The CountrySide property lies in eastern Loudoun County, nine miles east of Leesburg, Virginia, on the southern terraces of the Potomac River, about twelve miles above Great Falls. The area around CountrySide has a long and distinguished history, the outlines of which must be understood in order to appreciate the significance of the historic sites on the property.
When Europeans first began to settle along the Virginia coast in the early 1600’s, what is now eastern Loudoun County was an uncharted interior wilderness, occupied by Monocam or Mannahoak Indians, a Siouxan-speaking people who remained independent from Powhatan’s Algonkian-speaking coastal confederacy. The Monocam were a shadowy group, poorly known and quick to leave areas occupied by Europeans. They do not seem to have been as highly integrated as the Algonkian coastal chiefdoms, probably living in small bands dispersed over the hilly, stream out uplands of the Piedmont.
The first recorded European Penetration into the region now constituting eastern Loudoun County occurred in 1692. It was directly linked with King William’s War, a major European conflict between France and a host of other countries, including England; the war had only weak repercussions in North America. The English colonies did, however, suspect France of encouraging the Iroquois to attack English settlements in eastern North America, and because the Iroquois (especially the Seneca tribe) were active in western Virginia, “rangers” were sent out to patrol the western frontier.
A group of such rangers under David Strahan scouted up the Potomac River in September of 1692, providing as a result the first known description of the river above Great Falls. Strahan referred to ” the Sugarlands,” the area at the mouth of Sugarland Run, in a reference so casual that one suspects the region was already known and familiar through the activities of some earlier, unrecorded Indian trader or explorer (Harrison 1964:85). A map of Virginia and Maryland drawn by Augustine Herrmann in 1673 already had a fairly accurate representation of the general course of the Potomac above Great Falls, and this must have been based on some kind of pre-1673 exploration (Stephenson 1981:18). Nevertheless, a really accurate map of the region, one showing the location of the major eastern Loudoun tributary streams, did not appear until 1736-37 (Stephenson 1981:21). This map, drawn by John Warner, was the first that showed Goose Creek, Broad Run, and Sugarland Run as named streams; but it showed only the location of their mouths. The interior was still poorly known, at least to cartographers.
The Warner map was drawn at the request of Thomas, the sixth Lord Fairfax, whose interest in the territory was based on a chain of events taking us back to the year 1649. In this year, when the upper Potomac was still almost entirely unseen by European eyes, King Charles II, living in exile in France, granted all the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers, from the sea to the mountains, to a loyal group of followers. The grant contained over 5 million acres, a fact unknown to Charles II, who had no way of determining the size of a territory that had not as yet been explored. Lost in the middle of this enormous tract was the area that would later become CountrySide. This grant was known as the “Northern Neck Proprietary,” and it went through a series of renewals and share-sellings in England until 1688, when Thomas, Lord Culpeper, acquired complete ownership of the entire grant. His daughter, Catherine, married Thomas, fifth Lord Fairfax, who assumed control over the Proprietary in 1690. Lord Fairfax had the legal right to sell patents (or deeds) and collect profits from any unappropriated lands within his vast and ill-defined Proprietary. He appointed local Virginia residents to act as his agents in managing the tract, and these individuals rapidly granted enormous parcels of land to themselves, becoming quite wealthy in the process. The Carter, Lee, and Fitzhugh family fortunes were founded when men from these families successively acquired the coveted position of resident agent for Lord Fairfax. Much of the early history of eastern Loudoun County revolved around the activities and rivalries of these great landholding families, a fact reflected in the name given to the first town founded In the region: Leesburg.
