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Fate Of Rare Northern Virginia Dairy Barn In Question

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The Pimmit Barn turned 75 years old last year, and a group of concerned citizens are rallying together to make sure the historic property survives to see its centennial, plus many anniversaries after that.
Paul Kohlenberger
The Pimmit Barn turned 75 years old last year, and a group of concerned citizens are rallying together to make sure the historic property survives to see its centennial, plus many anniversaries after that.

Standing at the top of the Tower Club in Tyson's Corner, you've got a bird's-eye view of the Beltway, McLean, and Northwest Washington. If you didn't know to look for the Pimmit Barn, you would probably miss it entirely amongst the suburban chaos below.

Paul Kohlenberger, president of the McLean Historical Society, is currently involved in efforts to save the Pimmit Barn, which stands on a hill about a mile from the Tower Club. From the balcony, you can spot the white barn peeking out from behind some trees.

"Fifty years ago, the only thing in sight would have been a farmhouse to the northwest, and the Pimmit Barn to the northeast," Kohlenberger says. But all of that has changed, save for one shining reminder of what once was.

"There's absolutely nothing that hints at the agricultural past," Kohlenberger says. "We have a Metro, we have 12 lanes of the Beltway. We have innumerable skyscrapers, the National Counterterrorism Center, and a 1937 vintage cinderblock dairy barn."

Lesley Stone lives next door to the Pimmit Barn and says she would like to one day teach her 2-year-old son that milk comes from cows, not plastic jugs.

"I want my son to know about the history of the region, which is predominantly dairy farming," she says. "The Tysons area of shopping malls and high-rise office buildings doesn't really reflect that anymore, and so this one little slice of history is, I think, important to keep."

Saving Pimmit Barn

In May, Stone started a petition to save the last vestige of her community's agricultural past. The barn currently belongs to the Fairfax County Park Authority. Back in 2011, the Park Authority proposed divesting its property to another branch of the county government.

"The only one that got back to them was the Community Services Board of Fairfax County and Falls Church, which proposed to put a group home on the site, which would require razing the barn," Kohlenberger says.

While some community members voiced concerns about having a group home for elderly and disabled adults in their neighborhood, other residents had a bigger axe to grind.

"Our group is not opposed to a group home at all," Stone says. "We just think that there are better places, even within our neighborhood, than knocking down a 75-year-old building that's the last of its kind in the county."

So Stone started a petition to save Pimmit Barn. "We wanted to make it clear to the Fairfax County Park Authority and to the Board of Supervisors that there's widespread community support for saving the barn," she says.

Thus far, the petition has gotten nearly 500 signatures, and a survey circulated around the neighborhood shows that only 1 to 2 percent of respondents favor tearing down the barn rather than saving it.

Stone says that the community is mainly interested in saving the barn because of its historic value and the fact that Pimmit Hills has less park space than other surrounding areas.

Drainesville supervisor John Foust says that because Pimmit Hills was built so long ago, it doesn't have all the park facilities that would be expected from a new community. Foust notes that in terms of size, Pimmit Hills would not meet the requirements of today's developers, because "those requirements didn't exist back in the early '50s when Pimmit Hills was built."

Kohlenberger recently submitted an application to the Fairfax Historical Commission to get the Pimmit Barn listed as a historical site, which he says won't protect the barn, but it could convince the Park Authority that the site is worth saving.

He says that Pimmit Barn is not only the oldest structure in Pimmit Hills and the last agricultural building in the greater Tysons area, but it is also the last Virginia dairy barn inside the Beltway, and the only surviving example of a concrete dairy barn in the urbanized portion of Fairfax County.

A few months ago, Foust supported the plan to convert the barn into a group home. But that was before the Friends of Pimmit Barn assembled and began making a case for saving the building. He now says that as long as he's supervisor, the barn won't be torn down.

"We're living in a very rapidly urbanizing area," Foust says. "Tysons Corner is immediately next door to Pimmit Hills, and the opportunity to preserve something that is part of our history is something I would like to pursue."

But it won't be easy.

Pimmit Barn: Part of the community

"We don't know what renovations are needed, so we don't know what just getting it to the point where it can stay as is will cost, and secondly we don't really know what uses could be made of it," Foust says. "It's currently being used for a very important community purpose, and that's the storage of an unlimited amount of youth sporting equipment."

Joel Stillman, president of McLean Youth Athletics, which leases the first floor of the Pimmit Barn, says the barn already plays a vital role in the community, and to lose it would impact his organization and local residents, many of whom have children enrolled in McLean Youth Athletics sport programs.

"There are other places where we can store the equipment, but it would be about 10 times more expensive, so in essence, for our volunteer organizations this is our only alternative," Stillman says.

He says his group has no problem sharing the barn. McLean Youth Athletics only leases the bottom floor, and there's enough space to use the barn for other purposes. The Friends of Pimmit Barn are working to show the land's potential as an event space and community destination. After receiving complaints that the property needed tidying, the group hosted a cleanup of the property.

"It was two days, I think four dumpsters of stuff, and we got the land looking really great," Stone says. "And I think half the people got poison ivy." But that didn't deter the band of community activists, who are itching to do more.

After the cleanup day, the group hosted a Halloween party that featured donated pizza, pumpkins, live music, face painting and other fun activities. More than 150 people attended the party, which Stone says clearly demonstrates that the space can be used as a park and event space.

"It was a really great example of the kind of thing that that spot can be used for," she says.

The Friends of Pimmit Barn have several other ideas for the space, but they'll need to do a lot of work before they can realize their vision.

Even though the proposal for a group home has been tabled, the Pimmit Barn still isn't safe. The cost of renovating is a real concern, and proponents for saving the structure need to rustle up some real cash to back their efforts.

"We're still trying to get access to the top floor to see in what kind of shape the roof is in, so we're not sure how much it would cost to stabilize the structure," Stone says. "We're now hearing from Supervisor Foust... there isn't a surplus to do sort of surprise projects like this."

But the Friends of Pimmit Barn remain hopeful. Stone says that the group will organize into a 501(c)(3) to help with fundraising efforts, though it's still unclear just how much they will need.

The group's current proposal takes a two-phased approach, with short-term and long-term plans. First, they would like to add a historical marker and benches to draw attention to the area and explain its historical significance.

Stone says the community survey also showed a lot of interest in a museum and community center, but those kinds of projects would require massive changes to the barn's interior, which would be a costly venture. For now, the group is focused on less expensive ideas, such as community gardens.

"It sort of parallels the idea of victory gardens that were prominent in World War II, and because the neighborhood was developed for World War II veterans, I think that's pretty cool," Stone says.

Foust says the decision to save Pimmit Barn is ultimately up to the Park Authority, but he's confident that the agency's representative shares his attitude and will try to preserve the structure.

"People would, I'm sure, love to see the old barn, so it would be a benefit not just to Pimmit Hills but to, I think, the county at large if we can do this," he says.

For more information, or to sign the petition to save Pimmit Barn, you can click here.

[Music: "New Born (Instrumental)" by Muse from Origin of Symmetry]


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