OSSIAN HALL: 1783
By: M. Callahan
Ossian Hall was one of three sizeable 18th century manor houses built by the Fitzhugh family. They were all built on the 22,000 acre Ravensworth land grant located in-and-around Annandale. Ossian Hall was the first built under a contract for lease of approximately 800 acres of land for a period of three lives; the lessee, his son and grandson.
Built in 1783 by Nicholas Fitzhugh, the son of Major Henry Fitzhugh, Nicholas was the first Fitzhugh to live on this property. With at least twelve children, he needed a spacious house for his growing family. (To dispel erroneous tales that Ossian Hall was built in 1730, land records prove that this property was then leased, and for some many decades thereafter, to Daniel and William Talbot, not the Fitzhugh family.)
Ossian Hall was a 2-story frame house built in the Georgian center hall style with dormers on the attic level. It was a significant structure measuring 44’ in length and 28’ wide with both east and west, single story wings. (Both wings disappeared at some point and the last owner, Sen. Bristow rebuilt the west wing.) There were a total of 11 rooms and a full-length basement. As the pictures to the right indicate, it was richly appointed with hand-carved mantels and paneling. Corner fireplaces were installed in the two smaller first floor rooms which best utilized access to the central chimney on that side of the structure.
Ossian Hall was situated high on a hill facing Braddock Road where Royston Street and Rosslyn Road now meet, but accessed by a long tree lined drive entered from Ravensworth Road. By 1804, Dr. David Stuart purchased the house and 831 acres of land as a summer residence. Stuart was a minister, and close associate of George Washington, who remembered Stuart in his Will, “To doctor David Stuart I give my large shaving and dressing table, and my telescope.” (G. Washington) Stuart was also appointed as one of three commissioners to plan the Federal City, later known as Washington, DC.
Twenty-one years earlier (1783), Dr. Stuart married Eleanor Calvert Custis, widow of John Parke Custis, the son and stepson of Martha and George Washington, and a member of the prominent Calvert family of Maryland. Eleanor had seven children by her first marriage, and seven more with Dr. Stuart. George and Martha Washington frequently visited their grandchildren here, the Marquis de Lafayette visited in 1832 and occupied the southwest bedroom on the 2nd floor, and George Mason made numerous visits to Ossian Hall. David and Eleanor died in 1815 and 1811, when an owner from New York resold it to Francis A. Dickens, a Washington attorney and son of the US Vice-Consul to London in 1835. Mr. Dickens used the home as a summer residence until the outbreak of the Civil War when it became his year-round residence.
Ownership records are sketchy until 1914 when Joseph L. Bristow purchased the property. Senator Bristow served from 1909 to 1915 as the Republican US Senator from Kansas after having been the fourth Assistant Postmaster General under President William McKinley. The nation has Senator Bristow to thank for providing Dwight D. Eisenhower his appointment to West Point.
Bristow and his family resided in both Virginia and Kansas, until 1922 when the Senator returned for good to Ossian Hall. His wife died in 1932, and his youngest son in 1935, leaving Bristow to help rear seven orphaned grandchildren. He died July 14, 1944, having suffered a fall in the street a month earlier.
For the last thirty years of his life, from his senatorial defeat in 1914 until his death on July 14, 1944, Bristow dedicated himself to farming at Ossian Hall purchasing many hundred surrounding acres, the southern regions of which he sold to developers prior to his death. (Bristow had amassed 4,300 acres; much not contiguous to Ossian Hall.) After Bristow’s death, members of his family occupied the house until 1951 when the manor home and lands were abandoned and fell into disrepair.
The remaining 900 acre estate was eventually sold and turned into the 2000 home Bristow subdivision. In anticipation of the new construction, the last few salvageable appointments to the house were removed. Many of the mantels, moldings, doors, and locks had already been carted off by thieves or damaged by vandals.
Finally, on September 3, 1959, Ossian Hall was burned as a training exercise for the Annandale Fire Department. Hundreds of local residents gathered to watch, and to witness the loss of this landmark estate. First, individual rooms were set on fire, then extinguished, then the whole house was set alight. The final task was pulling down the brick chimneys. The Annandale Volunteer Fire Department honors Ossian Hall on their department patch, although they misrepresent the year of Ossian’s origin as 1730, now known to be incorrect.
The Annandale Chamber of Commerce
This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of the ENDEAVOR News Magazine. Reproduction of this article, in whole or in part, requires written permission of the author.
Eleanor (Nellie) Calvert Custis Stuart
Married: John Parke Custis 1774-7 children
Married David Stuart 1783-7 children
Moved to Ossian Hall: 1804
Died 1811 at Tudor Place, Georgetown. Miniature painting of Eleanor c. 1780, by an unknown artist; possibly the Irish-American painter John Ramage. Wikipedia
Joseph L. Bristow
US Senator: 1909-1915
Moved to Ossian Hall: 1914-1944
Died: 1944, buried in Kansas next to his wife, Margaret.
Annandale Volunteer Fire Dept. Patch
Photo courtesy of the ACC photographic Archive.
Days before it was burnt down.
Photographs, not already noted, are from the Library of Congress.