Recalling The Lawn at Greenwich

Photos courtesy of Charles G. Mackall Jr.

Above: The original mansion at The Lawn, built by Charles Green, was finished in 1861. A large, Carpenter Gothic home, it was lost in a fire in May 1922.

The Heart of Greenwich Village

If one believes that the village of Greenwich in western Prince William County has a soul, it would be the Greenwich Presbyterian Church; and if it had a heart, it would be The Lawn, a historic property located nearby, just east of Vint Hill at the intersection of Vint Hill Road (Rt. 215) and Greenwich Road (Rt. 603). Going back to the 19th century, the history of the two entities were closely entwined.

The church was founded in 1802 by Mrs. Aminta Elizabeth Douglass Moxley (1777-1858), and met for several years in a frame building near the site of the present church. Mrs. Moxley and her husband Gilbert Irland Moxley (1778-1811) lived at The Grove, east of the village.

Englishman Charles Green (1807-1881), a prosperous cotton exporter from Savannah, was a frequent visitor to Greenwich, as his sister lived there. The family spent each summer in Greenwich and became part of the community. Green’s first wife, Catherine Burroughs, died in 1844, and in 1850, he married Lucinda “Lucy” Irland Hunton (1828-1867), granddaughter of Mrs. Moxley. The Greens continued to live primarily in Savannah, but Lucy returned to Greenwich for the births of their children.

In 1854, Charles purchased three acres in the center of the village, which he donated to the Presbyterians, and largely financed the construction of a new brick church on the site. The following year, he bought 22 acres of land from Mrs. Moxley, and built a Carpenter Gothic mansion on the property designed by the A.B. Mullett Co. of Washington, D.C., which he called The Lawn. The house was completed in 1861, and would serve as the Greens’ summer home.

Charles Green’s involvement with the church continued over the years. When major structural problems were later revealed, he paid to have the repairs made.

It is notable that Andrew Morton Low (1839-1934), one of his partners in the export business, married Elizabeth “Bessie” Moxley (1838-1904), daughter of Aminta Elizabeth Moxley of Greenwich in 1859, and purchased nearby Vint Hill in 1860.

With the onset of Civil War and the naval blockade of the port of Savannah, the cotton export business soon failed. The war would present many challenges to the Green family, both in Savannah and Greenwich.

As fighting took place near Greenwich, Charles protected The Lawn by flying the Union Jack over the house, and by virtue of his English citizenship, declared the property’s neutrality. This protection was expanded to include the church.

The Mackall family

Photographed at The Lawn in the early 1940s were Charles G. Mackall Jr. (right) and his good friend, Bob Raynsford.

With the passing of Charles’ third wife, Aminta Fisher Green (1835-1908), the estate was left to his daughters Mary Green (b. 1863), wife of Ten Eck De Wit Veeder (b. 1854), who was living with her family at The Lawn; and Anne Hunton Green (1858-1928) who was married to William Whann Mackall (1859-1939), and lived across Vint Hill Road at Boxwood.

William W. Mackall’s mother Aminta Sorrel (1823-1904) was married to Gen. William W. Mackall (1817-1891), and William Mackall’s oldest son Charles Sr. (1882-1945) was married to Rebecca Dulany Beverley (1891-1948).

Rebecca was the daughter of John Hill Carter Beverley, who was born at Avenel in Fauquier County, and Rebecca Anne Dulany of Oakley, also in Fauquier County. John and Rebecca Beverley built Selby east of The Plains in 1908, and lived there the rest of their lives.

In 1909, daughters Mary and Anne agreed to swap ownership of the two homes, with the Veeders acquiring the Boxwood house and 64 acres, and the Mackalls assuming ownership of The Lawn and 164 acres.

The Lawn later passed to Charles Green Mackall Sr. and his wife Rebecca. Their children, Anne Green Mackall (b. 1931) and Charles Green Mackall Jr. (b. 1935) spent their early years at The Lawn. Today, Charles Jr. and his wife Mimi live at Selby.

The Lawn left the family in 1964, when it was sold to Edward Saunders.  The property was then purchased in 1965 by Henry “Bud” Ross and his wife Lois, who raised their five children there. Mr. Ross is remembered as an engineer and inventor, and the founder of Ross Industries in Midland.

Upon the passing of Mr. Ross in October 2017, daughter Gail Ross Gilbert was appointed executrix of the estate. She recalls that The Lawn was at the center of their family life and the scene of many gatherings and weddings, including her own.

Above, clockwise: Charles G. Mackall Jr. (right) recently visited Bob and Gail Ross Gilbert at The Lawn and enjoyed reminiscing about the old days and what had changed over the years. (John T. Toler photo); The large cattle barn at The Lawn, known as the ‘white barn,’ was burned and not rebuilt;  Built on the site of The Lawn, the second house was Tudor Revival-style, completed in 1926. It was also designed by A. B. Mullett Co.;   The 18th century tavern built by Dr. Thomas Thornton on the Old Carolina Road was once stood on The Lawn property. Used as the farm manager’s house, it was demolished in 1972.

