History Podcasts

Ball-Sellers House

Ball-Sellers House

Located in Arlington, Virginia, is a well-preserved 18th-century home called the Ball-Sellers House. The historic building is owned by the Arlington Historical Society and is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.The Ball-Sellers House was built around 1742 by a farmer named John Ball. Originally the house consisted of a one-room log cabin and a loft.Later on, a lean-to covered with clapboards was added to the structure. This lean-to still exists today.Following John Ball’s death in 1766, the house was purchased by William Carlin- a tailor of great repute. During this occupation a farmhouse was built in the adjacent lot, in 1880.The farmhouse along with newer additions like a giant wisteria vine form part of the exhibits in the historic site. However, the section built during the 1750s, is considered most important, both architecturally and historically.The Carlins sold the house and its adjoining property in 1887. The building then served as a school, later as a summer cottage, and then as a home.Marian Rhinehart Sellers, the last occupant of the house, sold the building to the Arlington Historical Society, in 1975.Today, the Ball-Sellers House is believed to be the oldest residence in Arlington. It is one of the few remaining homes that originally belonged to the working class of the 18th century.Many of the materials such as logs, clapboard roof ,and pegged floorboards that were used during the first construction, still remains intact.Currently, a caretaker of the Arlington Historical Society is placed here to take care of the building.

On Aug. 6, the Arlington Historical Society launched the first archaeological dig at the Ball-Sellers House — the oldest structure in Arlington County — in 30 years. The project is led by archaeologist Patrick L. O’Neill, who has conducted archaeological digs at Arlington House and Calloway Methodist Church in the Hall’s Hill neighborhood of Arlington. Like everyone else on the project, O'Neill is donating his time and expertise.

The archaeological project is aimed at uncovering evidence of a section of the property that was torn down sometime before 1920 and also hopes to unearth clues about how the residents of this 270-year-old house lived.

Scores of volunteers from throughout northern Virginia are helping more seasoned archaeologists with the Northern Virginia Archaeology Society dig, sift, and clean the artifacts.

In the first two days of the dig — scheduled to continue until the end of September — the volunteers discovered more about how the forebears ate, drank, and lived. An early “test pit” measuring 13 inches deep and 18 inches in diameter yielded glass from three different bottles of varying eras, oyster shells — a popular food item over the last two centuries — an 18th century nail, and a handmade brick.

The archaeological project is underway in advance of the installation of a rain garden in October on the historic property to help keep rainwater away from the cabin’s stone foundation. It is part of Arlington County’s Stormwater Wise program to reduce runoff into storm drains.

The Ball-Sellers House was built in the 1740s by farmer John Ball. William Carlin, tailor to George Washington, bought the cabin after Ball’s death. Three generations of the Carlin family lived there and Carlin became the namesake of the Glencarlyn neighborhood.

000-0009 Ball-Sellers House

*Click on image to enlarge.

For additional information, read the Nomination Form PDF

VLR Listing Date 06/17/1975

NRHP Listing Date 07/17/1975

NRHP Reference Number 75002014

Most of the simple, often crude dwellings of the average colonial Virginian have disappeared the finer houses that remain tend to give a misleading picture of the more typical lifestyle of the 18th century. A rare surviving example of such elementary housing is the Ball-Sellers House, tucked in the Glencarlyn neighborhood of Arlington. The tiny, one-room dwelling probably was built by John Ball before his death in 1766, and is now a wing of a 19th-century house. The rustic log construction and rare surviving clapboard roof, one of the most rudimentary of early roof coverings, both hidden under later fabric, tell that many Virginians lived far from luxuriously. The house was later owned by William Carlin, an Alexandria tailor whose clientele included George Washington. This singular architectural document is now owned and preserved by the Arlington Historical Society.

