Martin Luther King, Jr. Day found me cycling under leaden skies toward Leesylvania State Park. The park is only six miles from my house, but I have never been there. Part of the reason for this is the fact that it is only six miles from my house, and is therefore too close for a typical bicycle ride. The other reason is because it is in an area of town where the traffic is heaviest. The freezing temperatures made the close location ideal. I decided to deal with the heavy traffic near Route 1 and give it a shot.
And I was very pleased I did.
The park is located at the birthplace of Henry “Light-Horse Harry” Lee III, hero of the American Revolution and father to Robert E. Lee, hero (or villain, depending on your perspective) of the American Civil War. The property was known as Leesylvania Plantation. The Lee Mansion burned to the ground in 1792, but the grave sites of Henry Lee II and his wife, are still there. In 1825, the property was sold to Henry Fairfax. Henry’s son, John, served as an aide to GEN James Longstreet in the Civil War. The Fairfax house burned to the ground in 1910. Given the propensity for house fires on this land, I worry for the existing structures on the property today. These structures consist of a Visitors’ Center, several picnic areas, and a store along the waterfront.
Before I entered the park, I checked out the local marina (pictured above). As one might expect, things were pretty quiet on this winter morning. The only activity was a small group of workmen conferring near two dump trucks. I pedaled to the far end of the marina and was treated to a nice view of a railroad bridge across Rippon Creek. This is the major railway for traffic on the Eastern Seaboard. Each morning, thousands of commuters ride these rails on the Virginia Railway Express (VRE).
The park entrance was only a mile from the marina on Daniel K. Ludwig Drive, so named after the philanthropist who donated the land to the state in 1978. After climbing a moderate hill, I was treated to a fast descent into the park, with woods on either side of the road. At the bottom of the hill, the road bent sharply to the left and I came upon another railroad bridge over the Potomac River.
I imagined I would have the place to myself but was surprised to see about 20 cars scattered about the park. Most of them were parked at the beginning of walking trails. It’s obvious from the ample parking space and huge picnic pavilions that this place is hopping in the summer. I was happy not to be fighting with thousands of people and wandered about the place as the mood struck me. I was surprised to come across an eight-point buck on the side of the road. He was running toward me and was even more surprised to see me. I tried to get a picture of him but he was well into the woods before I could get my gloves off and camera ready. There were at least ten does running with him – a very impressive sight.
At the far (northern) end of the park, I came upon a two-mile walking trail that looked to be quite interesting. Along it are the remains of the Fairfax Mansion (that being the chimney), the gravesite of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lee II, and the site of a Confederate artillery battery that guarded the water approaches to Dumfries, VA. The trail was too rough for the Trek and my cycling shoes were not the right gear for a hike, so I made do by taking a picture of a monument to Light-Horse Harry at the head of the trail.
On my way out of the park, I stopped by the breakwaters and surveyed the scene. There is parking for several hundred cars, a dock, and a convenience store. This is the focal point of the park and from here you can launch your boat, do some fishing, or walk along the riverbanks. It was all quite fetching, despite the 32 degree temperatures that were freezing the Gatorade in my water bottle. I sat at on a bench for a few minutes and I am certain anyone who saw me was concerned for my sanity. There was plenty of ice forming on the river between the bank and the breakwaters. After my break, it was a short (albeit almost entirely uphill) seven miles back home. It was good to see something new after several weeks trudging along paths that have grown very familiar to me!
Virginia Historical Marker Segment!
This one is hardly a surprise, is it? You can find this marker outside the park entrance. There’s a brief mention of land patents, which you may not be familiar with (I wasn’t it). It turns out this is the procedure used to give newly owned land to an individual. When the Empire grabbed a bunch of land from the natives, the Crown would give the land to the Colonial Governor, who would decide who to give it to. This practice was known as patenting the land, and would usually be accompanied by a geographic survey. I’m not sure what good that information will be to you, but you’re welcome to it!