 

Recollections

Charles G. Mackall Jr. recently shared some recollections about life at The Lawn in the mid-20th century:

On the loss of the first house

“When the (1861) house burned in May 1922, my aunt Aminta Sorrel Karow had come up from Savannah before the family to open the house for the summer,” recalled Mr. Mackall. “She was awakened by a servant in the middle of the night who had smelled smoke. Her reply was, ‘How on earth can you smell smoke, since you have asthma so bad?’”

Fortunately, they got out safely, but the fire raged through the house. It burned to the ground, and nothing was saved.

“When the fire was first discovered it was too far underway to get under control, or even to save some of the furniture. The illumination made by the fire could be noted in Manassas,” according to the May 24, 1922 edition of the Manassas Messenger. “Several years ago, a large sum was spent on it in modern improvements. The loss is said to be in the neighborhood of $60,000.”

“Aunt Aminta lost her engagement ring in the fire,” recalled Mr. Mackall. “She had the ashes sifted from the burned 36-room house, and while the metal in the ring had melted, they found the (diamond) stone.” The consensus was that the fire was started from the spontaneous combustion of oily rags left by recent painting.

On The Lawn as a second home

“My father worked in Washington as an appraiser with Equitable Life Assurance Society. We rented an apartment in the city, and I went to school there, but we got out to The Lawn every weekend and holiday, and all summer.

“We had a major turkey operation at The Lawn, and my father sold turkeys all over Washington. Customers included the Mayflower Hotel and the Peoples Drug chain, which served turkey sandwiches at their lunch counters.

“In those days, we did most of the farm work with horses. I remember our first tractor and combine. They were tiny machines, but we thought they were huge.”

After Charles Sr. died in the spring of 1945, the family spent one more the summer at The Lawn, but they were miserable there. Soon afterward, they moved to Selby, where they cared for Mrs. Rebecca Beverley until her death in 1948. Over the next several years, The Lawn was rented out to long-time tenants Kenneth R. and Mary Brown Pennie.

Christmas celebrations

Like many families of the day, the Mackalls had a Christmas Day tradition at The Lawn. The Christmas tree and presents were in the living room off the main hallway, but before the children could see what was in their stockings on the fireplace or open presents, “We had to have breakfast, which was always a grand affair, and we always had quail – which were shot on the property – and bread sauce,” recalled Mr. Mackall. “And the grown-ups always took their time!”

Mr. Mackall’s sixth Christmas was especially memorable. Following tradition, his gifts were stacked in front of the doors leading to a side porch. “I went over to my pile and there the head of a pony was sticking through the door,” he said. “It had a tag on it that said, ‘Merry Christmas. My name is Ginger.’” Although “a bit mean,” she was a gift the family enjoyed for years.

Growing up at The Lawn

“We had a wonderful 500-foot deep well that supplied the house, all of the farm buildings and the farm manager’s cottage.”

Like many older homes, The Lawn was served by an elevated water tank which was filled with a hand pump from the well. An electric pump was installed later. “You would turn on the pump and let it run until the tank overflowed, and then you would go and shut it off,” said Mr. Mackall, noting that the tank provided the water pressure. Later, a pressurized tank was installed. “Once the piping leaked, and created a small lake in the lower lawn.”

Refrigeration was provided by an ice house. “I remember a big truck coming in with slabs of ice… I think they cut them off of Broad Run. The slabs were put down a chute, then straw then more ice, then more straw,” he recalled. “When we needed ice, we would climb down a ladder with a burlap sack, and pull up a piece of ice from under the straw. Then we would break it up, put it in the sack. After washing the ice, it would be taken into the house, and placed in the ice box to keep our perishables cool and provide ice for drinks”

There was also a meat house where meat from hogs slaughtered on the farm was cured, and a small stone ash house where ashes from wood burned to heat the house were stored until they were spread on the gardens.

Also at The Lawn was the “old Thornton tavern,” which was used for years as the home of The Lawn’s farm manager. The property was later donated to the Greenwich Presbyterian Church, which had the decrepit building razed and the land cleared for use by the church.

Mr. Mackall notes that the connection between the Greenwich Presbyterian Church and the Moxley, Green, Low, Veeder, and Mackall families will always remain, as members of these families are buried in the church cemetery.

John Toler
About John Toler 5 Articles
Broad Run resident John Toler is the co-author of the recent Fauquier County and Town of Warrenton history books, and has contributed numerous newspaper and magazine articles focused on the history of Fauquier, Prince William and Loudoun counties.

2 Comments

  1. Loved this article! So interesting! I am a member of Greenwich Presbyterian Church and I really love our church history.

  2. Andrew Low, 1839, was the son of John Low (first cousin of Charles’ business partner, Andrew Low of Savannah) and his wife, Elizabeth Green, who was Charles Green’s sister. Andrew Low, 1839, married Elizabeth (Bessie) Scott Moxley, daughter of Dr. BGD Moxley (and granddaughter of Aminta Elizabeth Moxley), and Dr. Moxley’s first wife, Louisa Scott of Missouri.

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