The Life and Times of the Manassas Gap Railroad

Manassas Gap Railroad

These stone walls are remnants of the earthworks built to carry the rails of the Manassas Gap Railroad’s Independent Line, begun during the railroad boom before the Civil War and never completed.

Weaving through Alexandria, Fairfax City and on to Manassas is the abandoned railway bed of the Manassas Gap Railroad chartered in the mid-19th century. Today these bulwarks of dirt curling west to the Blue Ridge Mountains are silent witnesses to ambitious dreams, changing economic and political climates, and the devastating ruin caused by the Civil War. Two of the best spots to explore these beds are on parkland at the Manassas Gap Railroad Historic Site in Annandale and Hidden Oaks Nature Center. They’re just a couple blocks apart on Royce Street in Annandale.

The railroad was built in part as a product of the speculative frenzy of railroad building in the late 1840s and early 1850s. The advent of steam-powered engines ignited the construction of railroads to connect the fertile farms of the expanding West to the traditional markets and business hubs along the East Coast. A feverish program of railroad construction created some 3,668 miles of track in less than 20 years.

Economic competition for access to the productive farms of the Shenandoah Valley increased when the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) opened a line to Winchester through Harper’s Ferry in 1836. The merchants of Alexandria, fearful that they were losing their crucial wagon trade with the Shenandoah Valley, received a charter in 1848 from the state legislature for the Orange and Alexandria Railroad (O&A). The line ran from the rural fields south in Orange to the port city.

Its success bred greater ambition. By 1850, another group of merchants and farmers received incorporation for the Manassas Gap Railroad (MGRR) that would recapture the wheat trade of the upper Shenandoah Valley that the B&O had successfully acquired through its Winchester branch. Wealthy planters and prominent business owners in the area determined its route and invested heavily in its future.

To reach the valley, the line would run west from the Manassas Junction on the Orange and Alexandria line, through Gainesville, past Front Royal, through the Manassas Gap and on to Strasburg. It was completed in three years and celebrated with rhetorical gusto.

Buoyed by new revenues and awash in plans for expansion, the MGRR company decided to build its own Independent Line directly from Manassas Junction to Alexandria rather than pay the O&A its high rail rental charges for goods that had to be transferred from the MGRR and shipped to Alexandria on those lines. The legislature approved the plan in March 1853.

The Independent Line was to run 34 miles, crossing the Bull Run west of Chantilly and then Cub Run, into a sweeping curve crossing first the Warrenton Turnpike and then the Little River Turnpike to what is now the city of Fairfax. It then ran east near the village of Annandale, turning south to re-cross Little River Turnpike, run through Indian Run Valley and on to just outside Alexandria.

The process of obtaining the necessary land, however, and the costs of the major filling and leveling required for construction reduced profits and assurances of state aid. By 1858, the company’s debts were enormous, and growing hostilities and talk of secession weighed heavily on the plan. One year short of completion, the Independent Line fell victim to the Civil War, and no steel rails were ever laid. Instead, its earthworks served as battle sites and as little-known transportation routes for both Confederate and Union soldiers.

The Manassas Gap Railroad never recovered from the war, during which its rails were torn up and its rolling stock destroyed by both sides. The right-of-way was relinquished, and much land was returned to farming. In some places, however, where there were deep cuts, high fills or substantial masonry work such as at Hidden Oaks and the Manassas Gap Railroad Historic Site in Annandale, the roadbed remains. Its high fill areas, shallow cuts and two historic culverts, all constructed during the 1850s, remain in remarkably complete condition. The Historic Site is a perfect place to look back on the complex tapestry of how people, places and events — especially surrounding the Civil War — converged to create a place of historic significance.

Author Jane Scully is a former ResOURces newsletter editor for the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Hidden Oaks celebrates its 50th anniversary in October. Interpretation of the railroad bed will be part of projects being developed for the celebration.

Mill Advocate Remembered

“I just got a call from Marge Lundegard. Bob passed away yesterday.”

Robert Lundegard_0177

Bob Lundegard spent much of his retirement giving back to Colvin Run Mill.

Those were the opening lines of an email that quickly circulated and spread heartbreak through the Fairfax County Park Authority following the death of Robert Lundegard on Monday, May 20, 2019. Lundegard was a park icon one park official called an “amazing guy.” He will be remembered for his love of parks and, in particular, for Colvin Run Mill Historic Site.

