A Very Brief History of Stockwell Manor

Falls Church, VA

A Very Brief History of Stockwell Manor

The land that we now know as Stockwell Manor was originally part of a 714-acre tract of land that was granted to William Darrell in 1715.  It appears that the Darrells leased the land to tenant farmers for the remainder of the 18th Century.  William Darrell’s son, Phillip, sold 209 acres of the plot to Reuben Dye in 1808.  Dye soon built a brick house on the property. (The original access to the house was a long dirt drive from Haycock Street.  The house was located deep into the property, on the north side of today’s Montour Drive.) Local legend had it that the house served as a hunting lodge for a royal governor of Virginia.  Thus the Dye house was known for a long time as Royal Lodge, even though no records back up this story. Rather it appears that Dye, along with his wife and children, farmed the land, working it with 4-6 slaves.

John Burke, an Irish immigrant, purchased the 209-acre property in 1832 from Reuben Dye’s heirs.  One-third of the land was in timber; the rest was actively farmed by Burke and his family. He added a barn and also built a stone springhouse to keep perishables cool.  The springhouse was located on top of what is now known as Burke’s Spring. This spring is the source of Burke’s Spring Branch, a tributary of Pimmit Run, which is in turn part of the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay watersheds.  The Springhouse fell into ruins decades ago, but Burke’s Spring still flows, with sections of the rock-lined channel still visible. Today it is guarded by new split rail fencing in the undeveloped area on the south side of Stockwell Manor Drive.

John Burke died in 1858, but his widow Mary Ann, a self-declared Union sympathizer, continued to work the property through the Civil War.  The farm supported a variety of livestock (horses, milk cows, sheep and hogs) and produced butter and numerous crops including hay, oats, corn and potatoes.  There was also an orchard on the property. Mrs. Burke left the farm only one time during the war, to avoid threatened skirmishes in Falls Church as the Union Army retreated with “the rebels” in pursuit following the Union’s defeat in the 2nd Battle of Bull Run.  She stayed for five days in Washington, DC, with her daughter Ellen, who had recently married an Irish immigrant, Henry McConvey. (McConvey at the time was a private in the Union Army, but was by trade a stone mason who later worked on projects at both the White House and the US Capitol.)  During the war, Great Falls Street was heavily used by both Union and Confederate troops traveling between Falls Church and Lewinsville. Soldiers from both sides appropriated hay, corn, and potatoes from Mrs. Burke’s fields and used her chestnut fence rails for firewood. Mrs. Burke filed a claim with the federal government in 1873 for compensation.

In 1902, the surviving heirs of John Burke divided up the 209-acre property.  From this point through 1941, the property changed hands several times. The barn was demolished to provide beams for an addition to the house.  In 1941, the house was sold to Robert Frase and his wife, Eleanor Stockwell Frase, and in subsequent years, they accumulated 18 acres surrounding the house.  They raised three children and lived in the house until 2002. Robert Frase was a well known economist; Eleanor Stockwell Frase was an expert in corporate finance and an officer at the Federal Reserve in Washington.  He died in November 2003. After her death in January 2004, the Frase property was purchased by Winchester Homes, and the house itself was demolished. Additional properties resulting from the 1902 break-up were also acquired by Winchester, making up the 22 acres of today’s Stockwell Manor.

Peggy Finarelli

April 2008