Huntley’s History


A 19th-Century Mystery

Huntley was not the Thomson F. Mason family seat as Gunston Hall had been his grandfather's and Hollin Hall his father's. It was, however, an embellishment of the federal city environs, and it represented the new, not the old, in architecture.

Evidence suggests the house may have been a summer vacation home. Its hilltop position takes advantage of cooling breezes. It boasts a subterranean domed ice house, too big for a single family but just right for parties and gatherings of an extended family.

In addition, the grounds were terraced and formally landscaped, an indication that they might have been used for outdoor entertaining. However, no one is certain how Huntley was originally used. The house and grounds are too sophisticated for a mere overseer's residence. Correspondence from Thomson's grandmother indicates that she had planned to spend a weekend at Huntley, but refused to visit the farm alone while the apparently disagreeable overseer was there.

How Huntley Came to Be 

George Mason bought a large parcel of land between Dogue Run (now Dogue Creek) and Little Hunting Creek in 1757. In 1817, Mason's eldest son divided the property between his sons Thomson F. and Richard. In 1823, Thomson F. Mason augmented the 640 acres received from his father with another 180 acres on the hill overlooking the fertile valley. Huntley was built on this hill by local artisans between 1825 and 1830.

Throughout this time, Huntley was run as a farm. Thomson F. Mason raised corn, rye, wheat, and oats on land now incorporated into Huntley Meadows Park. Earth berms and ditches in the park indicate that the land had to be drained for farming.

Thomson F. Mason managed the property through an overseer. Personal property tax records indicate that he owned approximately 20 slaves in Fairfax County, where Huntley was his main property. However, he remained a resident of Alexandria, where he practiced law and held public office.

In his will, Thomson F. Mason left his extensive land holdings and his principal residence in Alexandria, the stately home Colross, to his wife Betsey. In 1859, Mrs. Mason deeded Huntley to her elder sons, John Francis and Arthur Pendleton. 

The Civil War at Huntley

At the beginning of the war, Huntley was being farmed by a tenant, George Johnson, who was a Union sympathizer. There is some irony in the fact that the Mason brothers joined the Confederate army, with Arthur Pendleton serving on the staffs of Generals Lee and Johnston, while their tenant Johnson provided supplies to the Union.

During the winter of 1861, troops of the 3rd Michigan Infantry camped at Huntley, and their quartermaster and his wife lived in the house. This may be why Huntley was not burned during the war. In 1862, ownership of Huntley passed to Dr. Benjamin King, a close family friend, in payment of a debt of $13,000.

After the Civil War, Dr. King sold the property to Albert W. Harrison and Nathan W. Pierson, who were farmers from New Jersey. In 1871, they divided the property. Harrison kept the portion containing Huntley, which remained in his family's hands until 1946. Harrison Lane was named for him.