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Farm Life in Suburbs ‘Anything But Bucolic,’ Owner Says

February 12, 1991

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) _ Nestled on 20 wooded acres overlooking the Potomac River, with the spires of Washington Cathedral visible in the distance, Red Hill Farm has been producing fresh vegetables, jumbo eggs, herbs and hanging flower baskets for neighboring city dwellers for the past two years.

But all is not peaceful at the only working farm left in Arlington County, a Washington, D.C., suburb of shopping malls and high-rise condos. Ernest and Judy Hendry are fighting to keep their family farm a farm - a conflict played out across America as suburbs extend deeper into once-rural land.

″This place is anything but bucolic,″ said Mrs. Hendry, gathering fresh brown eggs from her clucking hens in the wintry silence shrouding the farm.

Herds of tame deer graze on the slopes below the red-roofed farmhouse built in the 1870s, and a den of foxes keeps the rabbits out of the lettuce patch. The henhouse chickens are jealously guarded by ″King Bobby,″ an ornery Partridge Rock gamecock that rules the barnyard.

The farm also includes an antique barn, a springhouse, two greenhouses and the well-preserved remains of a Civil War fort where 2,000 Union soldiers commanded the high ground against a Confederate assault that never came.

Even more valuable to archaeologists than the buttons, bullets and bottles unearthed from the Civil War encampment are the buried artifacts of Indians who roamed the Potomac palisades 1,500 years ago. In the 1920s, hundreds of Girl Scouts pitched their tents and sat around campfires in the meadow.

It was this pastoral paradise that Hendry’s father, a prominent Washington physician, bought in 1927 for $58,000. His two children, Ernest and Elizabeth, grew up riding horses along its wooded trails with their neighborhood friends.

Property values soared during the building boom after World War II. Months after the elder Hendry died in 1976, the family heirs rejected a developer’s offer to buy the estate for $3 million and build a housing subdivision.

What followed is clouded in a bitter, complex legal controversy involving the Hendrys, county officials and the developer. Their lengthy struggle appears to focus partly on the disputed validity of a former sales contract and the county’s efforts to protect the old fort as a historical landmark.

Nearly five years of fighting to save Red Hill Farm have left Ernest Hendry, 47, a schoolteacher and pianist, weary but undaunted. ″I swore I’d see this through,″ he said, ″and I’m not going to give up.″

He said the battle has cost $100,000 in lawyers’ fees plus a pretrial settlement that required a $1.5 million payment to the developer, which he is appealing.

Meanwhile, the farm’s value has risen steadily. The last bidder offered $8 million to $9 million several years ago, Hendry said, but the family still isn’t selling.

County officials and architect Tom Georgelas, speaking on behalf of the developer, denied any wrongdoing in the Hendry case. ″The county would like very much to see the property preserved and not developed,″ said Joan Linderman, Arlington’s chief of community improvement.

These days, the Hendrys are busy preparing for the early spring planting of peas, scallions, spinach and lettuce later this month.

They also are overseeing the restoration of the old farmhouse, freshly painted in its original reds, yellows and golds, to rent as a bed-and- breakfast hostelry or a secluded retreat for foreign embassies. The spruced-up arboretum will be available for outdoor weddings and receptions.

″We’re not getting rich on the farm,″ Hendry said. His wife said their aim is to produce enough income to justify keeping Red Hill Farm in the family’s hands and ″see that it’s not bulldozed.″

″We want people to come here and enjoy the greenery and the ambience of a farm that makes this a little oasis in the city,″ Hendry said.

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