By Christopher DanielFebruary 1, 2010
FORT BELVOIR, Va. -- Just to the north of Fort Belvoir, in a quiet subdivision, sits the remains of Mount Air. Now a park run by Fairfax County, all that remains of the once great Northern Virginia plantation are the ruins of the house proper and a few surrounding outbuildings.
But, don't let its unassuming state fool you: during its 260-year history, Mount Air and its owners played an important role in the development of both Fairfax County and Fort Belvoir.
Built by Dennis McCarty in 1732, Mount Air represented the center of the family's 3,700-acre estate. While living at Mount Air, the McCarty family, who held relations to such prominent Virginia families as George Mason and George Washington, helped develop what we know today as Fairfax County.
Dennis McCarty served as sheriff and justice of the county court and represented Prince William County - now Fairfax County - in the House of Burgesses. His grandson, Daniel McCarty, served with George Washington, as a trustee of the Patowmack Company, which promoted the commercial development of the Potomac River.
The McCarty family residence at Mount Air ended just before the Civil War when the house was purchased by Aristides Landstreet. Shortly after acquiring Mount Air, Landstreet joined the Confederate Army leaving his wife, Mary, and his children behind at Mount Air. During the Civil War, Mount Air was occupied by Union Soldiers, who believed Mary was signaling Confederate forces from the attic.
In 1914, Mount Air passed to its final family when it was sold to Mrs. George Kernan. In 1918, Mrs. Kernan allowed Army Engineers to camp on the property while they built a railroad spur from Camp Humphreys - now Fort Belvoir - to Accotink Station.
The railroad spur played a vital role in transporting troops and supplies to the camp. Mrs. Kernan saw the commitment of her land as a means of contributing to the war effort, and in the tradition of the owners before her, wished to contribute to the growth of Fairfax County.
In 1992, Kernan's daughter, Mount Air's final owner, passed away. Only a few weeks later, on May 19, Mount Air caught fire. The Fort Belvoir Fire Department was the first to respond. Due to the isolated location and the lack of nearby fire hydrants, the house could not be saved.
After the fire, Mount Air was transferred to the Fairfax County Parks Authority and developed into a historic park. Today, interpretive signs tell visitors about the plantation's legacy.
Fort Belvoir's Historic Preservation Program recently researched and completed a National Register of Historic Places nomination for the house site and surrounding property, in order to further protect the site.
Though Mount Air is no longer the grand Northern Virginia plantation it once was, its ruins still echo with the memories of the prominent individuals who called it home.
(Daniel is the cultural resources intern with the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of Belvoir's Directorate of Public Works.)