“It is impossible to think about Colvin Run Mill without thinking of Bob,” said Dranesville Supervisor John Foust. “He was a man of fierce determination and tireless energy who got things done. His efforts to renovate the mill and expand its educational programs have left a profound and enduring legacy.”

Lundegard and his wife, Marjorie, spent much of their retirement time volunteering and spearheading preservation fundraising efforts at Colvin Run Mill. The retired federal government science and technology expert believed that future generations can learn from yesterday’s innovation. He noted that in a world of ubiquitous smart phones, the water-powered mill of Colvin Run “was the technology up until after the Civil War when electricity and wind power were developed.”

Mill

Colvin Run Mill.

“The Park Authority and Colvin Run Mill lost a true friend,” said Fairfax County Park Authority Board Member Tim Hackman. He added that Lundegard “was a dedicated and visionary leader. He saw the importance and value of educating the public, and especially school children, about Fairfax County’s colonial and 19th Century heritage, and pushed for the restoration of the mill and miller’s house and facilities into the fully operational facility we see today. His spirit and commitment will be greatly missed.”

Lundegard_110415_0365

Bob and Marjorie Lundegard at Colvin Run Mill in November 2015.

Education was important to Lundegard. He taught at Syracuse University, and Marjorie is a retired Oakton High School chemistry teacher who started volunteering at Colvin Run in 1988. The Lundegards were among the first members of the Friends of Colvin Run Mill when it formed in 1997, and Robert Lundegard served for a time as the president of the support organization. Under his leadership, the Friends raised money for lights on the mill and a portable mill called a meadows mill for demonstrations. The Lundegards also raised funds for the mill through a partnership with a consignment shop in McLean and through Marjorie Lundegard’s writing, publishing and selling of more than a dozen books about mills in the region. Together they raised more than $50,000 to support Colvin Run Mill’s capital improvements plan, which includes renovation of the miller’s house at the site and the building of a planned educational visitor center.

Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Celebrating the Fifth Anniversary of Huntley Meadows’ Wetland Restoration

It’s deeper, it’s bigger, and it’s healthier. There’s more plant and animal diversity in the restored wetland at Huntley Meadows.

HM Wetlands Awareness_050717_0113In a massive project that spanned more than two decades, the Central Wetland at Huntley Meadows Park was restored. On May 10, 2019, the park will mark the fifth anniversary of the The Central Wetland Restoration Project’s completion, and it’s a good time to review the outcome of the effort.

Five years down the line, the wetland is showing noteworthy improvements, including more biodiversity and healthy ecological function. The restoration increased the size and depth of the wetland. Berms were installed, and management now can hold back or release wetland waters. Since the project’s completion, Huntley Meadows staff have been actively managing the wetland.

HM Wetlands Awareness_050717_0071Wetland management decisions are based on scientific data collected from the wetland. That data includes water levels, wetland plant communities and survey results. There’s a weather station in the wetland that provides invaluable data by recording more than 20 parameters every 15 minutes. The information it provides includes water levels, gate levels and rainfall. Staff conduct annual vegetation surveys through aerial photo analysis and ground vegetation surveys in the wetland to determine the diversity of plant life and the trends in the plant communities. The weather station data and the vegetation surveys are critical elements that are required to make science-based decisions and reach goals set for the wetland.

The wetland requires significant maintenance to ensure that the data being collected is quality data. Maintenance also assures the wetland infrastructure that was installed performs properly. The weather station requires regular cleaning, calibration and repair, and the integrity of the berm must be maintained to reduce any chance of major issues due to flooding and erosion. Native vegetation is monitored and enhanced annually to make sure the soil on the berm remains stable. It can be affected by foot traffic.

xjane-gamble-muskrat.jpgThe central wetland is the focus of many scientific research projects that are critical to understanding the effects management has on the wetland.  Bird surveys are conducted weekly to track bird diversity and abundance. Redheaded woodpeckers and prothonotary warblers have become more common since they started breeding in the wetland over the past five years. Jane Gamble 7Marsh birds such as rails and bitterns are of particular interest. Spring breeding bird surveys are conducted, and in 2015 Virginia rails bred in the Central Wetland for the first time in almost 20 years. Frog call surveys are conducted every year to monitor populations. Management also extends to invasive plants and animals, including the northern snakehead fish (Channa argus), which has become naturalized. Most of these surveys could not be conducted without the help and generous support of volunteers.

