Background:

“Bel Air” — House of Parson Weems (Who Wrote the George Washingon “Cherry Tree” Story) To Be Auctioned

Wow!  Here is yet another landmark historic house for sale.  On Wednesday, April 18, at 3:00 p.m., the historic manor home of George Washington’s first biographer, Parson Weems, will be sold at auction.  Located at 14513 General Washington Drive in Woodbridge, Virginia, “Bel Air” is the oldest home in Prince William County, having been constructed in 1740 by Major Charles Ewell.  The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and recognized by the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission.  Oh . . . and did I mention? . . . George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both guests at “Bel Air”!

If you don’t remember Parson Weems, the former owner of this estate, he was the guy who wrote the famous first biography of George Washington, The Life of Washington (published in 1800).  In that book, Weems shared the iconic story of a young Washington chopping down a cherry tree with an ax, and then famously confessing, “I cannot tell a lie” — forever setting a fine moral example for the youth of America.  Although Weems died in Beaufort, South Carolina, I was surprised to learn (from Wikipedia) that he is buried “somewhere on the grounds of Bel Air Plantation” though “the precise location of his grave and the accompanying cemetery were lost in the mid 20th century.”  So apparently, Weems is actually buried somewhere on the grounds!  Talk about owning a piece of history!  But . . . back to Weems’ “cherry tree” story:

“The following anecdote is a case in point. It is too valuable to be lost, and too true to be doubted; for it was communicated to me by the same excellent lady to whom I am indebted for the last:
“When George,” said she, “was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet! of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping everything that came in his way. One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother’s pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don’t believe the tree ever got the better of it. The next morning the old gentleman, finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favourite, came into the house; and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree. Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. “George,” said his father, “do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? ” This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.” “Run to my arms, you dearest boy,” cried his father in transports, “run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.”"

That’s great stuff.  And the guy who wrote it owned (and may be buried at?) “Bel Air”.  But beyond the Weems connection, “Bel Air” has a more tangible connection to our 1st president:  George and Martha Washington (see left) were overnight guests of the Ewells (not Weems, interestingly) on their honeymoon journey to Mount Vernon (this would make sense geographically, since the Washingtons were married east of Richmond, VA).  So, an interesting turn of events:  Washington was a guest in the house long before it was owned by the man who would become his most famous biographer.  And I should mention that yet another president, Thomas Jefferson, was a guest in the house.  In other words, this property has a rich provenance involving both founding presidents and also a famous biographer of one of those presidents.  All of this alone makes “Bel Air” a unique and valuable historic property.

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Yet after checking out the property listing for the auction, I’m quite impressed with the property on its own merits — including its grounds, its architecture, its amenities, and its beauty.

The five bedroom, three bathroom home — and the property’s 25 beautiful acres — have been “impeccably restored and maintained by one family for over 60 years” — and it shows.  The three level home features a wide center hall with an impressive, finely detailed archway.

Front and rear entries offset by a transom window shed plenty of light on the main level’s living room, family room, study and fifth bedroom.  Built-in book cases in two main level rooms provide ample storage.  Each of the four main level rooms has a fireplace.

The main level’s piece de resistance is an open staircase with two spacious landings.

A series of several rooms located on the ground floor, Bel Air’s kitchen and adjacent sitting room marry the charm of exposed brick walls, brick flooring and an authentic Colonial cooking fireplace with modern conveniences that include granite countertops, a butler’s pantry and built in cabinetry.

A large laundry room and second staircase to the main level are located just off the cooking area.  Four sunny, spacious upstairs bedrooms offer plenty of updated closets and storage. Three of the upstairs bedrooms boast fireplaces.  Wide-plank wood flooring spans the entire main and upstairs levels.

Bel Air’s bucolic 25 acre grounds include a well-tended garden and Colonial boxwood maze, a large barn and a storage shed.  The grounds are filled with mature trees to create an extremely private setting.


