}

A page from Lewis Machen's journalComparative Value of Hay, Vegetables, and Corn
An acre of Hay yields one Ton and a half of Vegetable food.  An acre of Carrots or Swedish Turnips will often yield from 10 to 20 Tons; say 15 Tons.
It has been ascertained by experiment, that 3 working Horses 15 ½ hands high consumed at the rate of two hundred & twenty four pounds of Hay per week or 5 Tons 10048 lbs of Hay per year, besides 12 gallons of Oats each week, or 78 bushel by the year.
An unworked horse consumed at the rate of 4 ¼ Tons of Hay per year. The produce is therefore of nearly 6 acres of land is necessary to support a working horse by the year:  But half an acre of land in carrots, at 600 bushels to the acre with the addition of chopped straw while the season for their use lasts…


The Ice Pond

The ice pond at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park is a rare surviving example of a technology found in Virginia. Ice ponds were common in northern states, where long, cold winters produce natural ponds filled with frozen water that could be made into ice. However, in many Southern states, including Virginia, many farmers purchased ice from local markets or constructed their own shallow ice ponds from which to harvest ice. The ice pond at the park is one of the few surviving ice ponds in Virginia that provide insight into how ice was harvested in the 1800s.  Another surviving example includes an 1855 ice pond on the privately-owned Hook-Powell-Moorman Farm in Franklin County, Virginia.  
What would it take to harvest ice in the winter? Imagine having to work outside harvesting ice.
Harvesting ice from the pond was hard, grueling work that required numerous specialized tools and horsepower.  First, snow was scraped off the ice using a scraper pulled by horses. The snow was discarded on the side of the pond. The pond then would be marked with planks into rows so that the blocks of ice could be easily maneuvered while harvesting.  Large ice saws would then cut through the ice, after which men would push the ice to the water's edge. The ice blocks would be lifted with ice tongs onto a horse drawn wagon and then carried to the ice house.
The following video provides a glimpse into ice harvesting in the early 20th century at Pocono Manor, Pennsylvania. Even though the Machens were harvesting ice 60 years earlier, in the 1850s, many of the tools and methods used were the same.

Fairfax Virtual Assistant