Hickory Hill is a large, brick manor in McLean, Virginia that has been owned by the Kennedy family for many years. However, the house was first built on ground that was acquired by Thomas Lee through a land grant of 2,862 acres in 1719. It wasn’t until 1870 though that George Walters, the owner of 88.5 acres of the grant, built the house near Langley Fork. Walters was a master carpenter, and the first house he built on the land was homey and welcoming. After the Civil War, however, his farmhouse was destroyed in a fire, so he replaced it with a grand manor on the same site. Walters named the house Hickory Hill after the old hickory trees that used to surround his driveway.
Over the years, nine different families have resided at Hickory Hill, each bringing their own personality to the home through modifications and improvements. The original Hickory Hill was a red-brick, three-story home built atop a knoll where Walters farmhouse once stood. At the time the house was built, brick houses were rare in this section of Northern Virginia, and it is thought that red clay from the back of the property was used to make the bricks. Hickory Hill was initially constructed with a mansard-style roof, dormer windows, and a catwalk from which a person had a view of Georgetown, Washington City, and the U.S. Capitol building.
The Kennedys purchased Hickory Hill in October of 1955. Over the years, the Kennedys enlarged the northern wing to include a dining room, living room, and additional bedrooms. They also added a tennis court, swimming pools, pool house, and kitchen in the back of the house. Seemingly overnight Hickory Hill became a household word and, in a way, the Kennedys had put McLean, Virginia on the map. The red front door of the Hickory Hill house had become a McLean landmark.
Hickory Hill remained in the Kennedy family for almost 50 years, but by 2003 the house and grounds had fallen into disrepair. Ethel Kennedy ended up putting the house up for sale with a listing price of $25 million. The property remained on the market for six years with several price reductions. Multiple issues hindered the sale of Hickory Hill though. The biggest problem was the fact that Hickory Hill has been a large part of Virginia’s history, and any new development and modifications had to be balanced and remain faithful to the property’s past. While the house was placed on the Virginia Register of Historic places and entered into Fairfax County’s List of Historic Sites, the house had never been put on the National Register of Historic Places. This made restoring the house and grounds to their former glory a challenging balancing act of blending the old and new.
Alan and Ashley Dabbiere purchased Hickory Hill in December of 2009 through the Hickory Hill Trust. The Dabbiere’s spent three years remolding the house while trying to keep true to its historic nature. While the original house may not be significantly recognizable anymore, Hickory Hill still retains the character of its historic past and continues to be a landmark of McLean, Virginia.