HistoryWith the Prince William County Board of Supervisors’ zoning approval in June 1997 for the Melbourne and Marsh tracts that had been purchased by U. S. Home from Riggs Bank, the development of Heritage Hunt entered a new phase. Following the July 31, 1997, settlement Jerry Berman planned to move from the U. S. Home Virginia regional office in South Riding into the Marsh Mansion on Catharpin Road. However, the imposing southern colonial-style home that Jerry entered to set up his office in the portion that is now our billiards room was not the gleaming opulent mansion we see today. The condition of the house was deplorable. It had been unoccupied for some time since it had been sold to a developer in 1989-1990 before reverting to Riggs Bank. The doors had not even been locked during this period after the initial developer left. There had been no heat or electricity for several years and it had become, in Jerry’s words, “a big wildlife preserve.” Birds, deer, foxes, groundhogs, mice (alive and dead) and raccoons greeted Jerry, his secretary Kathy Galliher, and Vice President of Construction Tracy Morris when they arrived to establish the Heritage Hunt Golf & Country Club office.
The zoning approval for Heritage Hunt stipulated that the Marsh Mansion was to be renovated and refurbished and, with great expense, it was preserved. The first steps were to remove the accumulated debris and dead animals, to clean the downstairs portion of the home, and to repair the leaks. The billiards room was then partitioned into offices for Jerry, Kathy, and Tracy.
The Marsh Mansion was built by John Marsh and his wife Hazel in 1967. Mr. Marsh was an insurance executive with offices located in downtown Washington, DC. Mr. Marsh raised and sold racehorses and grew hay. Marsh Farms also operated a rehabilitation facility for thoroughbred horses that served a nationwide clientele. The farm resembled a small self-contained city. The property consisted of the residence, an outdoor pool, a large greenhouse on the present tenth tee, a tenant house, seven apartments for staff, barns, stables, a race track (now hole #5) used by 40-50 horses a day, indoor whirlpool, a pond with dock and exercise pit, and pastureland. The farm had its own fire hydrants, underground water system with wells and two 10,000-gallon underground storage tanks. A large backup generator in the basement of the Marsh Mansion could produce enough power for a small mall; however, this was under water when U. S. Home moved in to begin renovation.
Even though the company that purchased the estate from Mr. and Mrs. Marsh was not able to develop the property as planned, it leased the farm to a Maryland operator who continued to operate Marsh Farms as a thoroughbred rehabilitation facility and grew hay until the golf course construction began in the spring of 1998.
August 2002Even though Jerry Berman and his staff had moved their office into the current billiards room of the Marsh Mansion in 1997, it would be nearly a year before the man who was responsible for the extensive restoration and refurbishing of this structure arrived on the scene. Mike Dillard came to Heritage Hunt Golf & Country Club in June 1998 as vice president, Shenandoah Land Development Division. In earlier years Mike had worked with Jerry Berman for six months at U. S. Home’s Heritage Harbor community in the Annapolis area. Next, he set up and built Greenbrier at River Valley, a small-scale active-adult community in Cleveland, Ohio. The clubhouse that Mike built at Greenbrier at river Valley marked the first time U. S. home had built this facility in house rather than contracting it out. After working one-and-a-half years on this non-golf course community, family obligations necessitated his return to Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he now resides with his wife. Shortly thereafter, Mike returned to employment with U. S. Home to work again with Jerry Berman, but this time, at Heritage Hunt in Gainesville.
It would be almost a year after Mike’s arrival at Heritage Hunt that the renovation of the Marsh Mansion was his major focus. He constructed the front entrance features to our community, including the gatehouse, the fountain wall, the pond and gazebo, the new clubhouse, the fitness center, outdoor pool, and the tennis courts. He also negotiated the contract for the building of the construction maintenance facility on Catharpin Road. Mike speaks in his quiet unassuming manner with pride in these projects, but it is when he tells of his work on the Marsh Mansion that one senses his immense joy and satisfaction in the renovation of this beautiful estate home that John Marsh and his wife had built in 1967.
The zoning approval for Heritage Hunt stipulated that the Marsh Mansion was to be renovated and refurbished but did not set precise guidelines as to what extent the original structure was to be preserved. Jerry Berman stated that U. S. Home desired that Heritage Hunt be the “crown jewel” of their active-adult communities and that upon completion would “give the feeling of a Ritz Carlton.” In line with this philosophy, 1.3 million dollars would be spent to preserve, renovate, and furnish the Marsh Mansion. This was to prove to be an extremely challenging project because the structure was to be renovated and converted for commercial rather than residential application. The challenge was to preserve as much of the charm of the original floor plan and design features while complying with the myriad of ADA and current commercial code requirements. Mike Dillard had just the construction background to meet these challenges. He had grown up in the Northern Neck of Virginia near Montross and had learned his carpentry skills from an elderly local cabinetmaker who worked on many projects in this area of early historic homes and properties. Finally, he stated to Mike that he had taught him all he knew…and this background served him well.