Nevertheless, it was one Captain Daniel McCarty who obtained the first grant to land In what is now Loudoun County (then Stafford County). McCarty was interested in the area that the “ranger” Strahan had referred to as “the Sugarlands,” near the mouth of Sugarland Run, some two miles east of the CountrySide property. His Interest might have been spurred by the fact that Sugarland Run flows into a broad bowl of fertile Potomac bottomlands, the widest section of floodplain along the entire length of the Potomac above Tidewater. This wide bowl of low bottomland runs from Goose Creek to Sugarland Run, a distance of about six miles; there is no other section of the upper Potomac with a wider floodplain. McCarty, a prominent colonial politician who owned large tobacco plantations near Accotink Creek on the lower Potomac (Sprouse 1970), looked upstream with a practiced planter’s eye and in 1709 acquired title from Lord Fairfax’s agents to 2,993 acres around the mouth of Sugarland Run (McCarty 1972). Eight days later, John Pope, another Tidewater planter and the brother-in-law of Daniel McCarty, bought up the adjoining upstream parcel, including what is now the northern half of the CountrySide property (MacIntyre 1981a). In 1722, Pope died, and his land passed through his sister to McCarty, who now owned all the Potomac bottomlands from Sugarland to Broad Run. It does not appear that he attempted to farm or improve this land during his lifetime.
Throughout the 1700’s the Potomac River was a major communications route providing access to the interior uplands in what is now eastern Loudoun County. Boat, barge, or raft travel up the Potomac was faster and often more convenient than travel over the poor tracks that then passed for roads. Overland access to the area was provided by Vestal’s Gap Road, a winding track following an old Indian trail that ran from the vicinity of Alexandria to Vestal’s Gap in the Catoctin Mountains. This road was the main east-west thoroughfare linking the Northern Virginia Tidewater region with the Shenandoah Valley.
Parts of it are now incorporated into Routes 604 and 638 (MacIntyre 1981a). The road ran well south of modern Route 7 in the vicinity of CountrySide, then curved northward to cross Broad Run near the place where Route 7 now bridges that stream (then probably a ford). Farther back to the east at the Sugarland Run crossing was Coleman’s Ordinary, a well-known tavern run by Richard and James Coleman and opened during the 1740’s (MacIntyre 1978c). Vestal’s Gap Road, though little more than an earthen track twisting through forested wilderness, carried a great deal of traffic during the 1700’s. George Washington, who called It “The Great Road,” passed along it many times, including a historic trip in 1753 to join General Braddock in his march against Fort Duquesne (MacIntyre 1981c).
Loudoun County remained virtually unsettled until after 1722, when the Treaty of Albany was negotiated between Governor Alexander Spottswood of Virginia and the Iroquois Indians. This treaty confined Iroquois activities to lands west of the Blue Ridge Mountains, thereby removing the most active and powerful Indians In the region from any position of potential conflict with settlers in Loudoun County (Williams 1938:29). The unwarlike Monocam (or Mannahoak) had by this time already moved west or had been absorbed by other tribes, and disappear from history with hardly a ripple. With the removal of the Indians, the wilderness above Great Falls became a magnet for land-hungry settlers attracted by its fertile soils, rich stands of timber, numerous clear streams, and its reputed (but never realized) mineral wealth.
What later became Loudoun County was settled from a variety of directions. The earliest settlers may have been an anonymous group of Irish immigrants who had first established themselves on a large Maryland tract around Monocacv Creek which was owned by the Irish Catholic Charles Carroll; these people began to filter across the Potomac to the Virginia side where they had cleared a number of farmsteads by 1725, without any sort of legal title (Williams 1938:43). Francis Aubrey founded the nucleus of another settlement in 1728-30 when he built a house and chapel on a 962-acre grant he had bought from the Fairfax Proprietary, located about two miles north of Leesburg (Williams 1938:38). The small community which grew up in the neighborhood of Aubrey’s residence soon contained a number of resident farming families. Then in 1731, a compact group of about sixty German immigrant families traveled south from Maryland and Pennsylvania settling in the Catoctin Valley–west of Leesburg; while at about the same time, a group of Quakers from Pennsylvania settled in the broad, fertile valley In which Leesburg is now located (Poland 1976). Most of this activity centered on what is now northern and central Loudoun; eastern Loudoun (where CountrySide is located) was settled by English moving up the Vestal’s Gap Road from the Virginia Tidewater region.
This movement began during the 1720’s and 1730’s. Unlike the sober Quakers and industrious Germans of central and northern Loudoun, the English, Scotch, and Irish settlers of eastern Loudoun were a varied and sometimes troublesome lot.
