Attend a Presidential Inauguration – in 1849!

machen-letterA mother tells her 11-year-old daughter to clean her room. The child grouses, but then finds her favorite doll from when she was three years old and hollers, “Mom, look!”

A 17-year-old starts clearing his room before going to college. He rediscovers the championship trophy his Little League team won eight years earlier, and discovers a wistful sense of not-quite tears nostalgia.

“Honey, we’ve got to clean the basement today,” turns into, “Oh my, remember this? Such a romantic place.” And, “Hey, here’s my old fishing trophy!”

One of the uplifting things about being a historian is that they make a living digging for moments like that. They get to go through other peoples’ stuff, and it’s rewarding, especially when a discovery’s purpose matches the timing of an historic moment occurring in our own day – for example, a presidential inauguration.

Ellanor C. Lawrence Park (ECLP) Historian Alli Hartley was recently reviewing the Machen Family Papers at the Library of Congress. “I stumbled upon a letter written by one of the Machen boys about attending the inauguration of Zachary Taylor in 1849,” she said. The land that ECLP sits on once was owned by the Machen family. “The letter is part of the Library of Congress’s collection, and the Machen family gave copyright to the public when they donated the letters in the 1980s. I was immediately struck by James’ sense of humor, and also how similar the experience of attending an inauguration in 1849 is to today,” Hartley said.

In light of the coming inauguration of a new United States president, the discovery of the Machen letter is serendipitous.

Here is a transcription of that letter, written in 1849:

My dear brother,

You must beg Sister Emme to pardon me for addressing this Home-Letter to you, instead of making it as strict duty demands, the answer to her most welcome favor. Assign any reason you think most plausible in my defence—perhaps I consider her interest in the inauguration less than yours, and on the day it is course out of the question to write on any topic but this.

The ceremony is just over, and my ribs are about regaining the shape which they had this morning. I am sorry you could not have been here, since you had so strong a desire to witness the ceremony; but I feel satisfied that if you were seated at the other side of this table, and we were to talk over the doings of the day together, the same conclusion would have been reached by both—that we had got a whistle which was not worth much, whatever may have been the price paid for it. The procession  was by no means imposing—not all to be compared to that at the funeral of Harrison; the military part of it which was of course nearly the whole was neither numerous nor striking. There was indeed a very large assemblage on the graveled area east of the Capitol, yet it would be a misnomer to call it an Audience. We could see the old General’s “cutting box at work” as a man observed at my elbow, but it made very little racket. It was a great gratification to see the good old jaws in motion, which I spoke to such purpose at Buena Vista, yet we had to imagine the patriotic sentiments which no doubt issued from them. The only word which I could distinguish was “proper” and from that I infer the speech to be excellent.

The ground as you may suppose was quite damp and by the tread of so many feet was rendered even muddy. In view of this I (as well as a number of other judicious individuals) chose a convenient position on the flagged crossing way which comes nearest to the lee-side of the Portico and the scaffolding. As the advantage of such a comparatively dry station, were sufficiently obvious, I assorted to it before the arrival of the procession. Indeed before the great gates were thrown open, the whole area was filled with a pretty dense multitude. It was supposed that the General’s carriage would stop under the Portico, and we thus escape disturbance; but suddenly I saw within a few yards of me a man brandishing a marshal’s baton- “Make room”, “make room” was shouted and someone sung out—clear the tracks/for old Zach.

The next thing was a terrible squeeze, and the great lioning mass swayed hither and thither like the host of Greeks and Trojans over the body of Patroclus, or if you prefer a stronger simile—the commotion of the milky elements in an atmospheric churn. A four-horse chariot dashed through the crowd, which seemed like the divided water of the Sea—to threaten to overwhelm it. There was the glimpse of a grey head—uncovered in the presence of collected sovereignty—we saluted it with a hurrah for Taylor. Immediately in the near followed a two horse carriage closely shut up; “there goes Polk” said a person near me “who cares for him?” Such difference is here between the President elect and the ex-president yesterday, the Tennessean had offices to bestow, now, none so poor to do him reverence.

