By David Thompson
The house on the corner of Great Falls Street and North Maple Avenue in the City of Falls Church has undergone many renovations in the decades since it was built in the 1890s, but at its core lies a beautiful Victorian model almost as old as F.C. itself.
“The house was a traditional Victorian farmhouse with a big porch and a widow’s walk around the top,” David Snyder, the home’s owner and Vice Mayor of The Little City, tells the News-Press.
The house still has its original 1890s floors that creak and trigger thoughts of families come and gone. The walls reach up high and end with intricate crown molding, a stylistic choice rarely seen in more modern homes.
Surrounding Snyder’s house are newer homes and a high-rise apartment complex, hallmarks of contemporary suburban architecture. And while the the house may have been built more than 100 years ago, it didn’t make it to the 21st century without some updating.
“Around the 1920s someone wanted a different style house and removed some of the Victorian features on the outside.” Snyder said. The front porch was removed along with the widow’s walk and a garage and screened-in porch were added on the back. Snyder says the porch was a major factor in his purchase of the property in the late 90s. Another factor was the historic quality of the home.
“We love history and we’ve owned probably five different houses in the Falls Church area at one time or another,” Snyder says. The Vice Mayor’s love is evident throughout the home, with bookshelves adorned with old leather bound books and artifacts and paintings on the walls, but the house’s grounds revealed some history of its own.
“We dug up a civil war artifact with U.S. stamped on it,” Snyder says. He says it was a piece of a horse bit probably used during the time of the Civil War. Snyder also found a surveyor’s stake that might have been used prior to building the home and adjacent homes in the 1880s and 1890s.
Before Snyder bought the property, it was owned by notable political cartoonist Patrick Oliphant. Oliphant‘s political cartoons have appeared in numerous newspapers and have received many awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Cartooning. Oliphant did his professional and personal art work in the house and left traces behind to prove it – there were splashes and dots of paint across the studio floor when the Snyders moved in.
“The studio [Oliphant] used was speckled with the paint from his brush, and we preserved a square of that. It’s almost like modern art.” says Snyder.
Living in an old house requires a lot of maintenance that goes beyond fixing paint-stained floors, which is something Snyder has embraced as the price of owning a historical home.
“It takes a certain flexibility and there’s upkeep you don’t have with a new house, but also its uniqueness is something that’s very appealing.” Snyder said. “I grew up in an old house and I like the quirkiness and the sense there’s no other house exactly like it anywhere in the world.”
The house has had about six owners in its lifetime, including Snyder, and with each owner the house has grown and changed with them. Additions here and reductions there have turned the home into an ever-evolving entity that has traveled through time and seen the history of the Little City.