By the time Mike arrived, U. S. Home had kept the billiards room intact with additional office partitions. However, they had gutted the remaining drywall while leaving the original partitions intact, had stopped the water infiltration, and had ripped out the old carpets throughout the house. Mike began the design, purchasing and supervision of the project. He focused heavily on the mansion about halfway through the construction of the main clubhouse.
The estate home is typical of the Georgian style reflecting a symmetrical balance of doors, windows, chimneys, and wings in its external design and elevations. Mike wanted to retain this symmetry and chose not to do some demolition and to preserve as many of the original materials, design elements, and hardware as possible. The front of the mansion with its imposing two-story veranda faced the Bull Run Mountains but the drive and walkway led to the “back entrance” that now faces the parking spaces and tennis courts. This was the entrance used by family and visitors and the doorway and steps are original. However, the front veranda’s impressive double doors had to be reproduced and replaced as they opened into the foyer and commercial use code required that they open out onto the porch. The original brass threshold was reworked to meet ADA requirements. Also, a ramp was built to meet current access regulations. The massive hanging veranda light fixture was damaged and not usable but a replacement could not be found. So, the fixture was sent away for restoration to comply with electrical codes at a cost of $3,000. Then the debate for the proper height at which to position the lamp ensued. A photo taken for early marketing materials was located and used to determine the proper placement. Since only two original chains remained, two additional ones that are almost an exact match were purchased.
All of the exterior wood siding is original except that covering the two add-on fire escapes. A few windows have been added but all the originals remain with the addition of custom storm windows. A majority of the shutters are original with the additional custom-milled ones as required. The original copper gutters exist with some being remade from the same material. The current golf lounge was the garage wing and had a “fireplace chimney” that masked a trash-burning incinerator. This chimney was retained to preserve the exterior symmetry, and the incinerator was bricked up to serve as an interior wall design feature.
The greenhouse that was on the site of the #10 tee was dismantled, but the Vermont slate roof tiles were carefully saved for future repairs to the mansion roof.
Mike tried to preserve as much of the surrounding landscape features as possible. Several apple trees still stand near the tenth tee. The boxwoods are original and valued at $3,000 apiece. The Smithsonian wanted them to be donated for relocation on their properties, but they were instead nursed back to health and slightly trimmed back. One of two magnolias was saved, but the roots of the other had to be cut on all four sides to construct the required fire escape. Cost of relocation was $10,000 with only a 20 percent chance of survival.
September 2002The beautiful Georgian estate home that Mr. and Mrs. John Marsh built in 1967 at Marsh Farms was not only a gracious and elegant family home but also the office of Marsh Farms. As Marsh Farms bred racehorses and also served a nationwide clientele as a thoroughbred equestrian rehabilitation facility, the mansion was the scene of many social and business functions and also provided lodging for guests and clients.
Upon entering the foyer from the rear entrance off a circular drive (where the parking lot now exists) one experiences a magnificent first impression viewing the marble floor, graceful staircase, lovely moldings, and lighting fixtures. All of the balustrades in the stair railing had to be replaced as they did not meet the current county height code, but the rest of the foyer is original. In ironic juxtaposition to the elegance of the marble, moldings, high ceilings, and chandeliers throughout the home were the acoustical block ceiling tiles present in every one of the downstairs rooms. One surmises this was used to provide quiet accommodations for family and guests in the five bedrooms and five bathrooms located on the second floor. Mike Dillard, who directed the restoration, removed all these ceiling tiles. This created a gap above the existing moldings. Mike placed an additional strip of molding between the ceiling and the top of the molding already in place to cover up the newly exposed space.
As with the exterior renovation, Mike faced many challenges restoring the interior of the Marsh Mansion to preserve as much of the charm of the original floor plan and design features while complying with ADA and current code requirements while converting the structure for commercial use. Designing and installing the heating and air conditioning systems certainly was an example. To cover the center section of the home and its various wings, the plan necessitated as many zones as were required in the new construction of our Heritage Hunt clubhouse! There are 14 separate furnaces (water source heat pump) located throughout the Marsh Mansion. Mike’s previous experience in cabinet making and old home restoration on the Northern Neck again served him well. Furnaces are located in closets, under steps, in the attic, and many window seats were built to cover ductwork for the system. The fireplaces throughout the home are original but gas logs have been installed. The original heat vents remain but have been abandoned and new vents were custom made to fit panels in the existing walls and paneling. The home also retains the speakers for the “state-of-the-art” 1960s sound system, but they are non-functioning. A sprinkler system was also installed throughout the mansion.
The formal library to the right of the entrance hall retains its beautiful mahogany woodwork, paneling, fireplace, and bookshelves. The doors had to be removed and reworked to meet ADA requirements. Through the doorway to the left of the rear foyer door, one enters the fir-paneled very informal library near the kitchen. Walking past the graceful staircase on the inch-thick marble floors, one reaches the veranda with its lovely views of the Bull Run Mountains.
