Our Man in Arlington

February 11, 2014 10:39 AM0 comments

clark-fcnpMy friends who own one of Arlington’s most historic homes opened it up last month to neighbors long-curious about what 163-year-old “Maple Shade” is like on the inside.

Though many doubtless came for the accompanying talk by County Board candidate Alan Howze, I was pleased to offer the standing-room crowd at 2230 N. Powhatan St. some details and mythbusting on the lives of local forebears.

The white colonnaded “early classical revival” manse was built as a farmhouse in 1851 by Virginia militia Capt. Henry Febrey. Born to one of Arlington’s most important 19th-century land-owning families – Febreys deeded much of today’s Westover and Dominion Hills areas flanking Washington and Wilson boulevards – Henry and his wife Margaret Payne raised 11 children in the home.

Their cotton farm of 177 acres between modern Lexington Street and Quantico relied on slaves (a story survives of a homebuilder a few decades ago discovering ancient shackles in a backyard on Madison Street and failing to preserve them). Aside from serving in the 175th militia, Henry Febrey served what in his time was Alexandria County as a justice of the peace. He attended Dulin United Methodist Church, still open on East Broad Street in Falls Church.

Henry was also the sole Febrey to side with the Confederacy during the Civil War, and therein lies a tale.

The richest source for the story of Maple Shade is the 1959 book Arlington Heritage by Eleanor Lee Templeman. I have long proclaimed myself a Templeman fan. (I was probably the last to interview her, having phoned her on a reporting assignment in 1990 and heard her say, “I’m sick in bed but I’ll talk to you.” A week later I read her obituary.)

But her write-up on Maple Shade may have gone astray.

Because of action during the Battle of Munson’s Hill (a minor clash fought in autumn 1861 on the edges of Arlington and Bailey’s Crossroads), Henry Febrey’s home “bears within its walls hidden scars,” Templeman wrote. “One shot came through the dining room and sheared off the leg of a table set for dinner, without disturbing the meal thereon.”

The current owners of the elegant (and very livable) home, Steve and Nancy Etkin, despite executing countless historically respectful renovations inside and out, have never found “scars.” My efforts with Arlington Public Library archivists to nail down the claim came up dry.

But give Templeman credit for describing how the home evolved after it passed from the Febreys in 1919. A buyer named Albert Paxton began improvements that included reversing the front and back entrances and adding columns, dormer windows and a rooftop balustrade. The name “Maple Shade” grew from the “stately grove of trees framing it.”

As the neighborhood suburbanized in the 1950s, a subdivision sprung up around the site as ownership turned over from Paxton to Coxen to Hoge to Logtens and, finally, in 1984, Etkins. Even when adding a carport, Steve and Nancy preserved the design’s integrity. He showed me what seems an early ’50s snapshot showing horses in the front corral.

Not all passersby realize it, but remnants of two stone columns that once marked entry to the farm stand today at Quantico and North 22nd Road.

Maple Shade is among the few Arlington homes with real (closable) shutters. It’s worth a peek – even if you don’t get inside.

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