VLR: Virginia Landmarks Register
NPS: National Park Service
NRHP: National Register of Historic Places
NHL: National Historic Landmark

Visit The Historic Ball-Sellers House In Arlington And See How The Ordinary Man Lived In The 1700s

In 1724, John Ball acquired a 166-acre land grant along Four Mile Run from Lord Fairfax. He constructed a one-roomed log cabin with a loft. He lived there with his wife and five daughters farming wheat and corn and rearing sheep, cows, and pigs. He also ran a mill on Four Mile Run and kept some of the millstones on the property. The Ball-Sellers House is in Arlington VA When John died in 1766, the house was bought by William Carlin, a tailor whose clients included George Washington and George Mason. The property remained in the Carlins family for over 100 years where the third generation, brother and sister Andrew and Anne, ran a dairy farm and built the 1880 house that adjoins the Ball cabin. When the Carlins finally sold the property in 1887, the land was subdivided into a neighborhood known today as Glencarlyn, the oldest subdivision in Arlington. The house survived and over the years was used as a school, a summer cottage, and a home. The last private owner was Marian Seller, who had grown up in that house and gave it to the Arlington Historical Society in 1975 so that it might be preserved and open to the public. The Ball-Sellers house is now owned by the Arlington Historical Society and is on Virginia State Historical Landmark and the National Register of Historic Sites. The historic home which is located at 5620 Third Street South in the Glencarlyn neighborhood, is open for tours on Saturdays (April to October) and on summer holidays from 1-4 pm. Free private group tours are also available by appointment. The house is a rare example of how the ordinary man lived during the 1700s.

There’s a lot going on in Arlington’s history — this being the 150th anniversary of Arlington National Cemetery, and the 200th anniversary of the burning of Washington. And there’s a lot going on in the Arlington Historical Society (AHS) as well. Begun in 1956, the mission of the all-volunteer group is to help Arlingtonians learn about their communities through history.

“We’re rebuilding and expanding our programs, and making ourselves more relevant to Arlington County,” said AHS President John P. Richardson, 75, who is retired from the CIA and lives in the Tara-Leeway Heights neighborhood in North Arlington. “We want to make the case persuasively that in Arlington, history is important for politics and it’s good for business.”

For those wishing to explore Arlington history, the AHS offers a treasure trove of monthly lectures, held at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of the month at the Arlington Central Library. (See sidebar.)

“We offer tremendous programs, on fun, interesting topics,” said Head of Communications Garrett Peck, 46, of Virginia Square. “It’s a chance to learn about our common history and our bonds. It’s a chance for people to participate in the community around them.”

AHS ALSO MAINTAINS the 1891 Hume School, which houses the Arlington Historical Museum at 1805 South Arlington Ridge Road, and The Ball-Sellers House, a 1750’s frontiersman’s cabin at 5620 South Third St., Arlington, in the Glencarlyn neighborhood. That makes AHS the only historical society in the Washington area that is responsible for maintaining and preserving historic properties. Both are open to the public on weekends from 1 to 4 p.m. for tours free of charge. Visit www.arlingtonhistoricalsociety.org or call 703-379-2123.

“It’s a good way to demonstrate to newcomers that Arlingtonians didn’t always live in glass towers and fancy homes — that we have a history of coming up from modest beginnings,” said past AHS President Sara Collins, 84, of Columbia Heights.

“We’re such a modern county that we forget that there’s decades of vital history here,” added Peck.

In terms of expansion, the AHS is initiating the Black Heritage Museum of Arlington, a virtual museum set to open in August that is dedicated to the black experience. AHS will be installing two display cases in the museum for the Black Heritage to tell its story, thus filling a gap in its collection. It will include letters and documents, a history documentary, artifacts like Dr. Charles Drew’s saxophone and eyeglasses — and not just of the slave experience, but of the continuing role of African Americans in Arlington. “The exhibit will be broad, and we hope it will tell a compelling story,” added Richardson.

AHS has also initiated an historical essay contest for 11th graders in Arlington County public schools. Co-sponsored by Arlington Masonic Lodge 285, this year’s prize is $1,000. The essay topic was “To what extent was Arlington County heroic or quixotic in its pursuit of school integration, considering contemporary trends?”

ANOTHER PROJECT in the works is the Arlington Passport Project targeted to middle- and high-schoolers. Ten sites of historic interest will be identified and students will be issued fake passports to be stamped as they visit the sites. It will have an app with descriptions, and will be supported by a GPS and public transportation. “This is a terrific project,” said Richardson, but it needs $5,000 in funding before it can begin. “People are going to learn about Arlington County history — and maybe how to get around by public transportation.”

