Virginia Landmarks Register Nomination

Commonwealth of Virginia
Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission

July 1, 1975

Mr. Donald Orth, President
The Arlington Historical Society, Inc.
Box 402
Arlington, Virginia 22201

Dear Mr. Orth:

Re: Ball-Sellers House, Arlington County

On behalf of the Commonwealth it gives us great pleasure to notify you that the Historic Landmarks Commission has placed the Ball-Sellers House on the Virginia Landmarks Register and has nominated it to the National Register of Historic Places. Because reporters attended our Commission meeting, some notice of this designation may already have appeared in the newspapers.

The Virginia Landmarks Register, established by an act of the General Assembly in 1966, is to include “the buildings, structures, and sites which are of a state-wide or national significance.” It is our feeling that the Ball-Sellers House richly deserves this recognition.

The protection of these significant landmarks is of immediate concern to this Commission. It is our hope that you will let us know if we can be of any assistance in the preservation of your historic property. Many times members of our staff can offer advice to owners who contemplate alterations or renovations on their property, and we will welcome the opportunity to serve you.

Sincerely yours,

Junius R. Fishburne, Jr.
Executive Director


cc: Hon. Joseph L. Fisher, National Register of Historic Places

Inventory — Nomination Form

Condition: Good, altered, original site

Describe the present and original (if known) physical appearance:

The Ball-Sellers House stands at 5620 South Third Street on an open lot amidst a late-nineteenth-century development in the Glencarlyn section of Arlington County. Presently consisting of a one-story log structure and a two-story frame wing, it has had a complex structural history.

The log section is probably the original house and dates from the mid- to late eighteenth century. it is a single-cell structure with opposed front and rear doors, a single window opening on the front, and another on the east gable end, which presumably gave access to a no-longer extant wing. The exterior is covered with “German” or novelty siding, so it is not possible to determine the type of corner timbering used. A later porch roof sweeps close to the ground across the length of the front of the log section. The cellar framing of this section indicates that there was a chimney with a seven-foot fireplace opening at the west end.

Soon after the log house was built, a frame lean-to ell was added to the original building. Like the interior of the log section, it is plastered roughly and retains portions of double-beaded chairboard. Two early vertical-beaded-board doors lead into the log section, and from the log section into the lean-to. The latter has a handsome early latch. Architrave door frames complete the interior trim. The ceiling of the ell is plastered, but that of the main room has roughly hewn exposed joists. Access to the loft is obtained through a hole in the southeast corner of the main room, where the marks of former stair framing can be seen.

The loft is the most notable feature of the Ball-Sellers House, for it contains a rare surviving clapboard roof, protected by a later roof built around it but independent of it, thus preserving the original almost intact. It consists of riven oak clapboards, about four feet long, attached to roughly-split rafters with collars which were raised at an early date to allow more headroom. The undersides of the clapboards and the rafters are whitewashed. there survive portions of the light lathing used to seat the rafters while the clapboards were being attached and sections of the whitewashed clay daubing used to caulk the angle where the roof meets the loft floor.

Another early wing, attached to the east end of the log section, is visible in an early-twentieth-century photograph, but has since been removed.

At the west end of the log section, a frame wing was attached in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. This was taken down and replaced by the present plain, two-story wing in 1885. Two mantels from the demolished wing were reused in the new one — a plain Greek Revival mantel on the first floor and a Federal mantel with an architrave surround and an unsupported molded mantel shelf with dentil work. Some six-panel, raised-panel doors were also reused.

In the yard are a well head and a small log barn. The latter is now covered with novelty siding.

The Ball-Sellers House has recently been given to the Arlington Historical Society, which is renovating the latter portion for used as a residence. The log section and its lean-to are to serve as a museum.

Statement of Significance

The Ball-Sellers House in the Glencarlyn section of Arlington County is remarkable for its clapboard roof which is a rare survival in Virginia. Associated with two of the original families of the present Arlington County, the house was built on a farm which became one of the earliest planned commuter suburbs of Washington, DC. The modest structure is probably the oldest house in Arlington County.

The property on which the house stands was included in a grant by William Fairfax to John Ball, who received 166 acres of land on Four Mile Run in 1742. A long-time resident of Prince William (later Fairfax) County, Ball is believed to have built the original log section and its frame lean-to. When he died in 1766, he directed that his property be sold and that the proceeds be divided among his wife, Elizabeth, and his five daughters. The sale occurred in 1772, when William Carlin (1732-1820) purchased the farm for 100 pounds. However, Elizabeth Ball had elected to take her widow’s dower rather than accept her husband’s will, and so may have occupied the house until her death (around 1792).

William Carlin’s will stated that the property should be sold in lots small enough for persons with little money to purchase them. The scheme proved to be impracticable, and finally the estate was divided into three lots, each sold to one of Carlin’s three sons. Lot 1, the “Mansion House Tract,” was acquired for $874 in 1835 by James Harvey Carlin. After his death, the 94-acre tract was operated as a dairy farm by his son Andrew and his daughter Ann.

William W. Curtis and Samuel F. Burdett bought the Carlin farm in 1887, and it was they who developed it as a subdivision for “all men and women of moderate means or who receive stated salaries.” Planned to take advantage of a railroad station which has made Carlin Springs (as the area was then known) a popular picnic area for Washingtonians since the 1870s, the development was named Glencarlyn in 1896.

At first the corporation retained possession of the old house. After several changes of ownership in the twentieth century, the property was given by Marian Sellers to the Arlington Historical Society in 1975.

The most notable architectural feature of the house is its clapboard roof, a form which has received little attention from architectural scholars in the past. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century records occasionally mention such roofs, and occasional fragmentary survivals have been noted by modern students who where unable until recently to recognize them as a form of roofing which was apparently not unusual in the seventeenth century, and on lesser buildings into the nineteenth century, but of which few examples are extant. Rarely has one survived in so complete a form as that of the Ball-Sellers House, which also retains many associated incidental features such as bracing laths, caulking, and gable-end weatherboarding.

— Dell Upton