There are LOTS more beautiful photos of the property that I just can’t fit into the blog.  I highly recommend checking them out here.  The property will be available to be previewed on Sunday, March 18, Saturday, March 31, and Saturday, April 14 from 1-4 p.m.  The contact for this property is Jeff Stein.  Additional details about the property, including information packages, surveys, etc., can be seen at www.tranzon.com/FX6815.  And, if you happen to be into antiques, the historic contents of the property will be auctioned online at www.ebidlocal.com.  Content bidding begins Sunday, April 8.

Directions to Property: From I-495 take I-95 south toward Fredericksburg.  Merge onto VA-3000 W/VA-639 W/ Prince William Pky via exit 158B toward Manassas.  Merge onto Caton Hill Rd/VA-639 W toward VA-849/Caton Hill Rd. Turn left onto Minnieville Rd/VA-640 W. Turn right onto General Washington Dr.  A historic marker on the right marks the property’s drive (see entryway to property below).

9 Comments

  1. by Bob Grow, on 04.19.12 @ 1:12 PM

     

    What a beautiful historic house! I own the Wentworth-Grinnan House, “Fairview” in Smithfield, Virginia c 1780. I hope it can someday look as nice as this one. Congrats on your blog…this is great.

    http://www.google.com/search?rlz=1T4SUNA_enUS311US311&q=wentworth%20grinnan%20house&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=ZkaQT8e_HajN6QHJ_ZyXBA&biw=791&bih=376&sei=a0aQT7yYOPGN6QG815m2BA

  2. by Michael, on 04.19.12 @ 8:01 PM

     

    Hi Bob,

    Thanks for the compliment on the blog. And your own house has a charm of its own! I really like the Federal style facade of the main house, and my wife is a big fan of yellow historic houses!

    -Michael @ HHB

  3. by Anna Mae Stanley Godfrey, on 08.16.12 @ 12:36 PM

     

    My maiden name is Anna Mae Stanley. I was born in this Bel Air Plantation home in October of 1939 to the parents of Woodrow Wilson Stanley & Viola Rebecca Posey Stanley. Also in 1933 my cousin, Edwin Bland was born there. While growin up my grndparents owned & farmed the property on Cardinal and Minnieville Road which is across from the Primative Baptist Church.

    I am so pleased to find this home on your site. It brings back such fond memories of my family. You’ve done a wonderful job restoring this Plantation.

    Sincerely, Anna Mae Stanley-Godfrey

  4. by Michael@HHB, on 08.21.12 @ 9:55 PM

     

    Hi Anna,

    Thank you for sharing your family history regarding this property! It really is a beautiful estate, and it must be neat to have been born in such a historic place!

    -Michael

  5. by Edward Higbee, on 02.11.13 @ 5:09 PM

     

    We moved to Woodbridge in 1962 from DC. I was 6 years. When I got old enough to hunt I would park at the powerline on Delany Road and walk back towards this farm and hunt. I knew the plantation land was back in that area but never knew the history about this place. Now that I’m older it is really nice to read things like this. I was reminiscing about hunting back then and came across this trying to figure out where the plantation was located. What great pictures and thank you for sharing. Edward Higbee

  6. by Michael@HHB, on 03.04.13 @ 11:13 AM

     

    Hi Edward!

    Thanks for some unique perspective on this super cool property! I love to get inside information about the backgrounds of these properties. I’m glad you liked the articles and the photographs.

    All the best,

    Michael

  7. by Mary H. Kimble, on 04.25.13 @ 9:25 PM

     

    Colonel Ewell was my great great great great great grandfather on my father’s side, George Ewell Hanson. Love the beautiful plantation. My oldest daughter, Angele Kimble Rogers, is tracing my father’s geneology line and found this website.

  8. by Cynthia Huisman, on 08.28.13 @ 3:32 PM

     

    This was my family’s home. Major Ewell as my great great grandfather. My grandmother has a photo of this home in the family genealogy- and a young flapper was standing on the lawn. She would be mortified to learn it was being auctioned off. The remodel is very nice—minus the blue paint. Heartbreak to think this is going to someone else- and not in the family.

  9. by Michael, on 08.30.13 @ 7:12 AM

     

    Hi Cynthia,

    Thanks for sharing. I’d love to see the 1920s pic of the house and family! Hopefully the new owners are good stewards of the property.

    -Michael @HHB

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