A Veteran/Writer Looks at History: Leesylvania State Park
It’s off to Leesylvania State Park for another round of checking out the local history of the area
Leesylvania State Park is south of Washington, DC, about twenty miles or so. It’s probably better known for boating because it’s on the Potomac River. But the park also has a pocket of history–I only found it because I checked out the park.
Leesylvania means “Lee’s Woods.” In this case, it was General Lee’s father who owned a plantation on the land, along with a family named Fairfax. Both of those are common names around Virginia: Leesburg (city), Leesburg Pike, Lee Street, Lee Highway, Fairfax county, Fairfax (city), Fairfax Street. I like looking at street names because they often tell a lot about the story of a place.
Map of the park is here if you want to check it out and see where I’m going.
First stop is Free Stone Point Beach.
It looks like a bunch of trees, but it’s actually a bluff. It’s more obvious during winter after the leaves have fallen. This bluff was a landmark for ships navigating on the Potomac River during George Washington’s time.
This was Confederate territory during the Civil War. It’s strange to feel that between the last place I visited and this one, I crossed the battle lines. But time has a way of smoothing those lines out and blending them together.
The Confederates had an artillery battery here. It was actually used as a decoy by General Lee while he built batteries at Possom Point, Cockpit Point, and Evansport.
But that didn’t stop a skirmish from happening at Free Stone Point. On September 25, 1861, a Union gunship fired on the Confederate battery. They exchanged artillery. Didn’t do much to either side.
War is strange, isn’t it?
It was a nice walk out here. I waded into the water–it was surprisingly warm. The currents were quite strong–a constant slushing sound coming to shore.
I decided to walk on the fishing pier. Note the Maryland sign. This was about 30 feet in, so I crossed the state line into Maryland on the river. When I was growing up, I thought crossing a state line would be more dramatic. If I hadn’t noticed the sign…
This border was pretty important in 1957, because Virginia did not allow gambling or drinking. But Maryland did. So an enterprising person moored a “recreation resort” boat named the S.S. Freestone on the Maryland border.
Off to the Lee Wood’s Path. That’s about two miles round trip, and I spent most of my time repelling all borders from bugs and cobwebs.
Ah ha! Ruins. These are from the Fairfax family’s house. The chimney’s all that’s left, with warning signs all over that the bricks are unstable. This was the Fairfax Plantation house, one of the places George Washington stopped by to stay when he was coming into DC. Even though Mount Vernon was 14 miles away, they were neighbors.
This is the path I took through Lee’s Woods. It was steep in some places and had me sweating. Much better to take it in winter. It made me wonder what this place looked like when the plantations were here. How did people get around? How big were the plantations?
The sign marks where the Lee House stood, but time didn’t leave much behind. If the sign hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have know the house had been here. There used to be a foundation, but a road building project (now gone) destroyed the foundation.
But the Lees had a garden nearby. One of the interesting bits here that I like for stories are what they did with the trees. The nuts from the American birches were ground up for flour, pressed for oil, or roasted for coffee. And, of course, eaten whole.
White oak trees were used to make barrels for wine, and the dogwoods were used for tool handles.
You can’t tell with this photo, but that’s a steep drop off. And it’s where a railroad was built, going from Neabsco to Powells’ Creek. It was completed in 1872. Doesn’t look like a place for a railroad, does it?
The railroad company had a lot of problems with the location. They had to do a lot of work to maintain the grade so it was more level. Because of the terrain, there were landslides and derailments. One train had to be hauled back up the side with tree!
This was at the end of the path. I knew I was getting close to the end because I could hear the buzz of boat motors coming from the river.
The chimney is what remains of the Freestone Point Hunt Club. It was established in 1926 by businessmen from New York. They hunted ducks on the Potomac and hunted so many that the population declined. The club closed in 1957, and this is all that’s left.
More information on the park is here.