Green Spring’s History and Beginnings

HandoverOn October 27, 1970, The Washington Post reported:

Green Spring Farm, a “miniature colonial” estate near Annandale, was given to Fairfax County yesterday for use as a museum and arboretum. The property was the gift of Michael W. Straight, deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and his former wife, Dr. Belinda Crompton Straight, a Washington psychiatrist.

The Straights’ gift to the county marked the end of almost 200 years of private ownership of the estate and the beginning of its transformation into Green Spring Gardens.

In 1942, the young newlywed power couple purchased the 1784 house, its outbuildings, and 32 acres for $32,500. He was a scion of the prominent Whitney family, she the daughter of an English businessman.

Belinda1950s

Belinda in the 1950s.

In a 2002 interview with a former Green Spring historian, Belinda spoke of their decision to make Green Spring home: “We looked at it and that same night we decided absolutely. It had an old log cabin, and the springhouse….and the wonderful old house. It was so lovely….something to fall in love with, so we did.”

The Straights lived at Green Spring until 1966. They had five children. Belinda became a psychiatrist and a civil rights activist. Michael was an editor, author and deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1963, he revealed a dark and intriguing secret from his past — his involvement, as a Cambridge undergraduate in the 1930s, with the notorious Cambridge Spy Ring, which the BBC described as “British members of a KGB spy ring that penetrated the intelligence system of the UK and passed vital information to the Soviets during World War Two and the early stages of the Cold War.”

c.1962

c.1962

This exceptional couple bestowed a legacy of historical significance on Green Spring. They brought in distinguished restoration architect Walter Macomber to enlarge and renovate the house. At the same time, trailblazing landscape designer Beatrix Farrand created their garden. Much later, their combined work earned Green Spring its Virginia Landmark status and a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Michael, a lifelong supporter of nature and wildlife conservation, took an active interest in the Green Spring landscape beyond the house. With property caretaker John Quast, he dug out the ponds into their present-day configuration and planted the area extensively. He also took pride in his flock of Canada geese, ignoring regular requests from the Department of the Interior to stop raising wild fowl on his property.

The well-connected couple rubbed shoulders with personalities and presidents and hosted many prominent guests at their “Green Spring Farm” estate. Politicians, writers, journalists and scientists visited from around the world. Michael and Belinda also opened their home to community events – skating parties, picnics and Fourth of July fireworks.

XmascardIn his 2004 memoir “On Green Spring Farm,” Michael lamented: “Sooner or later all good things come to an end.” He reflected on the disappearance of the home’s bucolic setting. “Twenty-four years had passed since Bin and I settled on Green Spring Farm. We had raised our five children there. We had been happy. By 1964, we were no longer living in the countryside…. Bulldozers were clawing at the open fields that had surrounded us. We began to look around for a new home.”

They bought a house in Washington D.C. from a family friend, Jacqueline Kennedy, who had been living in Georgetown since her husband’s assassination.

By 1970, mindful of that encroaching suburban sprawl, they’d resolved to give their Green Spring home and 18 acres to Fairfax County to be preserved as a natural and historical resource for the community. “There aren’t many places in Northern Virginia left intact,” Belinda told The Washington Post at the time. “Michael and I wanted to see it kept that way.” Michael added, “We’d much rather see this land go for a park, rather than cutting down trees for houses.”

And “go for a park” it did. But not as the couple had imagined. In 2002, Belinda said, “I never thought it would become….a horticultural center. I thought people would just stroll there and feed the geese.” No doubt, descendants of Michael’s geese are still around.

In 2020, Green Spring celebrates a half-century that’s seen the land become, in Michael’s words, “a thriving center for all who love gardening and revere our past.”

Thanks to the Straights’ generous gift, Green Spring continues to enrich lives, and in its new incarnation it has remained “something to fall in love with.”

Author Debbie Waugh is the Green Spring Historian at the Gardens.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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