hm-wetlands-awareness_050717_0080.jpgThe surveys, projects and weather station data collected provide vital information used to guide wetland management plans and decisions.  Those plans have to be flexible because the wetland is completely dependent on stormwater for its life. Staff can lower wetland water levels by opening gates to release water. However, raising water levels requires rainfall and stormwater flow in East Barnyard Run, the wetland’s feeder stream. The typical annual water routine in the wetland follows the natural hydrologic cycle — high water in winter, falling water levels in the spring, low water in the summer, and rising water levels in the fall — but the routine can’t become a pattern. It is important to vary the timing and elevation of seasonal water levels in the wetland each year to prevent a pattern that potentially favors specific species over diversity.  Erratic cycles lead to an amazing diversity of vegetation and wildlife.  Based on the park’s annual vegetation surveys, The Central Wetland vegetation and wildlife are responding very well to the new hydrologic cycles.

People outside the Fairfax County Park Authority have noticed the project’s successes. Over the past five years, the Wetland Restoration Project has received more than 10 awards, including the prestigious Virginia Governors Gold Medal Environmental Excellence Award in 2017 and the American Counsel of Engineering Companies Engineering Excellence Award in 2014.

Staff will continue to manage the wetland water levels and plant communities to create the best habitat for a diverse array of wildlife species. We are seeing positive results in the vegetation and wildlife to date, and we anticipate the best is yet to come.

Author Dave Lawlor is the Natural Resource Manager at Huntley Meadows Park. Park Authority photographer Don Sweeney and park visitor Jane Gamble provided the photos.

Green Spring Prepares for National Conference

Susan Voss_082615_0002Gardeners love puttering in their own backyard, and this summer a rare opportunity is coming to our backyard. Staff at Green Spring Gardens will connect with the global public garden community when the American Public Gardens Association (APGA) holds its annual conference in Washington, D.C., this June.

This is a premier opportunity to learn from the experiences of others, and an example of how park staff continually look for opportunities to get better at their jobs.

Green Spring Gardens will enjoy national exposure at the conference, which drew nearly 900 attendees last year. The APGA conference is considered the organization’s premier professional development event, and previous attendees speak of the “high quality networking and content programming” available. Representatives from gardens of all size take part.

Green Spring will be part of the conference in multiple ways:

  • Green Spring is a featured destination on the June 17th Virginia is for Garden Lovers Staff and volunteers will host conference guests, who will enjoy Beatrix Farrand’s legacy landscape.
  • Green Spring will be part of a June 19th conference panel on Genius Through Gender Diversity in Design. The panel will celebrate contributions of historic and contemporary female landscape designers.  A documentary recently produced by Cable Channel 16 on Farrand’s landscape at Green Spring will be featured. Green Spring is presenting the panel in cooperation with Dumbarton Oaks and Tregaron Conservancy.
  • Green Spring is a Partner Garden sponsor and will be recognized on conference web pages and print materials at the conference. The Friends of Green Spring (FROGS) contributed the sponsorship fee.
  • Several Green Spring staff members will attend all or part of the conference courtesy of FROGS’ sponsorship of their registration fees.
  • Green Spring staff, registered Green Spring volunteers and Extension Master Gardeners will volunteer at the conference and be able to attend sessions on their volunteer day.

More information about Green Spring Gardens is at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/green-spring.

Interpreting a Rural Landscape to a Mosaic of Urban Visitors

(A version of this article was originally published in the National Association of Interpreters Magazine, Legacy)

farm-6.jpgI’m an old-school interpreter, and Freeman Tilden’s first principle is near and dear to my heart. “Any Interpretation that does not somehow relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor will be sterile.” I work at Frying Pan Farm Park, a 1930’s-era farm that is a time-travelling revelation in one of the most densely populated, diverse counties in the United States.

One-point-one million people call 406-square mile Fairfax County home. That’s more people, in one county, than in eight states. More than 180 languages are spoken at home by the county’s elementary school students.

Communities vary from Alexandria’s urban, high-rise apartments close to the nation’s capital to Great Falls, where residents fight developmental pressures and try to sustain a semi-rural atmosphere that includes small horse farms. A few decades ago, Tysons was a farm crossroads with only a general store and a gas station. Today, it’s a rapidly developing urban center.

Fairfax County is full of dichotomy. It is the second-wealthiest county in the country with a median household income of more than $110,000, yet 28% of the students qualify for free or reduced-cost school lunch programs. New single-family homes can be 4,000 square feet. Some immigrants rent single rooms, or even just a mattress, for their family.

