February 5, 2007
By David Driver
Used with permission
Ted McCord turns his car off Lee Highway in Centreville, Va., and drives past several single-family homes built in the past few years.
Then he makes a left into his driveway, and suddenly he's back in 1785. No, McCord does not drive a time machine.
But he does live in the Mount Gilead house, a residential property built in the 18th century. During the Civil War, Mount Gilead was used as private quarters by Confederate general and Virginia native Joseph Johnston.
“I don’t think there is another house in Fairfax [County] like Mount Gilead,” says McCord, who is an assistant professor of history at Mason and has a background in archaeology.
McCord says he has always been interested in historic preservation, antiques and old houses, and before moving to Mount Gilead he lived at the 1812 Ratcliffe-Allison house in Fairfax for 14 years.
McCord, who grew up in Fairfax, Va., notes the property’s middle-class roots is what makes Mount Gilead unique. While Mount Vernon and Gunston Hall, also in Fairfax County, were the homes of famous 18th century Americans named George, Mount Gilead has been occupied for the most part by ordinary Joes – and perhaps a ghost or two.
The 6.9-acre property is in the Sully District on Mount Gilead Road, less than a mile from the intersection of Lee Highway and Braddock Road. The property was transferred from the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to the county's Park Authority late last year.
According to a web site, the house was built by Joel Beach, who operated an ordinary, or tavern, there until 1789. The house has two bedrooms upstairs and five rooms downstairs, as well as an enclosed porch.
The home changed hands over the next few decades; the Malcolm Jameson family owned the home from 1837 to 1904.
The Lewis Leigh family owned the house for 29 years before McCord moved there in March 1997. Fairfax County bought the property in 1996.
McCord, who lives alone in house, has taken some Mason students from his Virginia history class to Mount Gilead, as well as groups from Loudoun County and Elderhostel.
What's it like living in an historic home?
The Park Authority imposes certain rules on tenant McCord. For example, he is not allowed to sunbathe on the roof, says McCord. If he has problems with the house, he calls the Park Authority.
If there are ghosts, McCord hasn’t seen any.
McCord has been told the story of a woman who can be heard crying at the top of the steps. Legend has it the woman is the ghost of Penelope Jameson, who was the last of the Jamesons to live in the house. She is crying for her boyfriend, a Union soldier who never returned – at least, never returned to her, says McCord – after the Civil War. “I have seen no evidence of the ghost,” says McCord. Jameson died in 1904, and is buried in the graveyard on the property.
The other ghost story involves Mrs. Leigh, a former resident who one night claimed she saw a Confederate soldier at the foot of her bed. McCord speculates she actually saw a Civil War re-enactor.
Ghosts or no ghosts, the future of the Mount Gilead home is still unclear, although it was discussed at a public session in November. McCord’s current lease runs through next year, but he's not disappointed at the possibility he'll be turned out of the historic property.
“I would like to see it as a house museum. That is different than a display museum. I would love to see it interpreted to an earlier time, maybe the last part of the 18th century,” says McCord. “It will always have its Civil War significance. I think the county has a lot of options.”