He added: “We’re showcasing what Arlington has to offer. We have stuff that is worth knowing about, even if it’s not going to make the coffee table picture books.”

Some of the 10 historic sites on the Arlington Passport Project include:

  • Arlington House (The Robert E. Lee Memorial), which offers the history of the Custis and Lee families, now surrounded by Arlington National Cemetery. It was built by George Washington Parke Custis, the grandson of Martha Washington, who inherited the property from his father. He maintained that as a home for the Custis family, and also as a museum to commemorate George Washington. The property was also home to Freedman’s Village, which is the source of the African American communities in the county.

“The home is a jewel,” said Collins. “It became the home of the National Cemetery, Fort Myer and the Marine Base.”

During the Civil War, Collins said Arlington was occupied by Federal Troops, forts and camps, and lost a lot of its historic buildings. “And that caused the devastation of its visual aspects and historic structures,” said Collins. “But we are fortunate to have the Arlington House and the Ball-Sellers House — to keep that history alive,” she added.

Other Arlington Passport Project sites include:

The original Boundary Stone Marker that laid out the 10 square miles of District of Columbia.

Little Saigon in Clarendon, the gathering area for the surge of Vietnamese refugees in 1975. Many of their restaurants have since moved to Falls Church.

The Charles Drew House in South Arlington. (Dr. Drew invented blood plasma.) “It’s significant because it’s where Dr. Charles Drew grew up,” said Richardson. “It’s a physical place associated with a personality.”

The American Nazi Party building off Wilson Boulevard, the headquarters of George Lincoln Rockwell in the 1950s.

The “dead-drop site” used by Robert Hanson, the spy who sold intelligence to his Russian contacts in exchange for money, along the Long Branch Nature Preserve.

Fort C.F. Smith, one of the original 33 Union Forts in Northern Virginia, which is now part of the Arlington Parks system.

FUTURE PROGRAMS are a workshop on researching a home’s history by expert Matthew Gilmore who will show residents how to determine when the house was built and who owned it.

Another topic is the Confederate attack of July 11-12, 1864, at Fort Stevens with Dr. Frank Cooling. This was the only direct attack on Washington during the Civil War. He will touch on the 68 earthen forts protecting the District, of which 33 were in Northern Virginia, and 20 were in Arlington.

AHS has a budget of $30,000 per year, with 330 members who pay dues ($25/individual and $35/family). A Bell-Ringer Campaign adds about $6,000 a year and AHS holds an annual banquet in May or June. The Aurora Hills Women’s Club gave AHS $9,000 from its annual Christmas Bazaar, which will support the Hume School.

AHS is starting to reach out to the business community and hopes to be able to raise enough money to create a professional staff in a small office. “We want to get in touch with a far wider band of the business community,” said Richardson. “We are trying to get the idea that history is good for business.”

Richardson is an author who wrote “The West Bank: A Portrait,” (1984), and has a new book, “Alexander Robey Shepherd: The Man Who Built the Nation’s Capital,” which is being published this year.

Ball-Sellers House - History

  • Hours: 1 p.m. - 4 p.m.
  • Days Open: Saturdays from April - October

For a true glimpse into how many early Virginians built their homes and lived in Colonial times, visit the Ball-Sellers House in the Glencarlyn neighborhood.

Farmer John Ball originally built a one-room log cabin on this site in the mid 18th century. John, his wife Elizabeth, and their five daughters lived in this little house.The cabin was later updated and added to as it changed hands over the years. The historic structure served as a school, summer cottage, a diary farm and a home. Today it is the oldest house in the county and a rare example of a common dwelling during the 1700s.

Managed by the Arlington Historical Society, the Ball-Sellers House is on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places in America. Visitors today can see the original logs with mud daubing, as well as the original plank floors. The rare oak clapboard roof is one of the roofs of its kind in the USA.