 

This amazing and inspirational diversity of backgrounds, experiences, lifestyles and languages makes relating, interpreting and connecting Fairfax County’s wide-ranging natural and cultural resources to park and museum visitors a bit challenging.

Seed-scattered among the concrete weeds are more than 420 parks of the Fairfax County Park Authority that protect nearly 10% of the county’s land. One of those parks is one of the county’s dichotomies — Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, Virginia. This 1930s-era working farm preserves a piece of the once-prevalent rural landscape of dairy and mixed-use farms that blanketed Fairfax and neighboring counties for decades. Reaching more than 10,000 school students and a half-million visitors annually, the interpretive team at Frying Pan brings farming, local history and rural life to a broad cross-section of visitors.

The Challenge for Interpreters

Sean Redmiles and Claire Thomas, both Certified Interpretive Guides (CIG), are front-line interpreters at Frying Pan who have observed how different visitors from that cross-section react. Students who live close to Frying Pan or in the county’s rural western suburbs can relate to the familiar farm scene. Many have been to the park with their families, or they live on or near a farm. Finding common experiences to build upon with them comes quickly. They are ready to listen, pet a farm animal, and make new connections. Students without those rural experiences begin their journey in another place.

“There are often unexpected challenges that can make learning on the farm difficult for visitors who are not from rural areas,” said Redmiles. “The one we see all the time is the smell; kids sometimes spend the entire program with their noses covered or don’t want to come into the barn where our classroom is.”

Farm 7It can be a challenge for children to step from book knowledge of a cow, goat or sheep to meeting a 1,200-pound bovine that’s taller than them and moos loud enough to hurt their ears. “There are times where we’ve had kids who have never seen a goat before in their lives, presumably, and when I bring one in they are terrified,” Redmiles explained. “One child started screaming and throwing himself around the room the moment I brought our milking goat in.” It also can be challenging for the youngsters to differentiate between a goat and a sheep. The animals are about the same size and make similar noises.

 

“For people from the suburbs, you have to gently introduce them to the idea that farm animals, even well cared for ones like ours, are not pets. They are potential food sources,” added Thomas. While most farm visitors are omnivores, their only experience with meat is plastic-wrapped cuts at a grocery store or already cooked at a restaurant. Thomas finds a link. Although not ready to see the animals as food, they can relate to how the animals are treated. Youngsters may have pets, so Thomas talks about how farm staff care for farm animals by making sure they have shelter, good food and veterinarian care. When visitors are comfortable and make that connection, they may be ready for the next one — that these animals become food. That takes interpretive sensitivity.

The rural atmosphere can be a bridge to connecting with others. This 1930s-era farming is old-fashioned in the U.S.A., but many of those practices remain common in other countries. Visitors from those areas find the familiarity of the farm setting homey and reach out to staff, excited to share experiences from their home country.

Thomas recounted one of those moments: “Some visitors from rural El Salvador explained to me, mostly through mime and simple Spanish, that where they were from, they used the gourds we were growing to drink water from and that they were not just decorative as I had supposed. I’ve had a lot of moments on the farm where I’ve been able to connect with people from very different backgrounds than my own.

Frying Pan_051717_0064“I was once talking to a woman about how we milk our goats and how important they are to the farm when she told me that as a child she and her family fled from a civil war in Somalia and survived for two months on only the milk of a goat that they brought with them,” Redmiles added. “She said it was one of the saddest moments of her life that when they reached a town that took them in, her father slaughtered the goat for meat. She had tears in her eyes and she told me the goat we were looking at was the same type as the one her family had, and that she wouldn’t be here right now if not for that animal.”

Partnering with Schools

The park has teamed with a nearby elementary school to form a Green Team of students who combine school initiatives with park projects. The Green Team students maintain a vegetable garden on a real working farm. Few of these suburban kids have ever planted a seed or pulled a weed. Starting seeds in their school cafeteria under different kinds of grow lights, with or without heat mats, has become a school-wide science project. As the weather improves in spring, a group of 30 to 40 students come to the park with their parents and teacher twice a month. They transplant the vegetables they started at school and direct-seed more.

“The kids love to come and weed for about five minutes and then feed the weeds to the chickens,” said Frying Pan’s Senior Interpreter Patrick McNamara, CIG, who heads the project at Frying Pan. Worms can steal the show because some of the students have never held an earthworm. That’s an interpretive experience they will never forget and one of many “I didn’t know you could” moments they learn first-hand. Others are: I didn’t know potatoes grew like that, tomatoes could get that big, peas climbed a string, vegetables could taste so good. Some of the adults have that same first experience.

