The MVUC Greenhouse and Windmill
The February 2023 Windmill Times includes an article by Katherine Tobin about Mary Barnett’s contributions to the MVUC Greenhouse.
The below is a separate piece, reprinted from an article (date unknown) shared by Mary Barnett to Katherine Tobin in late 2022.
The Mount Vernon Unitarian Church greenhouse was built in 1930 by the Lord and Burnham Company of Lexington, New York. At the time, Lord and Burnham was the premier greenhouse design and construction company in this country. The organization continued to build greenhouses until 1990. Other notable greenhouses built by this company include the conservatory at Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and the original 1933 conservatory at the National Botanical Garden in Washington, D.C.
The Mount Vernon Unitarian Church greenhouse is a modular design constructed with iron support framing and wooden (cypress) glazing ribs. The windmill and pump house were built in 1919 to pump water from the well on the hilltop. They remained operational until 1961. The windmill, tower, and pump house were reconstructed on the same site in 2001.
In 1957, the original 47 members of the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church congregation purchased 10 acres on the top of Mt. Hybla now known as Mason Hill. This land was originally part of a 2,000-acre plantation which George Mason IV of Gunston Hall and revolutionary fame inherited from his father in 1735. Mason was a friend of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and was the author of the Virginia Bill of Rights which was then incorporated into the United States Constitution as the initial 13 amendments.
After the Revolution George Mason built a home for his son Thomas; it was named Hollin Hall, after a family home site in Yorkshire, England. Fire destroyed the main building in 1824, but an out building, “the spinning house,” remained and exists as part of a private residence (Little Hollin Hall). It is situated on a hilltop on the south side of Sherwood Hall Lane near Fort Hunt Road but it is not visible from the street.
In 1912 Mr. and Mrs. Harley Wilson purchased 600 acres of the 2,000 acre tract including Little Hollin Hall where they lived until the 16 room, three story manor house was completed in 1919. This manor house is the mansion, which is a part of the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church property today. Earnest John Stevens, who eventually became the church sexton, came to work on the estate as a young man in 1926.
He supervised a crew of 15 men in the construction of the rest of the buildings, including the greenhouse, and the design of the walls and gardens. The property owned by the Mount Vernon Unitarian Church now comprises seven acres on which is the mansion, a contemporary church building, a carriage house used by the Fort Hunt Co-op School, the greenhouse, windmill and two turkey sheds, which are remnants of a once thriving chicken and turkey farm that operated during the Second World War.
The MVUC greenhouse is currently managed by a group of volunteers who provide horticultural information for visitors and gardening enthusiasts. They also conduct plant sales that raise funds to help restore and maintain the greenhouse and beautify the surrounding gardens.