Open Saturdays, 1-4 p.m., April through October. The cabin may also be visited by appointment by calling 703-942-9247 or 703-698-5714. There is no admission fee, but donations are greatly appreciated.

The Ball-Sellers House is accessible by car. Find directions here.

The Little Known & Hidden Side of Arlington

Visit a place, and you touch its soul. Arlington, Virginia’s lineup of icons and landmarks persuasively earn its claims to being a place where history and hipness intersect. A.

Historical Markers Visits Ball-Sellers House

In this week’s episode of Historical Markers, Kenmore Middle School Principal Dave McBride, discusses the history of the historic Ball-Sellers House.

The Ball-Seller House is the original home of John Ball, who in 1742 became one of the first settlers in the area. A portion of the house that is still standing was built by John Ball in the 1700s. In 1975, Mrs. Marian Sellers donated the house to the Arlington Historical Society and today it is a museum that people can visit to learn about Arlington in the past. In the fall of 2016, an archaeological dig was held on the grounds of this house to learn more about life there in the past.

Watch this short video about the Ball-Sellers House and use #APSHistoricalMarkers to respond to and ask questions about their history. The Historical Markers video series, produced by APS, highlights just a few of the more than 80 historical markers highlighting important sites in Arlington’s past to engage students in learning about local history.


Barney and Cheryl Parrella have moved three times in the past 11 years, each time within the small, Arlington neighborhood of Glencarlyn.

First they bought a 1,500-square-foot 1950s brick home. Then they owned a framed Dutch colonial house. Now they live in a 3,000-square-foot historic house, parts of which were built in the late 1800s.

Each time they have moved up in quality and character -- and just down the block. The Parrellas, with two kids and a cat, are committed Glencarlyn residents.

"It's kind of a village atmosphere," said Barney Parrella, who works in the airline industry. "It's a very compact little community."

At the western-most edge of Arlington County, the community of Glencarlyn, home to about 1,600 people, is a well-hidden, quiet treasure with homes that, in many instances, have been passed on from generation to generation.

County officials said the community is one of Arlington's oldest. Its active civic association, founded in 1888, is said to be the oldest in continuous operation in the United States.

With three of the county's 20 designated historical landmarks within its boundaries and a centennial scheduled for this weekend, the residents of Glencarlyn are boastful of their heritage.

"I remember how indignant you were," said resident Emily King to her husband, recalling a journalist who once called the neighborhood trendy. "We don't want to be trendy." If Glencarlyn is trendy, it is only because the rest of the world has again come to appreciate neighborly living: little crime, schools within walking distance, surrounding parks, wildlife and the hush of isolation.

"There's almost a village-like feel," said Diane Illch, whose family lives in an unusual, spiral-roofed house. "You can walk around the streets at night. People are so friendly here."

They intend to keep it that way. Instead of cutting down the beautiful old oak trees, residents have been known to make the county build the roads around them. There are few sidewalks in the area because the county has been unable to get 75 percent of the homeowners on any of the streets to agree to have them put in. Many streets do not have curbs or gutters, either.

"It maintains the more natural look," said Lori Hirschfield, the county's neighborhood conservation program coordinator. "It's really the most interesting neighborhood. I feel good when I drive there."

Proximity to good public schools is another feature of the neighborhood that has attracted many Glencarlyn families. A county-run cooperative preschool, Carlin Hall Playschool, operates in the community center. Glencarlyn Elementary School and Kenmore Intermediate School are within walking distance, and Wakefield High School is a quick bus ride away.

"It's an excellent place for raising a family," said Barney Parrella. "Many of friends are within a two- or three-block area. If someone wants to visit a friend, it's not a question of driving all over the place."

Adding to the village-like atmosphere is the neighborhood's sylvan setting. The community is surrounded on three sides by Glencarlyn Park, which has bicycle paths and remnants of an old railroad. Long Branch Creek and Four Mile Run, which form the eastern and southern borders of the community, are recovering from past environmental problems. Eagle-eyed residents say they have seen crawfish and minnows in the streams.

The Long Branch Nature center, located near the Northern Virginia Doctors Hospital on the southern border, helps residents throughout the county better understand the environment.

