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When Terry Neal and Susie Fowler Neal decided to sell the Silas Burke House, the one condition they had for potential buyers was that the new owner treat the property with an appropriate level of care.

Originally built by the man who gave Burke its name, the clapboard mansion sits on a hill at the center of Burke, earning it the nickname “Top O’ the Hill,” and has served as a focal point for the community for nearly two centuries.

As they quickly discovered, the challenge was not finding prospective buyers, but finding someone who would fully appreciate the house’s historic value from both a personal and a community perspective. They nixed that idea too, after the developer expressed a disinterest in the actual Silas Burke House.

In the end, the only option that seemed right turned out to be Sunrise Senior Living, the global senior housing operator, which offered through Sunrise Chief Financial Officer Edward Burnett to transform the land into a new retirement community while also preserving the Silas Burke House.

“Edward had a genuine interest in the property,” Neal said. “He seemed to love the place when he came here, andI’ve been very skeptical, but he did convince us that his interest was nearly on the same level as ours was about preserving the house.”

Fowler Neal, whose family had owned the Silas Burke House for much of the 20th century, signed an agreement to sell the property to Sunrise sometime in late 2013 to early 2014.

After spending two years mired in the intricacies of Fairfax County’s land use procedures, including a rezoning process, Sunrise completed its restoration of the Silas Burke House this summer and opened the mansion up to media for a preview on Oct. 19.

Sunrise at Silas Burke House, the company’s new 80 unit senior living home, is currently under construction behind the historic property and is scheduled to open in January 2018.

According to Burnett, Sunrise had been looking to expand into Burke for a while, and the Neals’ property on Burke Lake Road emerged as an ideal site.

Sunrise Senior Living is already an established institution in Fairfax County, operating similar senior living communities in Fairfax, Oakton, McLean, Reston, and Falls Church.

“This is the one area where Sunrise doesn’t have a strong presence, so we identified Burke as a market we want to be in for some time,” Burnett said.

In its effort to restore the Silas Burke House, Sunrise attempted to preserve as much of the home’s character as possible.

For instance, contractors hired by Sunrise made some structural improvements, but they retained the original paneling of the stairwell leading from the house’s foyer to its second floor.

Sunrise also purchased a significant portion of Terry and Susie Neal’s furniture and dcor. The new living room is furnished almost entirely by pieces that had already existed in the house,
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and some of the couple’s photos even hang from one wall.

The result is a finished project that blends old and new design elements, says Sunrise senior director of design Andrea Owensby.

The Silas Burke House was originally built around 1824 by Lt. Col. Silas Burke, a plantation farmer who helped establish Burke as a community as a director of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad Company, president of the Fairfax Agricultural Society, and the owner and operator of local grist and lumber mills.

According to the Burke Historical Society, Burke also served as a county judge and sheriff, president of the Fairfax Turnpike Company, and a lieutenant colonel in the state militia.

Burke’s wife, Hannah Coffer Burke, continued to live at the mansion for 41 years after his death in 1854.

Shortly before her death in 1895, Coffer Burke sold the house in 1891 to John Marshall, the owner of Burke’s general store, according to A Look Back at Braddock, a website maintained by George Mason University’s Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.

William H. Simpson, an Internal Revenue Services (IRS) worker and Fowler Neal’s grandfather, purchased the property in 1925.

Fowler Neal’s parents married in 1930 in front of the Silas Burke House’s living room fireplace, a ritual that she replicated with Neal in 2003, and she grew up living in the house with her parents, sister, grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousins.

“We had a lot of love here,” Fowler Neal said. “There were 15 of us hereWe were all like sisters, and it was fun.”

While Terry and Susie Neal now live in Chantilly, they plan to maintain a connection to the Silas Burke House, even though they no longer own it.

Sunrise has offered to let them continue their annual tradition of hosting a Christmas party at the mansion, for instance.

The Silas Burke House will also be open to Sunrise residents and the general public once the senior living community officially opens its doors. Since the main building is still undergoing construction, Sunrise at Silas Burke House’s sales team has been working out of the mansion.

“The idea is to share it with the community,” Burnett said. “It’s going to be dynamically used by the public, by Terry and Susieand by the residents who live in the Sunrise. That was the vision.”

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