Pat Page: Hillandale


Mr. Page remembers his summer job at Hillandale, working for John Dana Archbold, of Upperville, who used Hillandale as his Washington residence between 1968 and 1979.


When I knew Mr. Archbold briefly at Hillandale in 1970, he was in his sixties. He traveled quite a bit and ran his business interests weekly from the mansion with his business manager, but lived mainly at his farm outside Middleburg. He employed a very minor service staff at Hillandale.

I was a boy of sixteen years of age, the junior gardener at the Hillandale property and a camp counselor at a day camp he sponsored for his business manager’s church three days a week at his Loudon County farm. There was also a senior counselor, a young female college student, who helped the business manager, as well. She and I were the only staff who lived in the mansion’s two-apartment servant’s wing. We lived in the mansion all week and I went home with my father on weekends, who commuted to his government job daily from Frederick.

There was a man who lived over the garage who was left over from the days when Mr. Archbold’s mother, Anne, used to raise champion German Shepherds. The business manager and the chauffeur/gardener were married and lived in the Alpine chalet gatehouse with two young children and a teenage daughter. The cook and maid were day workers from D.C.  Everyone there treated me with respect.

When I initially went to the interview for the job I only had a newspaper classified ad with the address and the arranged appointment time to go on. I walked up and down the sidewalk along the 3900 block of Reservoir Road across from the University of Georgetown Hospital, looking for the 3904 address, but all there was a block-long 10 ft. high wall with a little Alpine chalet gatehouse built into it at a gateway opening. That led to a half-mile drive that wound up a huge hill into a forest. Some kids at the gatehouse told me to follow the drive: their mother, the business manager, was expecting me.

Imagine my shock when the mansion unfolded before me as I rounded the curve up in the forest! There, towering above and around the little fleet of three VWs parked in the flagstone courtyard, was a Tuscan castle dropped down from the sky in the middle of a forest in Georgetown. I just stood and stared.

The mansion itself was right out of a Hollywood movie. There was a two car garage, a separate matching dog kennel the size of a small ranch house, and the servant’s wing with 2 bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, the office and family room downstairs. Through a breezeway was the huge kitchen with a 1930s gas range as big as a VW, and a butler’s pantry. Going out of the kitchen into the main part of the house was a stairway to the upstairs gallery, then a small dining inglenook with a large hearth. That was my favorite place in the whole mansion, so cozy, right out of Pinocchio.

Adjacent to that was the dining room, with what was probably the original heavily carved table and chairs from Mrs. Archbold’s residency. A little enclosed side porch with a soapstone sink was for plant and flower tending. There was a large two-story sparsely furnished central room adjacent to the front door that seemed to me to be a greeting space. The main stairway rose from the back of this room. To the right at a right angle to the main house were a living room and an office. The first floor rooms were decorated with ancient Chinese artifacts from Anne Archbold’s travels.

On the same axis as the main house off the central room continued the most unique room in the house in its own wing, the ballroom. It used to be Mrs. Archbold’s main base of entertaining. When I was there it was furnished with two matching grand pianos and four separate club type seating groupings. I forget how many fireplaces there were, but I’m certain there was at least one, maybe two on the same north wall. French doors on the south and west walls led to flagstone terraces and small rose gardens (my charges). My favorite exterior feature was a small three-foot high wall fountain.

But the wildest, weirdest thing about the ballroom were the animal safari artifacts from Mrs. Archbold’s travels placed around the room; elephant foot basins, lion head rugs, a stuffed giraffe neck and head, et cetera: I didn’t like them at all. Upstairs were numerous guest rooms and bathrooms on the gallery, and the master bedroom suite in its own wing above the office and living room.

I got along well with the staff, and only had one problem: the manager couldn’t cook, and the actual cook used a lot of lard and butter, which I didn’t like much, so I wasn’t eating very well. One day Mr. Archbold and I met in a hallway and he asked me how I was, and if I was enjoying my work and eating well. I told him I enjoyed the work and living there, but wasn’t eating very well, and he was concerned.