Mr. Taylor of course, soon reappeared upon the scaffolding, in company with the clergymen as many of the crowd took the blackrobed Justices of the Supreme Court. The address was short, and old Zach seemed to think the operation one which like that of taking a dose of pills, was to be gone through with as speedily as possible. Thus we had a very brief feast after a long preparation.

I trust Ma reached house safely and well. Tell her that her bags has to light in the place where, no doubt, it was carefully laid away by herself—the second drawer of the bureau.

Do you not experience some difficulty in clearing the clover seed?—I suppose you have to use the finest of the round sieves. As to the steer, don’t you remember that I estimated his weight all along at 1600? It surprised me greatly to hear Baldwin put him at 18 (?), but in the circumstances, I naturally supposed that I had been in error. How do the little steers flourish?—You are feeding them some corn doubtless.

Moving as you may suppose is the order of the day now in this as well as other. Congressional boarding houses- Mr. (???) left this afternoon. Other will follow him very soon. The Senate will sit on executive business the rest of this week. Pa, I suppose will be able to get a way a little while after.

Give my love to Ma & Sister—and ask them to tell you why my hasty letter is like (?) hasty plate of soup


Historian Alli Hartley presents a program at 7 p.m. on January 19 at Ellanor C. Lawence Park about the relationships the park had to various presidents. You can reserve a spot online.


The Machen letter appears courtesy of the Library of Congress. A couple of explanatory notes:

  • Patroclus is a character who dies in Homer’s Iliad.
  • There is an old English phrase, not worth a whistle, which means something of very little value.
  • A cutting box cuts fodder such as straw and hay into small parts called chaff that is fed to cattle. Here it refers to Taylor’s mouth.
  • The “divided water of the Sea” is likely a reference to the Old Testament story of Moses parting the Red Sea.
  • The funeral of Harrison was likely that of William Henry Harrison, the ninth president, who died on his thirty-second day in office in 1841.
  • James Polk was the outgoing president when Taylor was inaugurated.
  • The questioned name in the letter’s final paragraph may be Gen. Scott, and the reference to a“hasty plate of soup” may harken back to an event explained by this Library of Congress web page:



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

Master Planning the Park System



“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Fairfax County Park Authority wants to make your wishes our goals, and we’re working hard to develop an Agency Master Plan for the entire park system.

The planning process includes the Parks Count Community Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment, which was completed in spring 2016, and has provided input and data from park users and non-users alike. With the help of more than 4,600 survey respondents, dozens of stake holder meetings with the community, open houses, focus groups and Park Board, and using new outreach tools through our website, email and crowdsourcing, we are now in the final phases of our development of a comprehensive park system master plan aimed at meeting the community needs.

Through our data collection and research to date, we have confirmed that our parks are highly valued and are considered extremely important in meeting the high quality of life desired by county residents. We also learned that more funding needs to be allocated and prioritized towards taking care of our existing parks and facilities and that residents rank walking/biking trails; small community parks; swimming pools; swim lessons; and exercise and fitness facilities as their highest priorities. Given this data, the Fairfax County Park Board recently established the following guiding principles for the Park Authority as part of the Park Authority Master Plan:

  • Inspire A Passion For Parks
  • Advance Park System Excellence
  • Meet Changing Recreation Needs
  • Be Equitable & Inclusive
  • Promote Healthy Lifestyles
  • Strengthen & Foster Partnerships
  • Be Great Stewards

The Park Authority Master Plan core objectives are to:

Incorporate the community input and updated data that has been collected from the planning process into one Agency Master Plan; and create clear direction and strategic alignment for all Park Authority policy, actions, programs, parks and facilities within the Fairfax County Park Authority system of services; and to

Align all major plans under the one Agency Master Plan and ensure consistent direction and service delivery to the community; and by doing so

  • Meet the accreditation standards of the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA)

Over the next several months, a team of technical experts, staff and Park Authority leadership will be drafting the initial plan within the guiding principal framework. We’ll be sharing that draft with the public this summer and seeking input on the draft master Plan at that time. In the meantime, stay tuned for more information about the Park Authority and our Agency Master Plan on our website and through emails and social media.


