Cherry Hill Farmhouse Closed for Lead Paint Removal

Falls Church City’s beloved historic property, the Cherry Hill Farmhouse, is much like any other City home: Every once in a while, it needs some “TLC.” But when dealing with an historic home, sometimes a little extra care is needed.

The farmhouse is currently closed for renovations, because the City discovered recently that its walls were painted with lead-based paint.

According to City spokesperson Barbara Gordon, crews were brought in to repair the house in a two-part project at the suggestion of an industrial hygiene consultant. First, the paint had to be “stabilized,” which required an environmental remediation company to come in and wet scrape and vacuum loose pieces of the paint to prepare the walls for a lead barrier primer. Then, hazardous waste haulers removed the problematic paint.

Workers are now in the second phase of the project, which involves applying the walls with lead-free paint. A lead renovation, repair and painting contractor, with experience in working with historic Virginia buildings such as Gunston Hall, is taking on the project, which is scheduled to be completed in mid-April for an early May reopening.

While all April plans are cancelled, the house is expected to be reopened for a few May programs, in particular the annual Civil War Day reenactment on May 21. Diane Morse, Cherry Hill’s curator, promises will be a “big event,” as this year will mark the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War.

During the event, reenactors at the farmhouse will take part in Civil War-era activities – like telling spy stories and viewing balloon surveillance demonstrations – much as they may have been practiced in the farmhouse during those early Falls Church times.

“We also interpret civilian life during the Civil War and I think it helps create a greater understanding of the difficulties people faced in this area as it was a very divided community,” Morse said. “The family that lived at Cherry Hill came from the north and voted to stay with the Union and they were definitely in the minority in Falls Church.”

The house, built in 1845 and owned by the Joseph Harvey Riley family, was purchased by the City in 1956, with the stipulation that any living Riley heir could live on the property. When the last surviving Riley heir died in 1968, the City moved in and began considering plans for its use. With the help of community members like Harry Wells, Mildred Pope and Ruby Bolster, the house was restored and made into a museum, giving all who visit today a taste of middle-class, 19th-century farm life.

“Virginia has many plantations and estates, but it is rare to find more modest framed homes of the period,” Gordon said.

The house is the site of the annual October Farm Days, and regular Victorian parlor readings. From history camps to tea parties, hundreds of young historians visit the site annually. The house is listed as a Virginia Landmark and appears on the National Register of Historic Places.

“From an educational perspective it serves to enlighten people, especially children on an earlier way of life that has long since disappeared,” Morse said.

With historically designated homes in Falls Church, unlike normal home repairs, the household Mr. Fixit can’t just start up on a project in a home. Any exterior changes must be approved by the City’s Historic Architectural Review Board, and City staffers coordinate with the Friends of Cherry Hill Farmhouse to make sure that renovation decisions are up to snuff.

Even in the current ongoing painting project, the Friends picked out the paint colors, after having paid for an analysis to scrape through the layers of paint to find out what colors the walls were originally painted.

The City performs regular maintenance on the building, from lighting replacement to carpentry repairs.

“Great care is taken by the City when doing maintenance or improvements to this historic house,” Gordon said.

And with the care of the City and the Friends of Cherry Hill Farmhouse, guests will be welcomed for summer programming into a safer farmhouse.

The Cherry Hill Farmhouse is located on 312 Park Ave., Falls Church. The house is open the public Monday – Thursday, from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m., from April to October.