Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Arlington’s budget chieftains take flak for overspending–but also for underspending.

The latter is playing out in the dust-up over Reevesland, the historic but empty farmhouse overlooking the ballfields of Bluemont Park off Wilson Boulevard.

Since the county in 2001 shelled out $1.8 million to purchase the 1899-vintage home—site of the last working dairy farm in Arlington—the plain white structure with its gingerbread trim has sparked clashes among interests representing the old and new.

Should the home on 2.4 acres be a garden farm, an education center, a public-private meeting place or a food service provider? Should it be sold to McMansion makers?

The complicating factor is the need for $944,000 to $1.3 million in refurbishments, according to the Parks and Recreation Department.

It you stroll or bike through Bluemont, it’s easy to miss the historic sign harkening back to the dairy farm that just after the Civil War covered 171 acres. Nelson Reeves, born there in 1900, milked his herd and grew beets from 1924 to 1955, when profitability gave way to mass-production competitors. (In 1975 he described the life in the Arlington Historical Magazine, having become caretaker of Oakwood Cemetery.)

With postwar Arlington hungry for growth, Reeves sold the land to creators of subdivisions, the Ashlawn Elementary School, baseball and football fields, a picnic pavilion, two churches and, later, a Sunrise retirement home.

With Reeves’ death in 2000, the county was flush enough for an historic preservation investment. The property was declared a historic district in 2004, but little was done to improve it. Until neighbors got busy in 2010.

The Reevesland Learning Center Steering Committee, a joint project of Bluemont, Boulevard Manor and Dominion Hills residents, petitioned to convert the house to a public facility to “promote positive attitudes among our children, parents and neighbors about growing and eating healthy foods and, equally important, to build new, collaborative relationships among neighbors in our community.”

In early 2011, they won approval for a garden cultivated by Ashlawn students during monthly visits, with produce going to the Arlington Food Assistance Center.

Arlington’s historic preservation coordinator, Micheal Leventhal, recognizes the site’s value. “There are few places in the county where you can see a site in a rural setting,” he told the AOL Patch.

But the vision of a “symbol of urban agriculture,” as project ringleader Joan Horwitt calls it, would require a dollar outlay the county board says is not in the cards.

In September, the county issued a request for proposal for public-private partnerships (though not a sale). The only applicant was theReevesland Learning Center Steering Committee. So the house sits dark.

I spoke to one soul with a personal stake in Reevesland. Arlington-born Anna Belle Lane, 87, who married into the Reeves family, spent countless hours as a child on the farm and grape arbor. There she enjoyed Girl Scouts, day camp and roller skating in the barn. “If you don’t go near the barn, you don’t have to milk,” Mr. Reeves told her. She planned her wedding around his milking schedule.

In recent years, Lane walked an elderly Reeves relative around the old site and he said, “What’s missing here? Cows!”

She thinks the house would make “lovely place to rent out for meetings, receptions and parties. It’s a shame let it go to rot and ruin.”