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The Oldest House in Herndon: The Colonial Era Home of George Payne

Southern view of the Payne house. Photo courtesy of Bill and Carol Wright.
Southern view of the Payne house. Photo courtesy of Bill and Carol Wright.
By Barbara Glakas

The first house to be built in Herndon was the Coleman house, built in 1776 by Col. John Coleman, a militia officer during the American Revolution. That house was taken down in 1964 when the International Apartments were built, with the Jefferson Mews and Lifestyle Condominiums arriving shortly thereafter. 

Just seven years after the Coleman house was built, another house was built by George Payne, presumably in 1783. This house still stands, nestled amongst some trees on a small hill, at 744 Dranesville Road, near the intersection of Worchester Street. It is currently occupied as a private residence and it is likely the oldest house still standing in Herndon. The Ballou house, on the corner of Park Avenue and Station Street, is thought to have been built in the 1790’s. 

The Payne house is a four-room center hall colonial. Two chimney’s mark the original dimensions of the house, with the T-portion being a post-Civil War addition. The house has been renovated a number of times. The framing of the main portion of the house is pegged and mortised construction and there is speculation that one of the shed windows may have come from the original house. 

To understand the beginnings of the Payne house we have to venture back to the 1600s. According to Kilmer and Sweig’s book, “The Fairfax Family in Fairfax County,” British King Charles II granted “The Northern Neck” portion of Virginia to two members of the Culpeper family, and five of their friends, in 1649. At that time “The Northern Neck” referred to a huge tract of land that ran from the Rappahannock River all the way up to the Potomac River. 

The Culpeper and Fairfax families came together when one of the Culpeper’s daughters, Katherine Culpeper, married Thomas Fairfax (a descendent of the original Thomas Fairfax, the First Baron of Cameron). 

Thomas’s son, William Fairfax, was an important gentleman in Colonial Virginia. His daughter, Anne, married Lawrence Washington, older brother of George Washington. It was through this marriage that George Washington became involved with the Fairfax family. Bryan Fairfax, son of William Fairfax, became a close friend of George Washington. 

Bryan’s son, Ferdinando Fairfax (1774-1820), was a godson of George and Martha Washington, as well as an heir to an estate in Virginia. Ferdinando once owned a portion of the Broad Run and Sugarland Run tract of land. Records show that Ferdinando disposed of portions of these tracts between 1799 and 1803. This is the land where George Payne’s house was built. 

Donald LeVine’s book “Herndon, The Land: 1649-1900” tracks the ownership of the Payne property back to 1802. His records show that this land was transferred from Ferdinando Fairfax to Richard Coleman (1802), to Charles/Ann Ratcliffe (1819), to John Barker (1843), to William Barker (1846), and to the Barker daughters, Sara J. and Sarah Bicksler and Catherine Poole (1866). In that record, structures were often referred to as “the Barker homestead.” Since that time the land and house has had a succession of several owners, up to the current owners, the Wrights, who have owned it since 1976. 

Noticeably absent from all these property records is the name of George Payne. Yet in 1979, Herndon resident Virginia Wynkoop, who was 100 years old at the time, wrote a document called “Herndon, Etcetera” in which she recalls her memories of Herndon. She wrote that George Payne, “built the house in 1783 and that he was supposedly the nephew of a friend of George Washington’s and built the house on land leased by his father.”

A 1973 historical study entitled “The Town of Herndon,” written by George Mason University student Rita Schug, explained, “During the early and mid-nineteenth century, only a few homes existed within what is now the corporate limits of Herndon. A Colonel Coleman built a dwelling with a nearby family burial plot …. George Payne occupied a second house which later became the Barker House.” 

An 1878 map of Herndon, drawn by cartographer G.M. Hopkins, shows two homes on or near the Payne property. One was marked “Hy.F. Bixler” and the other was marked “Mrs. M. Baker.” It is thought that the name “Baker” is a misspelling of “Barker” and refers to Mrs. Mildred Barker, wife of William Barker. 

Former Herndon resident Kitty Kitchen, who was born in 1830 and had been interviewed in 1905-06, also referred to this house. Kitty said she was born “in the old Payne place,” where she recalled there had been a pretty fireplace. The book includes a simple map of town, showing the location of the Payne House. 

A 1790 survey map of western Fairfax and eastern Loudoun, indicates that a “Gerge Payne” lived in the area, between Sugarland Run and Ox Road. This map shows a house with two side chimneys. 

Altogether, there is much oral history that indicates the house on Dranesville Road was built and owned by George Payne, but George Payne died without a will and his name is absent from many legal documents. 

George Payne’s name, however, does appear in Loudoun County court records that range from 1787-1802. During that time period the land which is now Herndon was part of Loudoun County. In June of 1798, Payne is mentioned as being a tenant in possession of the premises of 100 acres involved in an ejectment suit. An ejectment suit was usually conducted for recovery or possession of land title, sometimes against a defaulting tenant. The suit mentioned the “messuage with its appurtenances,” which refers to the dwelling and the items associated with the land. George had been served with the plaintiff’s declaration, but did not appear. 

