Arlington County Board members are about to consider selling Reevesland, the county’s last dairy farm. Although some neighbors have been pushing for the creation of a learning center there, county leaders say the economics just won’t support that idea. Before the end of the year, County Board members are expected to consider putting the property on the market and selling it to the highest bidder for use as a residence.
“Even if they end up selling it as a residence, there will be easements and covenants on the property to ensure that the historic aspects of that building are maintained throughout time,” said Michael Leventhal, Arlington’s historic preservation coordinator. “From a preservationist’s perspective, I am not in the least concerned about how the county is proceeding.”
The move is a blow to neighborhood residents such as Joan Horwitt, who have been pushing for the county to create the Reevesland Learning Center for years. Along with other neighbors in the Boulevard Manor neighborhood, Horwitt has been trying to get the county to transform the house into a facility that could teach schoolchildren about healthy eating and Arlington’s agricultural past. Now it looks as though that dream had died.
“The county has been ignoring us,” said Horwitt, a neighbor who has become the chief advocate for creating a learning center at Reeveland, “even in the face of widespread and enthusiastic support from three communities.”
THE HISTORY OF REEVESLAND dates back three generations. It was purchased in 1866 as a 160-acre farm by William Torreyson. The property stretched west of Four Mile Run and south of Wilson Boulevard, extending beyond Route 50 to Glen Carlyn Road. It was later operated by Torreyson’s daughter, Lucy, and her husband, George Reeves, from 1898-1949.
Their son, Nelson Reeves, became a partner on the farm in 1924, the third generation of family to work that land. He and his wife, Louise Reeves, kept the farm running until July 1955, when it released its last shipment of milk. Well into the 1990s, Nelson Reeves was well-known for his beets — which are fondly remembered as being the size of a child’s head. And then there was his distinctive way of introducing himself to people on the street in the Boulevard Manor neighborhood.
“Hi,” he would say. “I’m your neighbor, Nelson Reeves.”
After Reeves died, the county government acquired the property in 2001. One reason for that was to prevent the expansive greenspace from being developed into a new subdivision. County officials say that the preservation of the house and property has been a success in its own right, preventing a developer from demolishing the historic structure and subdividing the land.
“They could have sold this piece of property to some developers, and we would have McMansions in our backyard,” said Judy Massabny, a neighbor. “Mister Reeves wanted the property to stay intact and always be a reminder that there was a dairy farm here.”
SUPPORTERS OF REEVESLAND Learning Center were the only applicants in a recent request-for-proposals process, which closed in September. Although some county officials say the concept is sound, the economics required to make it happen aren’t as clear. Unlike renovating it to be a residential property, transforming the old house to be a public building would require making it accessible to people with disabilities as well meeting fire codes and building codes. And the learning center would not be able to turn much of a profit.
“The house has a certain historic character, and could conceivably serve some kind of public function,” said County Board member Chris Zimmerman. “The building has issues, and that’s the biggest problem — it would take a fair amount of investment to bring it up to any usable level.”
The idea for a learning center began as a neighborhood program to promote a healthy eating initiative known as the “Lawns to Lettuce for Lunch.” Horwitt started asking her neighbors to grow lettuce, and many of them responded by daydreaming about growing lettuce at the old Reeves farm. So the neighbors got together and petitioned the county to start growing vegetables there, and an eight-bed garden was approved. Then momentum started building to transform the house into a learning center.
“They would like the county to fix up the property and give it to them, essentially,” said Leventhal. “And that’s just not quite what the county is able to do, as nice as that would be.”