Author Samantha Hudson is a Planner in the Park Authority Planning and Development Division.



1,365 Photographs of White-tailed Deer


On the back end of 2014, volunteers with an initiative called eMammal did some research in Fairfax County. eMammal is a collaboration among citizen scientists, researchers at the Smithsonian Institution, and North Carolina State University.

emammel-logo007Volunteers, with permission and in coordination with the Fairfax County Park Authority, set up camera traps in parks and at other Fairfax County natural areas to learn more about the numbers and distribution of wildlife mammals in urban areas throughout the Washington, D.C./ Northern Virginia / West Virginia / Maryland region. Motion and heat sensors triggered the cameras, and volunteers monitored the equipment and the results. It was a bit like throwing dice. You know a number is going to come up, but you don’t really know what you’re going to get.

The Smithsonian Institution is storing the camera trap photos as digital museum “specimens” that will be curated as a publicly accessible Smithsonian collection. The repository also will be accessible to other institutions to store, search, and analyze their own camera trap data.

The survey results do indicate the relative abundance of animals in an area, but the initiative is not an accurate way to determine the density of an animal population, i.e., how many of a certain species live in a given area.

Following is some of the 2014-2015 data that appears in eMammal’s report on the project.

Here is the list of sites that hosted eMammal camera traps, with the number of days a camera was in the field between July and November of 2014 in parentheses. Some sites had more than one camera trap:

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley (27), Holmes Run Stream Valley (22), McLean Hamlet (24), Lake Mercer (21), Marie Butler Leven Preserve (21), Willow Pond (3), Accotink Stream Valley (22), Lake Accotink (21, 23), Pimmit Run Stream Valley (22), Twin Lakes Golf Course (23), Bush Hill Park (25), Ellanor C. Lawrence Park (22, 24), Patriot Park (22), Cub Run Stream Valley (21, 26, 22), Lake Fairfax (23, 23), Franconia Park (72), Mark Twain Park (28), Dogue Creek (29), Groveton Heights (29), Manchester Lakes (29), Huntley Meadows (22, 21, 23), Springfield Forest (21), Fitzhugh Park (29), Wakefield Park (29), Lee High Park (22), Poplar Ford Park (22), Rocky Run (22), and Fred Crabtree Park (24).

eMammal cameras captured:

  • 83 photos of the camera trap volunteers
  • One blue jay – at Lake Accotink
  • 16 coyotes – nine of those at Franconia Park on five different days. Coyotes were also photographed at Mark Twain, Lake Accotink, Patriot Park, Holmes Run SV, and Little Difficult Run SV among other parks
  • 9 domestic cats, with Franconia Park and Groveton Heights leading the way
  • 165 domestic dogs
  • 17 Eastern cottontails, with Groveton Heights producing the largest number of them
  • 2 Eastern fox squirrels at Bush Hill Park and Groveton Heights (these would be unusual here)
  • 809 Eastern gray squirrels
  • 1 Northern flying squirrel at Dogue Creek
  • 1 gray fox at Ellanor C. Lawrence. Most of our locals are red foxes.
  • 237 red foxes
  • 672 humans
  • 182 Northern raccoon, and again Groveton Heights led the way
  • 1 striped skunk at Cub Run Stream Valley
  • 1 unknown owl at Dogue Creek along with other birds, canines, foxes, and unidentifiable squirrels
  • 1 bicycle at Lake Accotink
  • 16 Virginia Opossum, most at Fitzhugh Park and Lake Accotink
  • 1 wild turkey at Huntley Meadows
  • 1,365 white-tailed deer





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



Seeking American Alliance of Museums Accreditation

Assuring residents that their Park Authority is serving them. 

aamWe’re going to have visitors as we move into the holiday season. They’re going to want to know if we’re doing a good job.

