Many Lessons Can Be Learned from a Classic Log Home


(Sunday, June 17, 2007 6:39 AM EDT)

Drive by 4572 26th Street North in Arlington, and you might think you're passing a regular old house, but you'd be wrong.

The house at that address is Birchwood, one of the oldest log homes in the county.

Long-time Arlington resident and Weichert Realtor Jane Coates bought the house in 1975, and it has been her pride and joy ever since.

“I've always liked older houses,” Coates said in a recent interview. “I was raised in Oklahoma City in a ranch house with no basement or attic. I always wanted an older house in an older neighborhood.”

Recognized by Arlington County as an historic site, the plaque out front states that the land originally was granted to James Robertson by Lord Fairfax in 1724.

Robertson's grandson, Caleb Birch built a one-story log house on the land around 1800, but it burned down. Birch built a two-story, hand-hewn, chestnut-log house to replace it in 1836, the plaque says.

The plaque also reads that 10 years later, Birch built a second log cabin next to the original. Although separate, the two cabins share a roof and formed what was known as a “dog trot” house.

The “dog trot” portion of the house, basically, a hallway between the living room and dining room, now houses a bathroom and can be used as a cloakroom.

According to “Arlington Heritage,” a book by Eleanor Lee Templeman, former historian of the Society of the Lees in Virginia, the house changed hands in 1899 when Admiral Presley Rixey purchased the Mary Hall tract on Glebe Road.

Templeman wrote that his valet, Richard Wallace, lived in the log house and Rixey's good friend Theodore Roosevelt even visited Wallace there, looking for his homemade ice cream.

The book states that Birchwood, as it is seen today, was restored in 1939, using the original logs, by local school teachers Mr. and Mrs. Walter Horn.

This also is probably when the brick addition and facing of the house were built, Coates said.

“I really like the history of [the house] and its location,” Coates said. “It's unique and it's only 10 minutes away from the White House.”

The term “log house” might make people think of a small home, but Birchwood is very spacious with a full living room, dining room, kitchen, two bedrooms, one and half bathrooms, a basement and an enclosed porch.

Other features of the house are its three fireplaces, a hidden room over the kitchen, only accessible through the pantry and a wine cellar.

Coates prides herself on maintaining the historical integrity of the house by buying furniture and accessories that match the time period of its construction. But she brings it up to date, when necessary.

“I buy things that fit in this house,” she said. “I cry a lot when I have to [modernize].”

Coates does not live in the house (she lives down the street) and rents it instead. She said that all her tenants have wanted to buy the unique house from her, but she is holding onto it.

“My husband calls it my play house,” she said. “I love showing her off.”

Jane Coates stands in front of her home, one of the oldest log structures in the county.
(Photo by Kristen Armstrong)

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