The entire community -- less than one square mile and only six streets wide -- is like a cul-de-sac, with only one entrance. Most of the residents are white, although there are a few black families and a number of Southeast Asian immigrants. Residents come from many different socioeconomic backgrounds, including government employes, blue- and white-collar workers, artists, police officers, teachers and retirees.

The 670 houses in the community are varied, with virtually every block a hodgepodge of different styles and periods. The Ball Sellers House on Third Street was built in 1760. There are two- and three-story painted wooden homes built in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There are also a large number of brick bungalow-type homes built just after World War II. The most recent additions are several new Victorian-style homes built three years ago.

There are few "for sale" signs.

"This community has always been strong in terms of history," said Cheryl Parrella. "Some families have been living here since the" 19th century, she said.

Glencarlyn was first settled in 1742. John Ball, a yeoman and farmer who was one of the first residents, is known as the grandfather of the area. William Carlin, George Washington's tailor, moved in in 1772, according to county documents.

The three designated historical sites -- the Ball Sellers House, the Ball-Carlin Cemetery on south Kensington and the Carlin Community House on south Fourth Street -- pay tribute to these first inhabitants.

Keeping track of the community's history has been a tradition in itself. The small public library on south Kensington has a three-volume history under lock and key. It and other documents are available to visitors.

"The area and vicinity of Carlin Springs were probably first crossed by white men about 1680, when Indians were the only inhabitants," wrote Hadassah Backus in 1952, in a typewritten notebook kept on file in the library.

"They made clearings and built cabins in the forest. Lord Fairfax held the land and in 1742 John Ball obtained a grant for it, paying a quit rent of one shilling sterling for every fifty acres. The survey of the grant mentioned a large white oak which grew near the junction of Four Mile Run and Long Branch. It is a section of this oak which is now in the Burdett Library." Burdett was recently replaced by the new Glencarlyn Public Library.

Glencarlyn became a weekend resort for many well-to-do Washingtonians by the early 1900s and eventually a bedroom community for the urban commuter.

"I don't think it's changed a great deal at all," said Emily King, a 35-year resident. "People have moved in and out, but that's the way Washington is. But I don't think things have changed in terms of the village."

These two homes were once among the oldest in D.C. They’re in Virginia now.

When we think of Colonial houses, we often think of brick, Georgian-style homes, fine frame mansions or porch-adorned plantations. That’s because those are the ones that tend to be preserved. And yet many Colonial homes must have been built with a mixture of determination and desperation: I need to get this house up pronto. My family needs a roof over its head and there are crops to plant.

In recent weeks, Answer Man has been exploring old houses in the Washington of today. But what about old houses in yesterday’s Washington? You will remember that when the capital was created in 1800, it included the existing city of Alexandria and the adjacent land known today as Arlington County.

What are the oldest surviving houses in those places?

Well, let us go first to 5620 Third St. South in Arlington. There we find the Ball-Sellers House, named for its first private owner and its last. It was acquired by the Arlington Historical Society in 1975, which just happened to be roughly 200 years after farmer John Ball built it. The vernacular style of the house — wooden logs chinked with plaster and covered in clapboard — allows historians to date its construction to the 1750s.

Ball farmed the area around his house with his five daughters and also ran a grist mill on Four Mile Run.

The house’s next owner was George Carlin, a tailor whose customers included George and Martha Washington. Three generations of the Carlin family lived in the house. It is their name that is memorialized in Arlington’s first residential subdivision: Glencarlyn.

Marion Sellers, the niece of a later owner, donated the house to the Arlington Historical Society, which operates it as a museum.

Ball did not own any enslaved people, but the Carlins did. The family supported the Confederacy. It’s possible the house was taken over by the Union Army during the Civil War, which may be one reason it escaped destruction.

“It is a miracle that it survived,” said Annette Benbow of the Arlington Historical Society.

Why should we care about the Ball-Sellers House?

“This is one of the few houses that the common man — just a farmer — built,” Benbow said. “It’s not a big, big estate, like Mount Vernon. It’s just a guy who owned land and farmed it with his daughters. We know the entire history of Arlington because we know who lived there. It’s a pretty important house. We’re so proud to own it.”

