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Hybla Valley Farms History

Hybla Valley Farms, so named by its developer, V. Ward Boswell, is a portion of a much larger tract known in the early days as Hybla Valley Farm.  The deed of dedication is dated July 17, 1935.

The lots were numbered 1 to 200, with the total acreage being 125, more or less.  The land was purchased by Ward Boswell from Landon C. and Ellen G. Painter in March of 1935.  Painter family members and heirs continued to own property here until 1986, when a lot on Boswell Avenue in tax arrears was sold by the county at auction for $16,500.

The Painters originally purchased the land from Robert W. Wheat.  Lawrence J. Zimmerman, a long-time neighbor, recalled that his grandfather leased Wheat's Field from Wheat and pastured cattle there.

Dairy fields in the vicinity were actively operating in the early days of the subdivision. Early Boswell Avenue residents would recall that when the cows "got out" at Popkins Farm they would sometimes wander down to Boswell yards.  Today the occasional deer may be spotted but the dairy farms have yielded to the march of Baby-Boom-era suburban development.

Early History

The Jonathan Mathershead tract of 301 acres, and the Thomas Stafford tract, containing 235 acres, adjoined in about the center of the present Hybla Valley Farms.  The Mathershead tract was patented on Oct. 5, 1694, being a part of the Lord Fairfax Land Grant.  The Stafford tract, patented June 26, 1697, likewise came from Lord Fairfax.  Stafford's tract was east of Mathershead's.

On Sept. 16, 1698, Thomas Stafford sold his tract to Giles Vandecasteel, who owned adjoining property, and Giles Vandecasteel's daughter Priscilla and son-in-law James Hay sold the tract to James Mason in March 1724 (Fairfax deeds Q:249).  On June 16, 1786, George Mason of Gunston Hall deeded this tract to his son Thomson Mason.

Birth of a Neighborhood

Ward Boswell's Hybla Valley Farms subdivision was bordered on the north by Woodlawn Trail, a short dead-end street off Route One, and on the south by Sherwood Hall Lane.  Eight lots abut Sherwood Hall Lane.  The street entering the subdivision from Route One is Boswell Avenue, which parallels Woodlawn Trail and Sherwood Hall Lane.  Schelhorn Road and Frances Drive are at right angles to Boswell and Sherwood Hall lane.  Two other streets off Frances Drive are a small portion of Brentwood Place and Delafield Place.

The first residents of the community by the mid 1930s were the Higginbothams (2905 Boswell), the Platts (2912 Boswell ), and the Jemisons (2804 Boswell).  At this time, Boswell Avenue was a dead end at the intersection of what would later become Schelhorn Road.  In later years, to make way for a Cities Service gas station (subsequently a doughnut shop), the Platts' home was literally moved down Boswell and around the corner to where it stands now at 7712 Schelhorn Rd.

Originally, Boswell Avenue was called Abington Avenue but was later renamed for Ward Boswell.  Frances Drive was formerly Gunston Drive and was renamed Frances for Boswell's wife Frances.  Schelhorn Road was formerly Rippon Road and was renamed for a real estate agent named Schelhorn in Ward Boswell's office.

Sherwood Hall and the King's Daughters

Accotink Road, the portion between Route One and Fort Hunt Road, became Sherwood Hall Lane.  This is a very old road connecting Alexandria and Richmond.  In 1903, the Ballingers, the then-owners of the Wilkinson Farm, donated a half-acre of land for use of the Kings Daughters.  They erected a meeting place named Sherwood Hall.  It was also used as a Grange Hall and as a Sunday school for Gum Springs children.  The building was razed in 1946 and ownership of the land reverted to the owners of the farm, Mr. and Mrs. Kirk Wilkinson.

Postwar Growth Spurt

The character of the area changed dramatically from rural dairy farms to closely packed subdivisions which began to use Schelhorn Road as a cut-off to get to Route One form the south.  As of March 1981, the traffic count on Schelhorn Road was 4,701 cars daily, and on Boswell from Route One to Schelhorn, 6,136 vehicles daily.

