After 225 years, Oak Hill stands as the last remnant of what was once the nearly 25,000-acre Ravensworth estate in Northern Virginia. But it, too, was nearly lost before a conservation easement and bargain sale was completed to protect the historic and cultural landmark.
Oak Hill was built in 1790 by Richard Fitzhugh, the grandson of William Fitzhugh who, in the 1670s, held the largest land grant in America. Members of the Fitzhugh family were major players in the early history of Fairfax County.
In the 1930s, the house was expanded from a rural, Georgian-style, four-room plantation house to a magnificent Revival- inspired mansion. That renovation was done by Walter Mayo Macomber, a restoration architect for Colonial Williamsburg and Mt. Vernon. The historic landscape surrounding the mansion remains intact, including 200-year-old boxwoods. By 2004, Oak Hill was vacant and nearly engulfed by newer houses, and a developer wanted to subdivide the remaining 2.6 acre property into three lots—keeping the manor house, but destroying the historic boxwoods and gardens.
The Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, working with the Fairfax County Park Authority and the Board of Supervisors, helped to negotiate a bargain-sale purchase of a historic preservation easement, preserving the historic site for just over one-third of the cost of buying the property.
However, the future of Oak Hill took another precarious turn with the decline in the housing market. The house remained unsold and in disrepair for the next several years, and entered foreclosure in 2008. This time it was sold to private buyers, David and Amanda Scheetz, who were happy to revive the beautiful house and grounds, in keeping with the easement.
Amanda Scheetz says, “David and I feel like we’re caretakers of history. It’s really cool. It’s also really humbling.” They share their passion for the historic home by continuing to open it for the annual Oak Hill community day, sponsored by Fairfax County and the Park Authority, so others can experience this precious piece of history.
Photo by Don Sweeney, Fairfax County Park Authority
This piece, written by NVCT, appeared in For the Love of the Land: 100 Conservation Stories from Across Virginia, published by the Piedmont Environmental Council