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F.C.’s ‘Woodbrook’ Windmill Tells 120 Years of Stories

Residents Arthur & Merelyn Kaye Call Fowler House ‘Home’

windmillWhen Arthur and Merelyn Kaye purchased their home at 1011 Fowler Street – fully equipped with a functional windmill – in Falls Church in 1972, they were unaware of the deep history that the house had prior to their purchase. It was instead the rustic charm and aesthetic appeal of an old home that drew them in.

 

Residents Arthur & Merelyn Kaye Call Fowler House ‘Home’

 

windmill

THOUGH UNUSED, the windmill at 1011 Fowler Street in Falls Church remains fully operable since 1890. (Photo: News-Press)

When Arthur and Merelyn Kaye purchased their home at 1011 Fowler Street – fully equipped with a functional windmill – in Falls Church in 1972, they were unaware of the deep history that the house had prior to their purchase. It was instead the rustic charm and aesthetic appeal of an old home that drew them in.

The 120-year-old house built in 1890 is among the 47 oldest structures in the City of Falls Church. When the property was bought by Gustav C. Hertz in 1928, it consisted of 18.5 acres, the majority of which was uncut woodland and included a section of Tripp’s Run.

The house now sits on a 0.75 acre plot, which is “pretty unique for Falls Church,” Arthur said.

Upon purchasing the property, the Hertz family gave it the name “Woodbrook.”

Gustav’s wife, Lois Crane Hertz, had a brief career as an actress, starring in the little-known Douglas Fairbanks comedy “Officer 666” in 1914. Crane street, not far from Fowler Street, was named after her. When she died in 1938, Gustav began renting out Woodbrook while retaining a room for himself.

One of Gustav’s tenants in the 1940s was Charlton MacVeagh, an employee of J.P. Morgan. MacVeagh was frequently visited by Nelson Rockefeller, 41st Vice President of the United States under President Gerald Ford. Rockefeller often came to Woodbrook on weekends, where he took on wood chopping duties as a form of exercise.

The propety’s windmill is designed to pump water from the well up to a large cistern in the attic, which is then gravity-fed to various locations in the house to give them running water. It was used until the 1930s, when city water became available and the windmill was no longer necessary.

Despite it remaining unused with the well mostly empty, the Kayes have made a point to keep the windmill functional.

The barn at the Woodbrook house is one of the few remaining in Falls Church. It is connected to the attic and includes a room and a privy for a stable boy.

Though it is unknown specifically how the barn was used before the late 1920s, the family that purchased it after that kept only horses and ponies in it, though it is suited for a wide range of animals.

Another classic characteristic of Woodbrook are the tall ceilings, which were an essential part of keeping homes cool in hot climates before electricity. The house boasts a staircase at both the front and rear leading up to the second floor, a trait few modern houses have.

After the Hertz family, the property saw a few owners before the Kayes purchased it in the 70s. Merelyn, who works as a real estate agent, was once active in historic Falls Church and used to specialize in old properties. However, her interest in historic Falls Church was not the only factor in the Kayes’ decision to buy the property.

Arthur said they used to live in another house in the neighborhood and always admired Woodbrook. Along with the aesthetic appeal of the home, he’s noticed another innate characteristic of the “Woodbrook” house — its spook factor.

“It really lends itself to Halloween. The kids are always afraid to come up to the house,” said Arthur.

For the most part, the Kayes have left “The Woodbrook” as it was when they purchased it. Even the cistern, which was turned upside down when they moved in, has not been moved. When they moved in, they even had to undo some modifications that others had made to the house.

“One of the previous owners put up aluminum siding over the original siding,” Arthur said.

Preferring the rustic look the house had before the aluminum siding was put up, the Kayes tore it off to reveal the house’s original thick wood siding.

All other work on the house has been for purely restorative purposes. According to Arthur, a tree fell on the windmill and broke it in the late 90s. The barn sustained damage over time as well, now missing the large sliding door that was once there. However, the metal frame of the door remains as a testament to Woodbrook’s resilience.

When the windmill broke, the Kayes knew what had to be done.

“We have an obligation to this property. When the windmill broke, we said ‘We don’t care what it costs, it’s going to get restored,’” Arthur said.

The Kayes hired a group of Amish men to come and fix the windmill. While repairing the windmill, the workers determined from a missing part that it had been constructed prior to the 20s.

A part that was standard in almost all windmills constructed after the 20s was not on the “Woodbrook” Windmill.

After living in the house for nearly forty years, the Kayes have no plans to leave “Woodbrook.”

“When I show someone an old house, I try to convey to them that to live in an old house this noteworthy is a feeling of pride,” Arthur said. “People walk by your home and make comments about it. It just makes you feel good to live there.”

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