I was talking to a friend who grew up in Fairfax County, Virginia the other day. We were discussing strange (insert scary) things that had happened to us when we were children and she told me about the strange-goings-on in the house she grew up in in Fairfax County.
It wasn’t an old house—built in the 1980’s. So, I asked her if she knew what was there before her house was built, and she didn’t.
So you know what I did next.
I went searching on the good old Google-machine for historic maps of Fairfax County. And I found the absolute best historic map that was overlaid with land boundaries and names of the property owners in 1860.
Since I didn’t know the address of where my friend grew up, I decided to look at the area where my husband’s office is instead–Tysons Corner–which is located in a heavily developed area of Fairfax County.
After a little detective work, I was able to locate the property owner in 1860—Lucrecia Merry. Now she sounds like an interesting woman. How can you not be with a name like that?
And little did I know that this conversation with my friend about scary kid’s stories would take me down a rabbit hole that led from the Civil War, to one of the worst maritime accidents in history, to the California Gold Rush and back. Oh, how I do love historic rabbit holes.
And now, where to start?
Hmmm, Lucrecia sounds like a good place.
Lucrecia Case was born in New York State in 1819 and in 1848 married the dashing young Eliphalet Remington Merry, who four years her junior. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a picture of the undoubtedly lovely Lucrecia, but I was able to find a picture of the 1850’s babe Eliphalet.
Lucrecia and Eli, as they called him, had four children together before Eli’s untimely death just 9 years after they were married. The first child, Piny, was born in 1849 and their second son, Eliphalet Remington Merry, Jr. was born in 1851. Over the next few years they had another boy and girl.
The Merry family settled in Peach Grove, Virginia, which is what Tysons Corner was called before they called it Tysons Corner. It was known for its tasty peaches and Lucrecia’s 231 acre farm had a peach grove so plentiful that even my greedy son Anderson would have a hard time devouring it all. They built a large, beautiful house where they set to raise their young family.
Eli could afford to raise his family in luxury. He was a dentist. Oh, yeah, and he was a 49er. Apparently, a pretty successful 49er.
He was one of the approximately 90,000 people who “rushed” to California in the mid 1800’s to try to find their wealth, their dreams, in the form of those little yellow nuggets.
Eli came from a prosperous family in upstate New York. His uncle was the inventor of the Remington Rifle. And Eli’s brother had moved to California earlier, it seems, to find his fortune. Eli decided to do the same.
He made several trips back and forth to California, but on his third trip home, Eli’s luck ran out. Filled with stories of adventure and missing his family, he boarded the ill-fated SS Central America in Panama for the trip back to the East Coast. The Central America was loaded with over 9 tons of California gold and 578 passengers and crew. After a brief stop in Cuba the ship rounded Florida and headed north.
Then misfortune struck the Ship of Gold. While off the coast of the Carolinas the ship was bombarded by a hurricane, and after the most heroic efforts of those on board, it sank on September 12, 1857.
425 people were lost. It was considered one of the worst maritime accidents in history and contributed to the economic panic of 1857.
Eli was one of the lost.
Lucrecia became a widow in her 30’s. But she stayed strong and a raised her family on her land.
And when the Civil War came to Bull Run, General Meade used her house as Union Headquarters. As a supporter of the Union, she received compensation from the federal government for the use of her house and supplies by the Union Army, once the war was over.
Lucrecia lived a long life. She was laid to rest less than a mile from her home in Virginia.
Tysons Corner would be unrecognizable to Lucrecia. Heck, it is almost unrecognizable every time I visit. Gone is the pretty white house. Gone are the pastures, the horses, the peach orchards. In 1947, a housing development was created out of the property the Merry family once owned. The house was untouched until sometime in the past few decades, when it was torn down to build shops and malls.
I’m not sure if you can tell, but I’m not the biggest fan of Tysons Corner. I mean, you have Mall I and Mall II. You have never ending buildings being built and the traffic is atrocious. And don’t forget the notorious Toilet Bowl building, which is my personal favorite.
But I think I’ll see Tysons Corner with a bit of a different eye now. Beyond the Malls and Tiffany’s and buildings shaped like toilet bowls, there is history. There were lives. If you can read the signs.
If you read the signs, you’ll see Merry Oaks Dr.
And Merry Lane.
Streets signs that hint of remnants of the past.
And then there is Lucrecia.
I’m going to have to go visit her I think. Fight the traffic, the noise, and close my eyes to see the past. And bring her some peach blossoms.
For more info on the SS Central America See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Central_America