Already In 1730, Virginia’s Governor Gooch described what is now eastern and southern Loudoun as “. ..a part of the Country remote from the Seat of Government where the common people are generally of a more turbulent and unruly disposition than anywhere else, and are not likely to become better, by being the Place of this Dominion where most of transported Convicts are sold and settled.” (Williams 1938:59). Many of these “convicts,” it must be remembered, were guilty of discretionary political offenses, not common civil crimes; this caution applies especially to Scotch Presbyterians and Irish Catholics, both of whom were victims of brutal harassment and deportation by the English Crown.
In spite of Governor Gooch’s assessment, the early residents of eastern Loudoun included several responsible, upstanding families, including the Garners, the Jenkins, and the Colemans, who bought up modest tracts around the upper course of Sugarland Run, and by the late 1730’s, formed a small community graced by a log church, dominated by Richard Coleman’s Ordinary, and a grist mill (Chism 1982). The heart of this community lay along Sugarland Run near Vestal’s Gap Road (now Route 604, east of Sterling). The Jenkins family, of Scotch-Irish origin, would later turn up on the CountrySide property. By 1762, there were four individual Jenkins households between Goose Creek and Sugarland Run (John, Henry, Samuel, and Ezekiel).
Eastern Loudoun County was also the seat of large plantations owned by rich Tidewater planters. The McCarty land, along the Potomac floodplain near the mouth of Sugarland Run was cleared and planted for tobacco under the direction of Daniel McCarty (grandson of the original Daniel), certainly by 1760. Planting may have begun here earlier, under his father, Dennis. Several large landholdings owned by the Carter’s were being worked by numerous tenant farmers and a small number of slaves by 1760 and probably earlier. Benjamin Grayson, who owned the large tract that later became the Belmont plantation (on Route 7), was tithed in 1758 for nine slaves working his property under overseer Moses Botts (Loudoun County, Cameron Parish Tithe Books, Leesburg Courthouse). Daniel McCarty was tithed in 1765 for eight slaves working under overseer William Veal on his Sugarland plantation, and various Carter-family landholders were tithed for thirty-three slaves working several distinct tracts in the same year. Tobacco, corn, wheat, pork, and beef were the products mentioned in the plantation records of Robert Carter of Nomini Hall, for his tracts In the uplands of eastern Loudoun County (Morton 1946). Tobacco was apparently the dominant crop, and we could expect it to have been even more dominant in the floodplain plantation of Daniel McCarty. Tobacco and slaves were part of an agricultural complex not represented among the Quakers and Germans of northern and central Loudoun.
By the year 1800, eastern Loudoun County was well populated by a mixture of tenant farmers, small landholders, and a few large estate owners who had moved their residences out of Tidewater and into the interior uplands. Tobacco cultivation, however, had exhausted the soil In many places, and even wheat and corn were showing poor yields. John A. Binns, after conducting experiments on his own fields, Published a pamphlet in 1803 proposing the use of gypsum as a soil additive in conjunction with deep plowing and the rotation of cash crops with clover, a thoughtful approach that contrasted with the soil-depleting practices of the earlier tobacco planters. The system became known nationwide as the “Loudoun System,” and raised the value of farmland considerably (Williams 1938:159-163).
In 1822 the Leesburg Pike (now Route 7) was constructed through eastern Loudoun, greatly improving the ease of overland transport, and consigning the historic Vestal’s Gap Road to the status of a backwater country lane. Dranesville Tavern supplanted Coleman’s Ordinary as the preferred stopping-place for travelers. Flour, beef, and pork moved down the Pike from prosperous country farms to consumers in Georgetown and Alexandria (Poland 1976:74).
In 1832, the completion of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal just across the Potomac made shipping to and from Georgetown more convenient and relatively inexpensive. Warehouses dotted the riverside, where corn, flour, beef, and pork were loaded onto boats or barges for shipment downriver. One such river landing near the CountrySide property was operated in 1863 by a Mr. Veal (or Veals), Probably a local descendant of the William Veal who served as overseer on McCarty’s Sugarland plantation in 1765.
