by Willard Webb
In the mid-18th century, yeoman farmer John Ball built a one-room log cabin with a loft in what is now Arlington, Virginia. Later he added a lean-to and covered the structure with clapboard. Amazingly, this primitive cabin survives today. The house is a rare example of the dwelling of the ordinary person during the 1700s. Plus, it is the oldest house in Arlington.
John Ball obtained a 166-acre land grant along Four Mile Run from Lord Fairfax in 1742. To construct his cabin, he felled trees and hewed logs. He notched the logs and chinked the cracks with mud daubing (at left). Visitors today can see the original logs with the daubing, as well as the wide plank floors. The rare oak clapboard roof is among only a few board roofs preserved in the nation.
John, his wife Elizabeth, and their five daughters lived in this little house. An inventory of Ball’s estate indicates they lived a simple life in the sparsely furnished dwelling. They farmed, raising wheat and corn, and kept sheep, cows, pigs, and bees. Ball also had a mill on Four Mile Run, and part of his mill stones remain on the property.
Following John Ball’s death in 1766, William Carlin, an Alexandria tailor who included George Washington and George Mason among his clients, purchased the house. Three generations of the Carlin family owned the property for more than 100 years. The third generation, brother and sister Andrew and Anne, ran a dairy farm and built the 1880 house that adjoins the Ball cabin. They may have planted the giant wisteria vine that still blooms near the house (at right).
When the Carlins sold the property in 1887, the land was subdivided into a community known today as Glencarlyn, the oldest subdivision in Arlington. The house survived and was used as a school, a summer cottage, and a home. The last owner, Marian Rhinehart Sellers, gave the house to the Arlington Historical Society in 1975 so that it might be preserved and open to the public.
Owned by the Arlington Historical Society, the Ball-Sellers House is on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places in America. We are open free to the public on Saturdays 1-4 p.m. from April through October.