He took me downstairs to the basement and opened a large freezer. “You may help yourself anytime you like,” he said. It was filled with small cuts of beef that I later found out later from my mother were fillet mignon! Then he showed me a six-foot cupboard in the kitchen pantry filled with packages of Pepperidge Farm cookies. “They’re all yours, just don’t make yourself sick.” Not exactly a balanced diet, but a huge improvement over the Pop Tarts I’d been eating. It turned out he entertained frequently and while I of course wasn’t invited, I was also welcome to the leftovers the next day. Things were looking up.

As an example of his lack of flamboyancy: in 1970 his automobile fleet consisted of a 1964 Ford Country Squire station wagon, a standard 1966 Chrysler New Yorker four–door hardtop sedan, and a 1968 British Humber sedan. For the estate staff he had a 1966 Chevy pickup truck and three 1969 Volkswagen beetles. The chauffeur/gardener drove the New Yorker as his “limousine” for the occasional airport pickup. If he drove anywhere by himself, he’d take the Humber or one of the VWs.

Mr. Archbold had an older couple as his caretakers who lived in a beautiful rectangular stone two-story house at the farm [in Middleburg]. There was the regular necessary farm equipment at the farm, plus his one visible nod at decadence––a fully restored 1923 Ford Model T touring car; he would buzz all around the farm and into Middleburg in it.

Oh, he had one other little eccentricity; Mr. Archbold loved the little cabin he had in Maine, but apparently he got to spend less and less time there. So, he did what any other cabin owner would do––he moved it! I was told he had it loaded onto a flatbed rail car and shipped to the farm, where it was placed on an island in the middle of his pond! It’s true, I saw it. No one was allowed out there––it was his little retreat from the world.

Cabins, VW beetles, Model Ts––you don’t get much more basic than that, unless you drive a Vespa! He once answered a question I asked about investing, and why didn’t he own Ferraris and Rolls Royces. He said owned interests in the sugar industry because people like it and they use it up regularly. He had his farm and the herd of beef cattle at the farm for tax right-off purposes. “Never invest in anything you have to feed, fuel or repair.” I think that’s pretty good advice that he seemed to live daily.




“John Dana Archbold, 83, a philanthropist who supported efforts to preserve the environment and conserve natural resources, died of congestive heart failure Nov. 29 at “Foxlease Farm,” his residence in Upperville, Va.”

“One of Mr. Archbold’s principal interests was tropical ecosystems. He donated “Springfield Plantation,” his property on the Caribbean island of Dominica, to a consortium of universities headed by Clemson University, which operates it as the Archbold Tropical Research Institute.”

“Mr. Archbold also gave 1,000 acres on Dominica for use as a national park, Morne Trois Pitons. It is one of the few misty forest preserves left in the Caribbean.”

“The heir to a Standard Oil fortune, Mr. Archbold was born in Bar Harbor, Maine. He lived in various parts of England, Thomasville, Ga., and San Diego, Calif., before settling in Washington in the early 1920s.”

“His mother, Anne Archbold, the daughter of John D. Rockefeller’s original partner in Standard Oil of Ohio, built “Hillandale,” an Italianate villa on 30 acres of land at the corner of Reservoir and Foxhall Roads in Northwest Washington.”

“A yachtsman for most of his life, he divided his time in the 1930s between Palm Beach, Fla., and Bar Harbor. His interest in Dominica grew out of a treasure-hunting expedition, and he bought property on the island in 1935.”

“After the war, he lived in New York and Palm Beach. He settled in Upperville in 1950. He used Hillandale as his residence in Washington until 1979, when it was sold for a real estate development. (A part of it was sold earlier as the site for the French Embassy.)”

(“Philanthropist and Heir John D. Archbold Dies”, Washington Post, 11 December 11, 1993, p.B6)



Carlton Fletcher

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