In 1861, in the midst of the ferment of approaching war, Loudoun County representatives voted 1,626 to 726 to support a motion of secession (Williams 1936:199). Within months, war had begun, and eastern Loudoun County found itself a border country at the mercy of both Union and Confederate troops who passed across the region alternately according to the fortunes of battle. Soldiers from both sides stripped the local farmers of horses, cattle, hogs, grain, and forage, so that one contemporary observer was able to say that the people of the County “… probably suffered more real hardships and deprivations than any other community of like size in the Southland … Both armies, prompted either by fancied military necessity or malice, burned or confiscated valuable forage crops and other stores, and nearly every locality, at one time or another, witnessed depredation, robbery, murder, arson, and rapine” (Williams 1936:213). Loudoun County, especially the part west of Broad Run, was the home base of the famous Confederate cavalry raider, John S. Mosby, who did so much damage to Union stores, supply trains, scouting detachments, and rear-guard units that Major General Philip Sheridan was moved by sheer frustration to set the torch to all barns, mills, crops, forage, and subsistence over a large portion of western Loudoun, an act which has yet to be forgotten by some. The area around CountrySide witnessed its own part in these troubles; legend has it that Mosby stopped several times at “Pigeon Hill,” the farmhouse then belonging to William Russell, that once stood near the Visitor’s Center.
On March 31, 1863, Mosby’s men were attacked at Miskell’s Farm on Broad Run, just west of CountrySide, and defeated their attackers in a brisk engagement, killing or wounding twenty-five Union soldiers and capturing eighty-two. The Jenkins family, which owned several farmsteads in the area remembers the story of one of their ancestors pouring easily-available sugar over the top of a barrel of scarce salt, so that foragers would not discover the salt and take it away (Jenkins family, personal communication). The only organized troop movements involving CountrySide occurred in October of 1861, when the Union General McCall moved his troops up Route 7 from Dranesville to commence an artillery attack on Fort Evans, just east of Leesburg, in support of a Federal attack nearby on the Potomac at Ball’s Bluff. McCall’s forces were dispersed across the country between Route 7 and the Potomac; some elements probably moved up an old road that once passed across the lower part of CountrySide, past the Jenkins’ farm. The attack ended in disaster for the Union forces, and McCall hastily retreated back to Dranesville. Both advance and retreat massed across CountrySide. The Jenkins family cemetery, overgrown but still standing in the woods just east of the landfill near CountrySide, contains the bodies of several unknown Union soldiers who were found floating in the Potomac after the defeat at Ball’s Bluff.
After the war, eastern Loudoun County returned to its traditional agrarian pursuits. A great deal of damage had been done, however, and it was several decades before the area returned to-the prosperous look it had enjoyed before the war. During the 1890’s, there was a significant inflow of new residents, new money, and new determination, which resulted in the re-establishment of several of the large, old estates in the area. CountrySide remained a pocket of small farms and pastures, divided by boundary lines that had survived unchanged In some cases since the early 1700’s. During Prohibition, the residents of the area supplemented their incomes with several stills hidden among the wood lots on the property. The 777 Stock Farm acquired much of the land on the CountrySide tract between 1955-1970, using it for the cultivation of feed corn. The Hartford Insurance Company then bought the property from 777 and several surviving small landholders, creating the CountrySide Planned Community.
It is worth noting that the CountrySide boundaries owe much of their shape to the early occupants of the area. The east-west line that separates the southern “dog-leg,” (Pigeon Hill tract) from the larger northern portion of the property is the same boundary line that once separated the McCarty holdings from those of the Carter’s. It was originally surveyed and laid out by one Nicholas Brent in 1709, when the area was still an untouched wilderness, and Captain Daniel McCarty was serving as Speaker of the House of Burgesses in distant Williamsburg. Through all the changes that have altered the face of the area in the succeeding years, that line and the historic sites described herein have survived.
CountrySide Proprietary | 2 Pidgeon Hill Drive, Suite 560, Sterling, VA 20165 | p: 703.430.0715 | f: 703.430.8094