Fate uncertain: Historic Crozet home in path of subdivision

Rising taxes led Mike Marshall to sell Wayland House, one of the oldest homes in Crozet, to developer Stanley Martin last October.
Jack Looney Rising taxes led Mike Marshall to sell Wayland House, one of the oldest homes in Crozet, to developer Stanley Martin last October. Jack Looney

Wayland House, on Pleasant Green Street in Crozet, may be the oldest existing house in town, dating to about 1814. And it may disappear as a new development arrives.

The house was built by a reverend, whose more famous son, Benjamin Franklin Ficklin Jr., operated stagecoaches and helped establish the legendary Pony Express mail service (he also owned Monticello, briefly).

For the past two decades, Wayland House and the home next door were owned by Mike Marshall, editor of the Crozet Gazette. Marshall says rising taxes led him to sell the properties last October, and the new owner is a developer: Stanley Martin Homes, based in Reston.

Marshall’s taxes rose because the county zoned the properties R-6—townhome density, he says.

Owners “are leveraged out of big parcels” if buyers want land to develop, Marshall says. “They taxed me as if I had built the allowable number of units, almost a prospective tax.” Annual taxes ran his family $20,000 to $22,000.

“We held onto it as long as we could,” he says.

Drew Holzwarth, president of the Piedmont region for Stanley Martin, has said the Marshalls’ 1917 farmhouse will be a clubhouse for the 37-acre Pleasant Green development. Plans call for 268 units made up of townhouses, condos, and larger villas.

Wayland House itself could meet differing fates: demolition, being updated or preserved on site, being moved, or salvaged, says Marshall. Updating the house could be an expensive proposition: Marshall cites an architect who estimated $1 million to bring the house up to modern standards.

Holzwarth says his company can’t make any decisions on the house because Marshall still owns the rights to it. But Marshall says he only owns the salvage rights, which would only kick in if the house is demolished (and he worries contents would not be worth the cost of salvage).

Abraham Wayland expanded the family orchard business, which led to train tracks coming to the house and the village dubbed Wayland’s Crossing. Courtesy David Wayland

Phil James, a local expert in Blue Ridge history, says the house is worth keeping. “It represents the beginning of the village.”

Jeremiah Wayland purchased the home in 1832, says James. His son, Abraham Wayland, expanded the family farming business with orchards, which required transportation. The railroad tracks soon ran to the house, and the village became known as Wayland’s Crossing.

In 1849, Claudius Crozet and his team boarded in the house as he directed construction of the famed Blue Ridge tunnel. Because of the benefits the railroad conferred, the village changed its name to Crozet in 1870.

Historic photo of Wayland House. The window behind the tree on the lower level is the room where Claudius Crozet stayed. courtesy Phil James Historical Images

“Mike has been a wonderful steward,” James says.

Even though his great-great grandfather purchased the home, David Wayland visited its inside for the first time in March. “I was surprised that it was in such good shape, with a beautiful staircase in the entry hall, for example,” he says. “I would love to see it moved.”

The staircase in Wayland House. Courtesy David Wayland

UVA professor and architectural historian K. Edward Lay gave Wayland the tour. He saw the Roman numerals on some beams, an old way of marking beams for connection. Lay hopes that someone might preserve the original, central portion of the Greek Revival house, called an “I house.”

Holzwarth says he’s committed to doing what can be done to preserve the historic home, because he doesn’t want to be “vilified” like another developer, who tore down a historic house on Blue Ridge Avenue in 2017 to make way for The Vue apartments.

However, he warns that because the house was built in so many sections, it may fall apart if moved. Wayland House’s location is not in the first phase of Pleasant Green development. Holzwarth says, “I told Mike, ‘It’s not imminent, let’s get a plan.’”

Lay is on the Albemarle County Historic Preservation Committee, which tried twice to pass an ordinance that would safeguard significant properties. The city has such an ordinance.

Laments Lay, “So many historic homes in the county are destroyed.”