Baby Animals 0413_0139McNamara said that finding staff to share rural experiences is a challenge. In a generally affluent, well-educated county like Fairfax, understanding and support of environmental issues and protection is common. That’s a boon for recruiting staff at nature centers but not so much for a 20th century farm park. Many successful farm recruits come from visitors who live near the park or who brought their kids to enjoy the animals and are now looking to start a second career. Their passion for the park bridges the knowledge gaps of never having held a chicken, led a goat or learned early 20th century agricultural practices. Staff is hired for their communication skills, and the rest — tractor driving, animal handling and husbandry, crop production, and traditional homemaking — is learned on the job.

To “somehow relate what is being displayed or described to something within the personality or experience of the visitor” when those visitors have diverse backgrounds, experiences, lifestyles and languages is an art. Unique visitors are tile chips of different shapes, colors and textures that come together to form a beautiful mosaic.

Author Yvonne Johnson is the Site Manager of Frying Pan Farm Park, Fairfax County Park Authority, Virginia

The Farmer Midwife

DSC_0600 e2Birthing season is a busy time for the farmers at Frying Pan Farm Park. Spring can bring calves, six kids (baby goats), 10 lambs, 20 or more piglets, and chicks and poults (baby turkeys). Here’s some Q-and-A about birthing season from Frying Pan’s park specialist and farmer, Paul Nicholson.

When do you know a birth is starting?

Staff pay attention to several details to know when to expect a birth. The most helpful is to know when the pregnancy started. We plan most of the breeding at the farm, but there’s still a window of a week or two for some animals. A veterinarian conducts an ultrasound between 30 and 60 days after breeding to confirm a pregnancy, to make sure our males are fertile, and to help adjust the diet of the pregnant animal. Most animals go through physical changes with their udder swelling with new milk and other parts relaxing right before birth. Herd animals usually separate themselves to a quiet maternity corner of the field. Other animals become nervous the day of the big event, scratching at the ground, appearing uncomfortable, and rising and laying down for a few hours before the actual birth takes place. Farm staff and our night maintenance staff check on the expectant mothers a few times each night, as often as every two hours if needed. Livestock are born any hour of the day or night, and farmers have seen many full moons turn into sunrises during deliveries and while waiting for the newborn to nurse. And sometimes you show up in the morning and you find a newborn!

How safe is a farm birth?

Baby Animals 0413_0277Livestock at the park are used to people, and this helps during the birthing process. We can move the animal to a stall if needed, either to keep out of mud, or to cool or heat the mother, and we have a new shed that has smaller stalls for sows to deliver their piglets. This helps to protect the tiny piglets from being crushed by the larger sow and to protect the farmer, as some sows can become aggressive during the process.

What can the baby animal do at birth – and a few hours later?

Farm animals are responsive right at birth, with most being able to walk in the first 30 minutes to one hour. The first milk is called colostrum and has important antibodies that the newborn animals need to get started in life. They must drink as soon as they can stand and for the first 12 to 24 hours. After that, they rely on just regular milk from the mother.

What does the farmer do during the birth? Is he like a dad with ice chips saying “Push, honey?”

The farmer working the birth has many jobs. Safety of the mother, newborn, staff and the public are the most important. Location of the birth, field or stall conditions, and temperature are all factors to think about. Depending on the situation, staff will assist with drying the baby and keeping the mother interested in her newborn. If needed, staff will assist with the birth by either repositioning or pulling to get the baby delivered. When there are multiple babies, sometimes a mother forgets to clean the first one and we will help her. Staff watches for signs of distress from the mother or newborn, and staff has access to several veterinarians or other farmers to ask questions. A vet could come to the farm if needed for a problem. And, just like human births, farmers text friends and coworkers to tell them the big news.

What do the farmer and the animals do immediately after the birth?

Baby Animals 0413_0009After the birth, staff assure mother and baby are bonding and assist with drying off as needed. Observing while interfering the least is the best approach. At the one-hour mark, if the newborn is not standing or trying to nurse, staff can intervene by holding the baby up and holding the mother still to allow the baby to latch on or, if needed, feed the baby by a stomach feeder to make sure it receives the colostrum in a timely manner.

What are staff members watching for?