A similar entry was made in August 1798, stating that George Payne did not appear again. By December 1798 the final entry said, "Ferdinando FAIRFAX against William CARTER--upon attachment for rent--George PAYNE of this County came into Court and undertook that the Defendant that he shall pay the rent of 530 lbs. of transfer tobacco on the 25th of this month or that he will do it for him." 

This confirms that George would have been a renter of the land, not an owner, which is why his name had not appeared on property records. 

But who was George Payne exactly? A book entitled, “The Paynes of Virginia” by Brooke Payne said that George Payne was the son of Sanford Payne. Sanford Payne’s brother, William Payne, was one of George Washington's pallbearers. This would fit Virginia Wynkoop’s description that George Payne was “a nephew of a friend of George Washington's.” 

The book, “The Fairfax Family in Fairfax County” had a passage which explains the beginning of the friendship between William Payne and George Washington. It said:  “In 1754, Washington, then in command of the Virginia Rangers at Alexandria, awaiting the arrival of General Braddock’s troops, supported Mr. Fairfax in an election contest for the House of Burgesses, against Mr., afterward Colonel, William Payne of the Continental Army. This seems to have been one of those rare occasions when Washington’s hot blood got the better of his peerless judgment. Fierce words passed between the two gentlemen, in the Market Square of Alexandria, ending by an outburst of rage from Payne, in which he felled Washington to the earth. The Rangers rushed from their barracks and surrounded Payne, but Washington, with calm dignity, dispersed them. A duel seemed inevitable. On the following day, however, Washington sent for Payne, and, extending his hand, said, with a gentle courtesy, that touched the other to the heart: ‘Mr. Payne, to err is human. I was wrong yesterday; but if you have sufficient satisfaction, let us be friends.’ Until the day of his death, Colonel Payne retained Washington a devoted and unbroken regard, and the affair added one more link to the chain which bound together the families.” 

A previous owner of George Payne’s house once indicated that he had a document or journal written by George Washington and that it had an entry in it stating that Washington, on a visit to our area, had spent the night in the comfortable home of a friend. He did not mention the name of the friend, but some speculate, given Washington’s connection the Payne family, that he could have stayed at the Payne house. 

According to a family genealogy website, William Payne’s brother, Sanford, and his wife Abigail, had eight children, one of whom was George Payne, born in Fairfax County in 1763. Sanford died in 1787. Abigail’s death date is unknown. George was named as one of the executors of his father's will, as well as being named as co-guardian of his younger brothers and sisters. 

George was married in 1783 to Mary Coe. The notes of a previous owner of the Payne house stated that George had been married in the Frying Pan Church. When they were married, Mary was a mere 18 years old and George was 20. The date of their marriage coincides with the date that Virginia Wynkoop said the house was built, 1783. George and Mary Payne had five children of their own. 

A 1798 Loudoun County Militia Journal said, “George Payne exempted from Militia duty during inability.” This “inability” may have caused his death as he died in 1799 at the age of 36, without having a legal will of his own. 

Two legal documents, dated 1803 and 1806, show an appraisal and a settlement of his estate. Over and beyond some typical furniture and tableware, the inventory of his estate included a fair amount of livestock (horses, steer, pigs, and sheep), tools to use with those animals and to farmer with (hoes, iron wedges, and wagon equipment), as well as two slave girls named Charlotte and Mary. 

While the inventory makes it seem he may have been a planter/farmer, there is no real way to know for sure. He once paid his rent in tobacco. At that time it was common for tobacco to be used as currency. According to an article on Tobacco.org, people who lived in the Colonial period, “…whose main occupation was something other than tobacco planting, often tended a small patch in their spare time in order to meet the various country and parish levies, and to make purchases in local stores. The people carried their small quantities to the warehouse and received transfer notes that could either be sold or tendered as payment of debts, fees, and taxes.” 

In 1803, George’s widow, Mary, married Nicholas Grymes, a former Fairfax County militia man, who had also acted as the administrator to George Payne’s estate. Mr. Grymes moved the family to Bourbon, Kentucky, in about 1806. Mary [Coe Payne] Grymes died in Kentucky in 1820. 

About this column: “Remembering Herndon’s History” is a regular Herndon Patch 
feature offering stories and anecdotes about Herndon’s past. The articles are written by members of the Herndon Historical Society. Barbara Glakas is a member. A complete list of “Remembering Herndon’s History” columns is available on the Historical Society website at herndonhistoricalsociety.org.

The Herndon Historical Society operates a small museum that focuses on local history. It is housed in the Herndon Depot in downtown Herndon on Lynn Street and is open every Sunday from noon until 3:00. Visit the Society’s website at for more information.

Note: The Historical Society is seeking volunteers to help keep the museum open each Sunday. If you have an interest in local history and would like to help, contact Charlie Waddell at 703-435-2520 or charliewaddell@cox.net.

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