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) establishes the standards through which museums are recognized for their commitment to excellence, accountability, and professionalism. In 1979, the Fairfax County Park Authority became the first county agency in the nation accredited by the AAM.

This year, we’re making sure we keep that accreditation.

In recent months, we’ve been working toward re-accreditation. We’ve completed a part of the process called a Self-Study, and that was submitted to the AAM in July 2016. Next is a visit from AAM personnel who will take a look at our sites. They’ll file a report, an AAM commission will review their report on February 8, 2017 and, if all goes well, accreditation will be granted in spring 2017.

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Here’s what we hope to accomplish:

Colvin Run, Sully, and the Historic Artifact Collection were accredited in 1979, and all were reaccredited in 1990 and 2002. Green Spring was included for the first time in 2002.

The AAM representatives will look to see if the Fairfax County Park Authority meets certain requirements that fall under specific headings — Public Trust and Accountability, Mission and Planning, Leadership and Organizational Structure, Stewardship of the Collections, Education and Interpretation, Facilities and Risk Management, and Financial Stability.

The Park Authority Board, senior leadership, and site staff are preparing now to answer questions they’ll face on collection policies and procedures when the AAM members visit. We’re preparing a “year-in-the-life-of-a-site” presentation for the AAM visitors, who will be in Fairfax County on December 13, 14, and 15 of this year. They will probably be most interested in our plans for a bond-funded facility to store our collections, the impact that the recession had on our operations, and our staffing.

The AAM visitors will see FCPA Collections at Walney Visitor Center in Ellanor C. Lawrence Park and at the Frey House, then visit Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria. They’ll also visit Sully Historic Site and Frying Pan Farm Park as well as spend time with the Park Board and attend a reception at the county government’s Herrity Building, where the Park Authority’s main offices reside. Their final day will be spent at Colvin Run Mill Historic Site and amid the archaeological collections at the James Lee Community Center in Falls Church.

Since the last time the agency was accredited, we’ve made some critical changes to our collections policies, implemented new recordkeeping databases for objects and plants, adopted the Professional Code of Ethics for Museum Operations, improved storage conditions with better housekeeping and environmental monitoring, and updated our emergency plans and Friend Groups agreements.

We hope that AAM confirms that we manage our collections properly, are working to get better at our responsibilities, and are following current museum best practices and professional standards.

That accreditation will tell you that we’re doing things the right way.



Author David Ochs is the Stewardship Communications Manager for the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Resource Management Division, and co-author Carol Ochs is a management analyst in the agency’s Public Information Office.

Crunch Time in the Woods: Kids, Leaves, and Color

fall-yellowshirtIn sixth grade, I did a science fair project on chlorophyll.

Mom always shared science facts as we walked through the woods around our house, so I had a head start in science simply because we went outside. In Fall, she talked about changing leaf colors, explaining that leaves stop making chlorophyll, their green pigment, as the air gets colder. Then you could see the other colors in them, the oranges, yellows and purples.

Children may not understand the first time you share something, but repeat it often and add more information, and they will eventually have a wealth of knowledge and understanding.

Fall is the perfect time of year to give children hands-on experience with leaves. Take them on a nature walk and have them find leaves in as many colors as they can. Look closely at the leaves, and you may see signs of moths, butterflies or other creatures.

Green Spring Gardens is an excellent spot for this kind of walk. The park is an outdoor classroom of plants and wildlife for children and their families. Introduce the youngsters to color combinations, and let them explore mixing colors together. But go gently on your way. Remember that those fallen leaves are home to insects that lay eggs among those dazzling colors, and those decaying leaves will provide safety for them through the winter.