Only a half-dozen or so houses were built in Hybla Valley Farms from 1935 to 1949.  To encourage sales, Ward Boswell developed what he called the "Wonder Home," an attractive two-bedroom basic frame house with fireplace, which sold for $7,900, including the land.  The basic model with the addition of an attached breezeway and garage sold for $9,000.

The houses were heated with electric panels in the walls.  Since the houses were not insulated and there were no storm windows or storm doors, the buyers found themselves paying more for the electric heat than on their mortgage.  Some installed wood-burning stoves or burned wood or coal in their fireplaces.  There were 50 Wonder Homes in all.  The remaining lots were developed individually, resulting in architecturally diverse designs.

Early Public Infrastructure, Drainage and Sidewalks

At the time of the neighborhood's creation, large ditches that reportedly were the legacy of a previous century diagonally traversed lots in Hybla Valley Farms.  These were about eight feet wide and three feet deep, but as homes were developed, builders filled them in.

As these new homes sprung up, wells were dug and septic fields installed.  With the high water table in the area, problems developed.  Furthermore, the county did not require the developer to provide hard-surfaced roads.  The development was left with dirt roads and worsening drainage.

The Hybla Valley Farms Civic Association was responsible for getting street lights in 1958 and for fire hydrants a few years later.

Residents gathered petition signatures seeking paved roads and in 1952 the State Highway Department had been persuaded to take over and maintain the roads, but before doing so, it required certain residents to sign over easements to allow new ditches to be dug through their properties to drain the water from Schelhorn Road over to and under Frances Drive and on out to and under Sherwood Hall Lane, eventually on to Little Hunting Creek.  The water on Boswell Avenue was to go through ditches cut on certain properties and out to and under Route One.  This inadequate drainage system left open ditches beside the roads that would fill up with standing water, weeds, and trash – a network that fostered erosion on some properties.

Transformation of the 1980s

In the 1980s, the civic association renewed efforts to resolve lingering drainage problems and neighbors petitioned under the Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development's procedures to enter the Community Improvement Program, a curb-and-gutter and sidewalk public works program.  Under county supervision, residents cast ballots on options for street widths and various types of improvements, most of which involved either easements or cost-sharing through a special tax assessment, or both.  Under a county plan adopted in April 1984, this eventually resulted in the replacement of open ditches with curbs for most of the community and an upgrading of portions of sidewalks.

Because curbs engendered street width specifications driven by traffic count, upper Boswell Avenue – with the highest traffic count of the neighborhood – was faced with a requirement of doubling the width of pavement and adding a dedicated eastbound right-turn lane to Schelhorn as a condition of participation.  With those concerns and some residents having other objections from tree loss to financial assessments, upper Boswell voted to drop out of the Community Improvement Program and the county decided it would not "split the street" allowing piecemeal curb-and-gutter improvements.  Boswell was given an option for underground pipes, open concrete ditches and limited asphalt sidewalk improvements under a stormwater management program (Project DIP X00066).  Where neighbors had declined easements (for example, some had concerns about loss of mature trees), sections of Boswell Avenue were completely omitted from any improvements.

The far western end of Boswell Avenue had been left out of any sidewalk both in the 1950s and again in the 1980s.  By 2000, in mid block, sections of the Boswell Avenue asphalt trail were heaved upwards by tree roots in a couple of locations.  In 2005, the association requested a comprehensive upgrade and completion of the Boswell Avenue sidewalk to its eastern end at Delafield Place.

Zoning Issues

The association fought a gallant battle to block the construction of a gasoline station and a 7-Eleven store on a 1-1/2 acre plot facing Sherwood Hall Lane.  The site had been spot-zoned in 1950 and remained heavily wooded and undeveloped until 1960, when neighbors first became aware that the plot had been rezoned to neighborhood commercial.  Despite widespread opposition from the residents of the subdivision and neighboring communities, the gas station developers acquired the special use permit and the filling station and 7-Eleven were developed.