Historic Virginia Home Demolished for Suburbs

Lanham-Shockley House | Gum Spring, VA | c. 1888

The story of the Lanham house is the story of the village of Gum Spring itself. At the crossroads of some of the most important days in our Nation’s history, the area has now found itself at the center of a different kind of epoch: suburban sprawl from the D.C. area.

The genesis of Arcola was a small spring next to a gum tree that fed into the south fork of Broad Run, suitably called Gum Springs. During the colonial era, a distillery, kiln, and small church were established at the spring.

In 1801 the United States Post Office established a branch at the village, naming it Springfield. The branch closed in 1819. Thirteen years later the Post Office opened once again in the vicinity, but the success of the Little River Turnpike (present-day U.S. Route 50) required that it would be located on that road south of the village and known on local maps as simply “Arcola P.O.”

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The branch was named Arcola in honor of the Arcola Farm (pictured here) on which it was built. That branch stayed open until 1868 when the office was located back within the confines of the village. The village itself, however, remained identified on local maps as “Gum Spring” during most of the 19th century.

In the 1850s Arcola had a brush with the big time when the construction of the Loudoun Branch of the Manassas Gap Railroad was completed on the northern border of the village. Unfortunately, the Panic of 1857 and Civil War stopped the railroad from ever being used. During the Gettysburg Campaign of June–July 1863, troops from the Union Army of Potomac’s 11th and 1st Corps marched and camped in and around the town of “Gum Spring” according to dispatches (present-day Arcola), as they meandered toward Leesburg, Va and further into Maryland.

When I first visited here back in 2016, I had a feeling it wasn’t long for this world because the suburban sprawl outside of D.C. was creeping up around her on all sides. When I went back in 2018, the home had been demolished for a cookie-cutter subdivision.

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I spent some time trying to track down her story and the Thomas Balch Library was kind enough to share the following history with me:

“According to the Assessment information online at Loudoun.gov, the house was constructed circa 1888, which appears appropriate for the style of construction. In the 1860 Census, William H. Lanham and his wife were residing on the property, which was then approximately a 8.5 acres parcel. Mr. Lanham was a wheelwright at that time.

One of the structures located to the east was the former Arcola Post Office. The Shockley family resided in the house and also served as Postmistress. The original Gum Spring Tree that was the source for the naming of the original 18th Century Village of Gum Spring, now Arcola, is located to the north [rear in the picture] of the house.”

How sad I am that she is gone forever but glad that I happened to pass by to capture her before her time was up.

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11 thoughts on “Historic Virginia Home Demolished for Suburbs”

  1. Hello,
    I stumbled across your blog and love it.
    I am writing up a little something on Brambleton. Do you know precisely where the Lanham-Shockley House was located?

    Thanks!

    Jay Roberts
    Alexandria, VA
    Jaybird926@aol.com
    Jaybird’s Jottings
    jay.typepad.com
    Author of “River to Rails, A Guidebook to
    Historical Markers in Old Town, Alexandria,
    Virginia” and “Lost Alexandria, An Illustrated
    History of Sixteen Destroyed Historic Homes in and
    around Alexandria, Virginia.”

  2. When I saw the subject line come up in my email, I thought it was going to be about the 113 year old Scott Cawthon House in Tallahassee, FL, that just got torn down to build the 13th or 14th Publix in town.

  3. So sad to loose such a beautiful home. It looked like it was livable when photos were taken. Thank you for your wonderful photos and history!

  4. Such a true shame. With the massive profits from the new development, this house could have been restored to provide a highlight to the community, and a sense of history. Is our future really one of plastic houses and only brand new? Sadly, I fear that we are losing a battle to allow our future generations to know, to feel, and to touch the past and the simple beauty of its people.

  5. It’s a shame. I have seen a lot of beautiful farms and homes in Virginia paved over for progress. Very few are left standing and unfortunately farmers are parceling off bits of land in order to stay in business.
    I really wish I had the financial gratuity to save old places, renovate them and sell them off to those looking for a beautiful home.
    On an off note you should go up to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. I service this area in addition to Hampton Roads and see a lot of properties, schools and businesses of abandonment.

  6. I hate that this beautiful home with all it’s history has been destroyed and gone forever. It’s hurtful to know that these old homes were demolished for the greed of money. It’s almost sinful.

  7. Very well researched. I live in Fairfax County, not far from this site. How sad that all vestiges of old Virginia are being destroyed, bit by bit.

  8. I grew up in the area and knew some Shockleys. I try now to avoid going back. All my relatives are either dead or moved away. Plus, the metamorphosis is just so complete I have no idea where I even am anymore.

  9. Isn’t it ironic that new construction aspires to have the historic colonial look and pseudo style of authentic historic homes that are torn down to make way for them.

  10. Just mind boggling that some one wouldn’t step up and have the home moved. It looked very restorable and beautiful. Another piece of history lost forever.

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