By Anya Sczerzenie
When you think of purple, you might think of fresh, fat grapes. Or the robes of some European royal. Or maybe even the Grimace character from McDonald’s. But chances are you don’t think of it as a color to paint a house.
Don’t tell that to Rhett and Jennifer McDonough. They own a proudly purple house at Ashburn Road and Jenkins Lane in Old Ashburn – and their lavender-tinted home has a remarkable history.
In 1882, Amos Jenkins built the structure as the Ashburn House Hotel. At the time, the hotel could accommodate 23 guests, according to a 1909 issue of the Loudoun Mirror newspaper. Rooms went for $1.25 per day, or $5.50 per week.
The hotel was a popular lodging place for sportsmen who came to the area to fish in Goose Creek as well as tourists who wanted to explore the Loudoun countryside by horse and buggy
“It’s definitely different from all the other houses,” Jennifer McDonough said. “It needed a lot of work. It needs a lot of work still. But it’s a great house, a great neighborhood.
The McDonoughs live in the home with their four school-aged children. The family bought the house in 2015 but didn’t move in until almost two years later after renovations had been finished.
The work included gutting the second floor and knocking out the walls dividing the house’s 10 bedrooms. The former hotel has enough space that each McDonough child has their own bedroom.
“They like telling people they live in a purple house,” Rhett McDonough said of his children. “A lot of the kids in their classes know, and sometimes the teachers will pass by and honk.”
Over the years, the purple paint had faded. So, the McDonoughs went about restoring it to the shade of purple it had been painted in the 1970s — something they learned details about from a former resident.
“One of the women who used to live in the house when she was a kid stopped by one day, and we talked for a couple hours, and she sent a few pictures,” Rhett McDonough said. “We tried to find something that matched the original shade, but it ended up drying much darker.”
Though the house has been one shade of purple or another since the 1970s, it was not purple when it was first built. According to historical information, when it was originally a hotel, it was painted white with green trim. Another house across the street is where Jenkins reportedly lived while he was building his hotel. That house is still standing.
When the McDonoughs were in Germany, where they lived previously, their Ashburn real estate agent sent them a lot of information about the house’s history.
In addition to running the Ashburn House Hotel, Amos Jenkins also was allegedly involved in the illegal liquor trade during Prohibition in the 1920s. He lived to the ripe old age of 78, when he was shot to death by Lerty Holsinger, also a reputed bootlegger. The shooting took place in 1932 at another historic local building — the Ashburn Toll House off Route 7. (Ashburn Magazine ran a feature article on this incident in our August/September 2020 issue.)
Some mementos of Amos Jenkins remain in the house. When Rhett McDonough was working on the renovations, he took a piece of the fireplace mantle down and made a surprising discovery behind it.
“I found a bunch of postcards that were addressed to [members of the Jenkins family],” McDonough said. “I think the oldest stamp was from 1903.”
The McDonoughs are not finished modifying their house. They still plan to do more renovations, including adding another bathroom. The one thing they don’t plan to change is the color.
Between the history of the house and its noteworthy color, it’s become something of a landmark.
“When you tell people you live in the purple house, they’ll say ‘Oh, I always see that house, I love that house,’” said Rhett McDonough.
Believe it or not, the old Jenkins house isn’t the only purple abode in Ashburn. As most local residents know, there is another old, purple house on Farmwell Road, just west of its intersection with Ashburn Village Boulevard.
The owner is 82-year-old Diane Schemm, who says she has lived in the house 50 years.
“I had it painted purple because purple is a healing color, and I’ve had lots of illnesses in my family,” Schemm said. “Before that it was dark blue.”
According to property records, the house was built in 1890. Schemm said the house was in dire need of repair when she bought it with her husband and two children. “You could stand in the middle of the kitchen and see through to the basement through a nickel-sized hole.”
While renovating the house, Schemm kept some of the original details, such as the rosette molding around the windows and the original wavy window glass.
In the years Schemm has lived in the house, she has witnessed dramatic changes in the Ashburn community around her. “[At first], it was like civilization hopped over Ashburn and went to Leesburg,” Schemm said. “And then suddenly it was like gangbusters all around me.”
Anya Sczerzenie is a freelance writer based in Leesburg who has contributed articles to Ashburn Magazine and InsideNoVa.com.