ECLP: A Fifty-Year-Old Gift Keeps Giving

Did you ever stop to think that we have parks today because of the foresight of people who lived before us?

Ellanor and David Lawrence, circa 1960s.

Each summer, on the anniversary of the passing of Ellanor C. Lawrence, we are reminded of the community benefits gained from her generosity. Ellanor and David Lawrence were influential members of Fairfax County, with David being personally responsible for the establishment of our County Executive form of government. 

Ellanor died at age 82 on June 13, 1969, at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Two years later, in 1971, David Lawrence followed his wife’s wishes and donated 639.84 acres of land and historic buildings to the public by gift to the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Ellanor Campbell Lawrence purchased the first section of what is now Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in July of 1935. She was driving through the Fairfax countryside with a friend when she saw the Walney stone farmhouse within the surrounding woods. It is said she thought the quiet, restful setting would be good for her family.

When she purchased the farm, she arranged for tenants to live in Walney, care for the property, and improve the surrounding landscapes because she and David already owned houses in Florida, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C.

In 1944, the couple bought adjacent property along Big Rocky Run that included Cabell’s Mill and the Middlegate House. They improved and expanded the house and complex and established a permanent residence at Middlegate in 1946.

The park’s 2015 Cultural Landscape Report shares that, “Acquaintances recalled Ellanor frequently trail walking with a small hatchet at her side.” Confiding to her friend Anne Beresford about preserving the property, she said, “nobody will care for it like we have worked to have it preserved – the spring and every flower and tree on the place – it seems to have a kind of living spirit needing the kind of love you and I have for it.” Ellanor’s interest in horticulture was further expressed by her co-founding the Rocky Run Garden Club, which is still active today.

Walney Visitor Center at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park.

Ellanor loved the natural beauty of the property and wanted it to remain open and undeveloped for all to enjoy as she had. Her desire to protect the natural and cultural resources within the property and to preserve them for the community is why Ellanor C. Lawrence Park is named after this unique woman. The name reminds us that this square-mile oasis of green in this part of the county is only here due to the generous and altruistic act of Ellanor 50 years ago.

Author John Shafer is the park manager at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, 5040 Walney Rd., in Chantilly, Va.