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.

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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 for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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