$3.8 million settlement to be used for historic preservation

A $3.8 million settlement Prince William County won from the federal government involving land at Manassas National Battlefield Park will be used for historic preservation.

The county received a hefty check from the government in May, ending a lawsuit that had dragged on for 14 years over land the federal government took in 1988.

The Prince William Board of County Supervisors decided June 26 to funnel the money into three historic sites: Rippon Lodge in Woodbridge, the Brentsville Courthouse Centre in Brentsville, and the Ben Lomond Manor House in Manassas.

Formal action hasn’t been taken but the money is expected to be appropriated through the budget process, at-large board Chairman Sean Connaughton said.

The board considered two plans — one that allocated more money to acquisitions of new historic sites and another that put more money into renovations of existing properties.

“It’s going to allow us to finish these projects a lot faster,” said Brendon Hanafin, the county’s new historic preservation director. The board had already committed to spending money on renovating the properties — and opening Rippon Lodge to the public — but the latest cash infusion represents a major boost.

Of the $3.8 million, Rippon Lodge would get $1.2 million, the Brentsville Courthouse centre $753,371 and Ben Lomond Manor House $214,629. New acquisitions would receive $1.5 million and $100,000 would be set aside for matching grant funding.

The judgement that finally ended the lawsuit came from the U.S. Court of Appeals on Jan. 16. That court affirmed a judgment by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims awarding the county $1.15 million as compensation for property the federal government took. Fourteen years of interest came with it bringing the settlement to $3.8 million.

The lawsuit began when Northern Virginia developer John T. Hazel wanted to rezone some property near the Manassas National Battlefield Park. The Prince William Board of County Supervisors approved the rezoning, on the basis of a mixed use business and home community. Residents opposed to the mall fought the development. Congress responded by passing the Manassas National Battlefield Park Amendment Act in 1988, concluding the land might one day be needed for the park.

The county sued, saying as a public landowner it is entitled to just compensation as much as private property owners.

Historic preservation was part of an original settlement plan, County Attorney Sharon Pandak said.

“When we were in settlement discussions with the Department of Justice about four years ago, we sent a letter from the board saying if they would give us X (number of dollars) we would use it for historic preservation.”

The Department rejected that plan but it spawned the idea that preservation might be a good use for the money and some board members feel committed to it, Connaughton said.

The lion’s share of the money would go to prepare the six buildings at Rippon Lodge for opening. The 40 acre lodge (c. 1745) along Neabsco Creek was added to the county’s inventory in the spring of 2000. The main house is already being stabilized and new projects would continue that and add access, parking and restrooms.

“It’s the oldest house in Northern Virginia, and appears to pre-date the creation of Prince William County,” Connaugton said. “We’ve been very lucky that it comes fully furnished with stuff from the colonial days to today. Our hope is that it will be the centerpiece of our historical properties.”

Similar work will be done for the Brentsville Courthouse, which was once the county seat, Union Church, the 19th century cabin, and the 1822 jail.

The Ben Lomond Manor house is almost fully restored. All that is left to be done is fixing up three other buildings and purchasing period furniture.

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