The future of this 171-year-old historic estate is unknown

Virginia

ARLINGTON, Va. (WDVM) — For 40 years, Tom Dickinson has spent his free time photographing Arlington County’s historic homes before they’re torn down. One historical property is in danger of the same fate, and Dickinson has traded his camera for a petition in order to save it. 

The Rouse estate sits on a whopping nine acres — enough to squeeze in over 50 homes. The acreage is extremely valuable but Dickinson says the estate’s part in 171 years of history is priceless. 

“The important thing is that this is just really a once in forever – not a once in a lifetime or once in a generation – this is a once in forever opportunity for Arlington County to put its stamp on a willingness to preserve indisputable historic property in Arlington,” he said.

In February, the history buff submitted an application for a local historic district designation to the county’s Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board. In November, the HALRB unanimously approved a preliminary study.

Although the study was approved, HALRB Chairman Dick Woodruff says the home is still in danger of being torn down. “Even if it were a historic district, the owner could, if they wanted, put it up for sale at market rate and if there were no owner willing to buy it they could demolish the house after a year.”

A peach farmer named John Febrey built the home in 1850. Once the Civil War started, and word got around that his property had a great view of Washington, Febrey had thousands of roommates from both the Confederate and the Union Armies. 

“Approximately 5,000 or maybe as many as 10,000 Union troops were encamped and trained here on this land,” Dickinson said. A New York Times war correspondent reported the soldiers drew graffiti inside the home.

The house has changed hands many times since. Former residents include Alvin Lothrop, of the Woodward & Lothrop Department Store, and actress Audrey Meadows from “The Honeymooners.”

Randy Rouse purchased the home in 1951 and lived there until he died in 2016 at the age of 101. His estate is against the study or the designation, and there’s no telling who the next owner will be. 

“The issue in my view is: How do we persuade the owners in the county to get together to at least buy the house and some surrounding property that protests the viewshed from Wilson Boulevard?” said Woodruff. “And then if the owners wanted to build a subdivision around it while protecting the integrity of that house and that viewshed it could both save the house and add to the attractiveness of whatever gets built.” 

Dickinson has started a petition to save the estate. He plans to submit it to the County Board at its next meeting. He wants the property to be used for public use for historic tourism. Get in touch with him here: SaveFebrey@gmail.com

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