We are watching to make sure the birthing process is progressing. Typically, less than one hour after we see feet, the baby should be born in cattle, sheep or goats. The pig farrowing process can take several hours to deliver up to 12 or 14 piglets, but she should deliver a piglet every 30 minutes to one hour. You can look at the feet to determine if the baby is upside down or backwards and take action as needed to correct the problem. Piglets are the exception and can be born backwards or forwards with no issues.

Are the animals comfortable with people around? Are the moms protective?

DSC_0551Some mothers, after the birth, are not comfortable with us touching their baby. One sheep named Stompy will do just that — stomp her front foot in anger if you get too close during birthing season. I have also seen a cow with a newborn calf charge a fence when a dog walked by.

How long before the public can see a newborn?

baby-animals-0413_0052-e1554297797603.jpgIt all depends on when and where the birth takes place. We have had numerous births occur during the day with a large crowd on hand or a few times during evening programs. If the mother and farm staff are comfortable with the process, the visitors can watch the birthing. We try to answer questions and explain what is happening. If we do need to give the mother a quiet space, the public would be invited to see the newborn once everything calms down.

A successful birth means family income/table fare.

dsc_0637.jpgSuccessful births are important for many reasons. The public side is that everyone is expecting to see a barn full of healthy and happy newborns. The farming side wants to see a full barn of newborns and happy mothers that will raise and wean strong offspring. Some of the babies will remain at the farm and become mothers in the next year or two. The income from new animals was very important, especially during the 1930s, the time frame that Frying Pan re-creates. The farm today sells livestock to 4H clubs in Loudoun, Fauquier and other local counties, and the clubs rely on us for their project animals each year. A farm is a business, and if the farmer lost most of his newborns, the farm would not survive.

Frying Pan Farm Park has a birthing announcement web page at https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/frying-pan-park/arrivals.

Beating the Odds in artiFACTS

If you think the odds of winning the lottery are low, what do you think the chances are of making it onto the Fairfax County Park Authority’s artiFACTS web page?

artiFACTS

The Park Authority holds millions of items in its archaeological and museum collections, and just one item is chosen each month to get the star treatment with a featured post in artiFACTS. With more than 5,000 museum objects (chairs, quilts, baskets, machines, clothing), thousands of archival items (photographs, maps, letters and other documents), and upwards of three million artifacts (archaeological discoveries such as spear points and pottery), how do staff members decide what to feature?

artifacts-new-banner-image-e1552330705255.jpgArchaeology and Museum Collections get equal treatment. Each division takes turns selecting an item and providing photographs and historical background for the monthly artiFACTS posting.

Heritage Resource Specialist Chris Sperling says that in the archaeology department, the task is assigned to the team. When the weather is bad and field work is impossible, staff members may work on posts for the County Archaeological Research Team blog, C.A.R.T. Archaeology, and on submissions for artiFACTS based on their individual interests. Sperling provides a final edit before the article is sent to the Public Information Office for posting. He says this approach provides “a good way to keep the team engaged with the larger process of public involvement.” Sometimes, Sperling just finds something that strikes him and thinks it might be of interest to others, too. newspaperFor example, he recently wrote about a newspaper article on the suffragette movement that likely was being used as part of the insulation in a home. He did another piece on some metal pieces that are keeping archaeologists guessing about their purpose.

In Collections, the process can be complicated by factors such as whether an item belongs to the Park Authority or is on loan from another agency, how hard the item may be to photograph, and how much information is available on the item. Heritage Resource Specialist Megan Leining says her department likes to highlight objects from the permanent collection that are rarely on exhibit. “For example, Sully Historic Site is interpreted to the period when the Lee family lived there, but we have objects associated with the residencies of other families, such as the Haight and Shear families.” Collections likes to rotate the sites and locations associated with the items, too. It also has featured objects from park sites that are open to the public on a limited basis, such as Dranesville Tavern and the Lahey Lost Valley property.

LincolnFinally, Collections may try to connect the object to the month or season or time of year when it is going to be featured. A Christmas Day wedding gift was featured in a December post. A Lincoln chromolithograph was featured one February in honor of Lincoln’s birthday and Presidents Day. Collections also has used artiFACTS to stir interest in items appearing in temporary exhibits, such as a top hat that was exhibited at Sully Historic Site. The black silk head-topper may have been worn to President Lincoln’s first inauguration in 1861.

artiFACTS has featured items as small as straight pins, thimbles and hand-wrought nails and objects as large as a fire screen, grandfather’s clock and church pew. These artifacts all help to tell the history of Fairfax County through the centuries.

Author Carol Ochs works in the Park Authority’s Public Information Office.