County officials have set aside money to acquire more local historic sites, which could mean —a green space that offers glimpses into how a vibrant suburban community started out as a two-tavern colonial trading post.
The county has several million dollars from a past bond issue that is to be used for historic acquisition this year, said . Although the money is to be spread for sites throughout the county, some acquisitions could be made for the Centreville park, said Frey, a history buff himself. The historic district was created in 1986.
“They have a lot of property they are looking at,” Frey said. “They are reaching out to see what sites are available and what makes the most sense to acquire. I suspect we will see it happen in a year or so.”
One site that deserves consideration is the old Harrison House, on the corner of Braddock Road and Mt. Gilead, said Ted McCord, a history professor and resident curator of Mt. Gilead house, the showpiece of the district. The Harrison house—which is privately held and now for sale—was built probably in the 1870s and was the location of an old tannery, McCord said. It is adjacent to Mt. Gilead.
The house sits on an old three-sided stone foundation that was probably the site of an earlier structure. It’s impossible to know the historic value of the site without doing some sort of archeological survey, McCord said. An old blacksmith shop also sits on the property and could be significant, he said.
“That’s the one thing about archeology, you never know what you have until you dig,” McCord said. “Structures disappear, the written records could be wrong. The only way to be sure is to dig.”
McCord points to the recent discovery of the foundation of the old Newgate Tavern, near the intersection of Routes 28 and 29, which many believed had been lost forever. The tavern, built circa 1785, was a popular gathering spot. George Washington visited it at least four times by when he made sojourns out to the community of Newgate (the old name for Centreville). Thomas Jefferson depicted Newgate 1787 map and became a well-known tavern on the road to and from the Northwest Territory.
The tavern competed for a while with a tavern that was located in a cross-street competitor, the proprietors of the Mt. Gilead house which ran the Sign of the Black Horse. Newgate tavern fell into disrepair and was eventually destroyed in the 1930s, McCord said. Mt. Gilead house, which is the oldest standing structure in Centreville, survived and some wainscoting from the Newgate Tavern was used for interior repairs at Mt. Gilead.
Locals believed the actual location of Newgate Tavern was obscured by modern development. But experts hired by Walgreens (which built a store near the historic park several years ago) found the tavern foundation and one of the angled fireplaces. It was recovered with dirt to prevent it from being disturbed and historians hope that a marker will be placed to commemorate the spot so it won’t be lost again, McCord said.
Another hidden spot is the Jamesson family cemetery, located in a corner of the Mt. Gilead house site, which contains six known grave sites. The individual burial sites are marked by humble blank head and foot stones. The only inscription is a large single headstone which lists the names of those buried in the cemetery. It was erected in 1904 with the death of Penolope Jamesson, the last to be buried in the cemetery.
“We know who is buried in the cemetery, but don’t know exactly where they are buried,” McCord said.
Family members still make pilgrimages to visit the cemetery and share with McCord old letters that illuminate the history of Mt. Gilead. The house passed from the Jamesson family in the 1930s, he said.
McCord said he hopes the county will make additions to the Centreville park, which is rich in history. Starting from the back door of the Mt. Gilead house, it’s possible to walk from colonial Centreville, across an old post-World War II vegetable garden patch, and wind up at the site of a Civil War era tannery—all within about 100 yards.
Historic preservation is important, McCord said. “It gives you a material sense of how people lived and what life was like, what utensils they used. It’s important to know the past so we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.”