The origins of the plantation date back to before the United States was an independent country – 1727, when Major Dennis McCarty laid claim to a 522-acre parcel of land from Lord Fairfax. A house was have known to have existed as early as the 1730s and subsequently destroyed by fire. The first Mount Air Plantation House was built prior to 1806. It was partially destroyed by fire and rebuilt on the same foundations in 1859, where it was remodeled several times until 1992 where the remains of the last house are now located. The history of the plantation is quite important in the development of southern Fairfax County.
Major McCarty held important positions within Stafford, now Fairfax County. He was appointed sheriff in 1728, Justice of the Peace in 1729, and a representative in the House of Burgesses for the newly formed Prince William County in 1731. In September 1724, Dennis McCarty, aged 20, married Sarah Ball, second cousin to George Washington. The couple had five children, three sons, Daniel, Dennis Jr., and Thaddeus; and two daughters Ann, and Sarah. The couple was well respected within the community and their wealth gradually increased. One week after making a will, on March 25, 1742, Dennis McCarty died and was buried on the plantation grounds. In an inventory of the estate conducted the following year, it lists the holdings of the plantation estate, similar to small to medium plantation owners of the time: 51 slaves, with their names and approximate ages; 6 horses; approximately 100 cows; and many hoes, axes, and plows.
Sara Ball McCarty remarried in the late 1740s to Abraham Barnes. In 1758, Daniel, the oldest son, was deeded by his mother and stepfather, the land that was left to Sara from Major McCarty’s will. This included 1,003 acres in Loudoun County; land between Accotink and Pohick Creeks, called Cedar Grove; land now part of Fort Belvoir in an area known as McCarty Woods; and the Mount Air Plantation.
The Mount Air plantation was 1,071 acres in 1851 and by the time of the fire in 1859, the acreage had shrunk to 809. The latest house on the property was rebuilt on the existing foundations that same year.
The fourth and final family to live in the plantation was Mrs. George (the feminine form of “Georges”) Shirley Kernon. The daughter of a Frenchman, who died when she was three, and then her mother, an American when she was 14, had her early education in Germany. She married John Carter Shirley of Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. In 1889 the couple, pregnant with their first child moved to Oklahoma in search for land. Two week before Elisabeth was born, John Carter Shirley was killed in an accident.
In 1984 the Board of Supervisors approved the recommendations to make Mount Air a Historic Overlay District within Fairfax County, a little over 12 years since the first. The overlay district was created to protect against the destruction of the historic and architectural quality of the landmark; to encourage its uses which would lead to it continuance, conservation and improvement; and to assure that new uses within the district would be in keeping with the character to be preserved and enhanced. The approval was finally achieved because Mrs. Enochs sold a 40 acre parcel to a developer to build townhouses. With the Overlay District in place, the developer was severely limited to the number of houses and the style that were to be built on the land. Construction of the 182 townhomes began in 1986 and completed in 1989. There remains a large buffer of natural trees and forest to protect the remaining 25 acres of the estate.
An architectural description of the property was completed in 1970 with the assistance of Fairfax County Heritage Resources.
“Mount Air is Greek Revival in style. The main section has three stories, with a balancing room arrangement and dimensions. The white clapboard siding on the exterior is seemingly contemporary except for that on the East End of the kitchen it appears to have boards of larger size. On the north front, the columns supporting the portico were previously set on brick piers, with no porch. The porch was already in use by 1914 although the wooden steps have since been replaced by brick.”
When the house was rebuilt in 1859, the south side was not raised to three full stories; the roof sloped downward from the south wall for the present third floor bedrooms. A sleeping porch was added across the south end over the roof when Mrs. Kernon bought the house. She also raised the roof above the gunroom in order to install a bathroom and small bedroom. The entire roof is of asbestos shingles, put on after the first Word War to replace wooden ones. On the main section of the house the roofline is that of a deck-on-gable, with the gable clipped on both ends.
The small balcony on the East Side above the gunroom entrance was added by Mrs. Kernan, as was the porte-cochere in the West Side of the house. The columns of the latter are from a demolished house in Alexandria.
A little more than a couple of weeks after the death of Mrs. Elisabeth Shirley Enochs the house was destroyed by fire of unknown origin on May 19, 1992. The structure was fully engulfed, when firefighters from both Fort Belvoir and Fairfax County responded and the firefighters had to lay over one-half mile of hose to the remotely located building. The house was completely destroyed with the exception of the brick foundation walls, chimney, fireplaces, and several portions of the columns. Several of the out buildings remain. The remaining parcel from the Mount Air plantation was sold to the Van Metre Development Corporation soon there after for development into a single family residential community. In the proffers of the development, the ruins of the mansion are to be retained and developed into a natural setting park, which is being coordinated closely with the Fairfax County Park Authority. Stabilization of the remaining ruins and an interpretation exhibit are planned for the near future.