To the right of the main exterior door is the formal parlor and to the left is the formal dining room. These rooms have retained their original moldings, fireplaces, cabinets, and chandeliers, but some elements cleverly hide ductwork and return air grills. The swinging door into the kitchen had to be widened. One can only imagine the elegant social affairs these rooms have witnessed. More recently, many current Heritage Hunt residents have enjoyed teas, dinners and special celebrations within these rooms, and we look forward to the Marsh Mansion’s more extensive availability and use.
October 2002The Marsh Mansion, built in 1967, exemplifies a much earlier architectural style—that of a resplendent Georgian home with its symmetrical facades composed of a rectangular main block portion with low connecting units called hyphens that lead to smaller wings at either side, called flankers or pavilions. Based on the classically inspired designs of Renaissance architect Andrea Pallado, this style flourished in America during the reigns of England’s first three monarchs named George, from about 1700 until the American Revolution. Our tour continues as we move from the main block portion containing the entrance foyer, formal and informal studies, living room and dining room into the hyphens.
Beyond the informal study and dining room, the south hyphen contained a butler’s pantry and kitchen. These retained their original size in the renovation and became a commercial cold kitchen used as a staging area for catered events held in the mansion. The golf grill that adjoins the kitchen was originally a two-car garage. The concrete floor remains but was raised to facilitate the construction of the golf grill room with its tray ceiling. A large window replaced the garage door. The grill room entryway and women’s rest room were previously the maid’s quarters.
As the restoration of this side progressed, Mike Dillard realized there was a bit of intrigue involved in the layout. The flanker or pavilion on the south end could only be accessed from an outside door. When this section was opened up, it revealed a sauna, showers, and bathhouse for a long-abandoned and filled-in swimming pool where the golf cart parking is now located. These long-unused rooms became the men’s rest room and card room. Handicapped an fire safety access was added to this wing as well.
When one enters the north hyphen beyond the formal living room and study, a hall with a stairway to the basement, a bath with one-inch thick marble walls and floors and a wet bar area exist. The spacious billiards room retains its original knotty pine paneling and extensive bay windows with a mountain view. The newly installed mirrors appear as an attractive decorator touch but replace sections of the knotty pine that had to be cut out for repairs or additions required by current building code.
The north flanker or pavilion contains the working office for Marsh Farms that Mr. Marsh occupied. Mike calls the west wall a “million-dollar wall” because it is covered not by wallpaper but with losing horse race tickets for the period of the 1960s from tracks at Belmont Park, Bowie, Charlestown, Laurel, Pimlico, and Shenandoah. A current Heritage Hunt resident, Ron Meyer, encouraged Mike to save this wall during reconstruction even though holes had already been cut in it to run wiring. Again, Mike’s dedication to preservation rose to the challenge. The interior decorator’s husband was an artist, and Mike asked him to paint race tickets on the patched holes. This effort required several days of tedious hand painting but with marvelous results. The next time you look at this wall, see if you can find these “faux” race tickets because they are winners!
November 2002As the arrival of your December Heritage Horn signals nearly the end of 2002, so does our tour of the Marsh Mansion at Heritage Hunt come to its conclusion. Month by month we’ve toured the grounds and the first floor. Now it’s time to return to the lovely entrance foyer and ascend the graceful staircase to the second floor. There was also a one-person elevator that ascends to the bedroom level. It had an accordion-type door and was approximately the size of a telephone booth. Since it could not be brought up to county building code for use, it was abandoned in place. The cables and equipment were removed and the opening was sealed.
To the left of the upper hall was the master bedroom. It was large with a sitting area and upstairs office. Its bath, as well as all the others in the home, had one-inch thick marble walls and floors. Four bedrooms, each with its own bath, were located on the opposite side of the hallway. Many of the original doorknobs and hinges remain. They feature a sunflower decoration and were purchased from a New York boutique.
As previously noted, Marsh Farms catered to entertaining and lodging business clients rather than maintaining an elaborate lifestyle. From the upstairs hall, one finds yet another staircase that leads to cedar closets and a most unexpected feature—a chapel!
Entering the chapel one walks on the plush red carpet and sits in one of two church pews complete with kneeling benches. Over the altar is a circular stained-glass window with a shield emblem surmounted by a crown and bisected with a diagonal stripe. A cross is pictured on the upper left and praying hands are on the lower right. On either side of the window are Williamsburg-style brass wall sconces and overhead is a colonial brass chandelier. Marsh Farms raided, boarded, and rehabilitated thoroughbred racehorses with clients coming from all over the United States. Prayer services were held in this third floor chapel before every company meeting. Public access to the third floor is not permitted according to the building code.
As the Heritage Hunt community continues to grow, the Marsh Mansion’s use as a clubhouse will increase. Community Management Corporation’s HOA staff offices—bookkeepers, covenants administrator, general manager, and programs director—are located on the second floor. The computer lab occupies the remaining upstairs room. The first floor is available for catered events scheduled through the clubhouse food and beverage department (703-743-2002). Rooms may be reserved for club or committee meetings through the main clubhouse front desk receptionist (703-743-2000).