Still Empty After All These Years: Reston’s Old Bowman Distillery

by Karen Goff October 24, 2016 at 10:00 am 33 Comments

Bowman House/Photo by Reston 2020 via Flickr

Development is moving Reston forward, with new residential, office and retail going up all around Reston Parkway and Old Reston Avenue.

One plot remains the same — and empty.

The 126-year-old Bowman Distillery has been empty for at least 20 years. The distillery, formerly home to where they used to make Virginia Gentleman whiskey, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1999. That means it can’t be torn down to make way for condos, offices or the other type of development happening around Reston.

The white brick building could, however, be repurposed into something else. A museum? A Bed and Breakfast?

In addition to being a distillery, the building served long ago as the Wiehle Town Hall and a church.

The distillery has gone through several rezoning applications over the years. In 1989, after Bowman Distillery moved operations to Fredericksburg, the building was rezoned as part of a larger mixed-use development. Some of that development happened on parts of the original 32-acre property, but the historic building remains untouched.

In 1998, it was sold to an owner who planned to build a Bed and Breakfast or condo. It sold again in 2010 for $540,000.

With its historic bones and close proximity to the W & OD Trail and Reston Town Center, surely someone has a vision for the property. What is yours? Tell us in the comments.

Old Bowman Distillery/file photo

  • Michael Wood

    I have been looking at this building for a couple years and have reached out to the owner multiple times to no response. My business partner and I have kicked around a bunch of ideas, but a Coffee House with Happy Hour drink menu is what we think would be the most beneficial to the community. The key/issue is parking because the lot is so small that the county would need to give exceptions for any use due to this limitation. We want to create a space that highlights the history of the building with re-purposing it for a modern use.

  • One Really

    Get RA to buy it. I am sure they will overpay and empty the bank to fix it up.
    They it can be rented out for parties.

    The Carolina brothers BBQ spot in Ashburn on the trail would be a good model.

  • Jenny

    I believe that it is on the National Register of Historic Places. I think it should turned into a small museum for the History of the building, or left alone.

    • One Really

      How about a Reston welcome center. Oh wait, that building still exists. 🙂

  • Joy Cynthia Ramsey Charles

    Is the owner sitting on it as a tax write-off? Would it be better used as a nonprofit of some sort? An art-therapy center for autistic children? A mini torpedo-factory?

    • ah

      Art therapy sounds awesome! It could be used just for art type activities.

  • No parking needed

    A bicycle co op with an option to get drunk, then rent a three wheeler to get back home safely.

    • Mike M

      Yeah. It could share space with the Alcohol addition awareness center. 😉

  • TheRealODB

    I think RA should buy it at twice the market value and then go three times over budget with the renovation. We need to make sure a restaurant doesn’t take over and ruin the ambiance of lake newpor…. i mean, old reston ave….

  • Willy Time

    It could be used as a hospice for terminally ill pets. Or a place where kids that were born without arms could run and play. Or a Barnes and Noble.

    • ah

      Your very creative.

  • Jamie

    I used to walk by this building everyday from the Sycamores to 7-11 to get my daily slurpee. I would love to see someone fix this place up! I don’t have much money to invest, but could offer sound business advice to anyone interested. It’s important to me that it have its place in the community. Having grown up in Reston, I must say I’m disappointed to see what this small, charming community has become. Keep the roots strong!

    • ah

      Yeah ive walked past my whole life too. I dont want it to be torn down. Reston Association can do a gofundme to restore it.

      • cRAzy

        Keep RA (and our assessment fees) out of this! The last thing RA needs is to own another dilapidated building.

  • ah

    I small reston musuem seems nice.

    • ah

      With a small quaint coffee/tea shop.

      • cRAzy

        All with a LARGE price tag.

        • Guest

          Pop quiz, hotshot. How is the Reston Museum funded?

  • vdiv

    Why does it have to be repurposed, why couldn’t it be a distillery again? 🙂

    A microbrewery?

  • David

    Add some parking and make it a Wawa.

  • Dee

    Has anyone scrubbed the gang tag off of this poor old building?

  • Ginny Atwood

    I’ve got a great and throroughly ironic idea. My nonprofit, The Chris Atwood Foundation, buys it and turns it into an office and outreach center. What do we do? Alcoholism and drug addiction awareness, education, and resources. Perfect, right? Who wants to donate to make this happen?? http://www.thecaf.org

    • Ruth

      I love this idea ❤️

      • Ginny Atwood

        Thanks! 🙂

  • Reston Realist

    I think an indoor dog park or pony barn would be perfect for this site.

  • Evey Hammond

    This would be a great place for a barbecue restaurant

  • Greg

    Tear it down. It’s yet another hideous eyesore that’s been that way for decades.

    • Amanda

      Are you serious? It’s one of the oldest standing buildings in the county, with a long, rich history that should be celebrated. It’s also on the National Register, so that’s not even an option!

      • Greg

        YUP — and the sooner it’s gone the better. You preservationists have had 50 or more years to decide to do with it and nothing has happened.

        After all, all sorts of our history are being carted away in the middle of the night, and this dilapidated eyesore should be next.

  • cRAzy

    Hey, how about a distillery???

  • ZZTop

    It’s so close to the W&OD, and in the middle of a very affluent area. A bike/runner-friendly cafe would be a license to print money. Going after cyclists also sidesteps the limited car-parking problem. In the summer months you could pay local musicians to entertain outside. Tuba bands, jugglers, that sort of thing.

    The real issue is whether the gutting that would be needed to bring the building up to code for a commercial food operation like that would be remotely possible. I suspect that many people have look at this over the years and the historic designation has sunk the business case. The law of unintended consequences, perhaps.

    • lilyhouse

      I’ve had a similar thought for years – perfect garden bakery café for walkers and cyclists. Preserve the history and character – so little of it around.

  • Fang33

    I would buy it and turn it into a Haunted Attraction.


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