One of the interesting aspects of the Ball-Sellers House is that some of the original roof is protected under a later roof. That’s also the case with the oldest surviving house in Alexandria: 517 Prince St., or what’s known as the Murray-Dick-Fawcett House. The oldest part of the house dates to 1772. There is access to the space between the old roof and the roof that was later built above it at a less-severe pitch.

Ball-Sellers House - History

If you think only government agencies such as the National Park Service protect historic sites, you're thinking too narrowly.

Northern Virginia played a special role in the development of the historic preservation movement, and it starts with a private organization. In the 1850's, when a rigidly-structured society limited the roles of women and excluded them from leadership opportunities in business, one woman created a private society that protected Mount Vernon - George Washington's home.

The focus of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association has broadened dramatically in the last 25 years, after realizing the holiday in February has been renamed "President's Day" rather than "George Washington's Birthday." To make Washington less of a cold distant figure who never smiled for a picture, and to appeal to a more-diverse American society, the association has completed a major revision to Mount Vernon.

You can now discover the slave, farming, and industrial heritage of Mount Vernon at the property and on the website, in addition to the life of the first president of the United States. The burial ground of the slaves has been marked, and recently the gardener's house was restored. Reconstructing the distillery (Washington was a major producer of booze in North America, at the end of his life) certainly added a new dimension to most people's perception of the man.

Washington's boyhood home at Ferry Farm, just north of Fredericksburg, is also conserved by a non-government organization, George Washington's Fredericksburg Foundation. When Wal*Mart planned to develop property adjacent to the historic property, local protests blocked the action. Acquisition of the property was facilitated through government grants, but a non-government organization took on the workload of managing the site and raising funds for a professional archeology program that is now underway.

    from the Arlington Heritage Alliance (and note that once-common bungalow houses are now historic and must be saved. ) of the Ball-Sellers house in Arlington

slave cabin moved from Wheeler Farm to Sulley Historic Site
(we are saving more than just mansion houses now)

Local governments have been essential players in determining what history to conserve. Decisions on zoning and development usually result in the transformation of property from "old" to "new" uses, but sometimes land use decisions require developers to donate parcels. Alexandria has been the most active in preserving archeologic resources, resulting in significant understanding in depth about how a wide range of city residents lived in the past. In Manassas, the city provided the land for the Manassas Museum.

Union soldiers arranged for the first two monuments on the 1861/1862 battlefields at Manassas
Source: Illustrated London News, Dedication of the Monument on the Battle-Field of Bull Run, Virginia (July 15, 1865)

In Prince William County, a major acquisition program funded by a successful lawsuit has resulted in acquisition of multiple historic buildings. The lawsuit? The "legislative taking" by the US Congress of the Williams Center property at Manassas Battlefield. The developers (who got loose zoning approved by the county, then switched plans to create a corporate headquarters and proposed a shopping mall instead) had proffered property to the county. The proffers were mostly narrow strips of land, intended for roads. The county got a Federal court to value the narrow strips at a high value, and used the multi-million dollar settlement to initiate a program to acquire historic properties.

in Prince William, the Heritage Preservation Division in the Public Works Department was given control of county-owned historical sites. Using the lawsuit money, the county acquired several old homes and has restored former courthouses at Brentsville and Manassas. (The three earlier courthouses are no longer standing.) However, the shift in internal-to-county-government responsibility infuriated the board of the county's Park Authority, and hard feelings still affect how county-owned properties are managed. (In Fairfax, the county Park Authority manages historic sites, and there is less internal conflict.)

The key regional government agency protecting historic sites is the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. When Alexandria joined NVRPA, the city contributed the Carlyle House, where in 1755 General Braddock planned his unsuccessful attack on the French forces occupying what is now Pittsburgh. The Federal government has also been a key player in conserving sites in Northern Virginia, such as Matildaville and Manassas National Battlefield Park.

    (Alexandria Archeology Museum) (Heritage Preservation Division, Prince William County) (Fairfax County Park Authority) (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority)

Watch the video: The Ball-Sellers House Documentary (January 2022).