After walking the park grounds and exploring the children’s gardens at the site, visit the Green Spring library. The park has a fabulous, non-circulating library that features horticulture books. The children’s section includes welcoming rocking chairs, so plan a little time to browse the collection. Your day can be a perfect mix of exercise, bonding, education and relaxation.

More information about nature books for children is on the Green Spring Master Gardeners’ web page.

Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Master Gardener.



Plant Blubs Now for Spring Color

hyacinth5In summer 2016, I attended the wedding of a couple who handed out burlap sacks of tulip bulbs as guests left the reception. They attached a note that said, “As a living remembrance of the love we share, we give you these bulbs to plant with care.”

It was a lovely thought, and I’m getting ready to plant mine as cooler weather arrives. They’ve been stored in a cool, dry place. I’ve wondered if other wedding guests have done the same. I asked a cousin who attended the wedding what he did with his bulbs.

“I planted them, but I haven’t gotten any flowers,” he told me.

The bulbs were meant to be planted in the fall for blooms the following spring. If the couple had distributed summer bulbs, such as amaryllis, tuberous begonia, caladium, daylily, dahlia, gladiolus or lily, the bulbs would have flowered.

If you plant hyacinths, know that they have an oil in the bulbs which may make some people itch. Wear gloves when handling these bulbs, or wash hands with cool water and soap immediately after planting. It’s not unusual for some spring-flowering bulbs to send up a few leaves in the late fall or early winter. The bulbs will remain safe over the winter and will still produce flowers next spring.

If you want spring color, you need to plant before the first frost. Spring bulbs produce some of the most dramatic garden color with minimal effort. The most popular spring bulb is the tulip, but there are many others, including narcissus, daffodils, jonquils, snowdrops, fritillaria, winter aconite, anemone, allium and crocuses. Non-gardeners often don’t know: Plant spring-blooming bulbs in the fall.

There is a fact sheet published by the Virginia Cooperative Extension with the not-very-exotic-but-specifically-accurate government title of Publication #426-201, “Flowering Bulbs: Culture and Maintenance.” You can get a copy online at http://www.ext.vt.educ. The fact sheets says that “bulbs” is a term loosely used to include corns, tubers, tuberous roots, and rhizomes.

I’m a Green Spring Gardens Master Gardener, and in the Master Gardener class I learned that bulbs are broadly grouped into spring flowering (January-May) and summer flowering (June-September). Hardy spring flowering bulbs are planted in the fall. Spring bulbs provide color before most annuals and perennials bloom, so if you want spring color, plant in the fall.

When buying bulbs for fall planting, choose the best quality you can because the flower bud has already developed before the bulb is sold. Look for plump, firm bulbs. When you’re ready to plant, consider light, temperature, soil texture and function. Be certain to check the correct planting depth for each bulb.

One last thing to remember about your flower bulbs. After they bloom in the spring, do not cut the leaves back until they start to wither. Green leaves produce food for plant growth the next year. After leaves turn yellow, cut and compost the stems and foliage of the plants. If you cut the leaves back early, you’ll have no flowers next spring.

For information on preparing your garden for winter, check out the Green Spring Master Gardener web site,

If you’re interested in becoming a Green Spring Master Gardener, there’s information on Green Spring’s website, or contact the program’s coordinator, Pam Smith, at 703-642-0218 or


Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Master Gardener at Green Spring Gardens.





The Year in Cultural Resources

So much going on that we don’t see. Roads, military, parks, safety, health. Government agencies perform massive amounts of work on behalf of citizens — present, past, and future — and we sometimes don’t notice it on a day-to-day basis. A simple example is the protection of cultural resources – our history.

A couple of years ago, the Park Authority’s Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch (since divided into two branches, one for Archaeology and Collections and the other for Historic Preservation) listed 239 goals for the next few years. Staff worked on 86 of them from July 2015 through June 2016 (Fiscal Year 2016) and completed 30. Here are examples of what they’ve done, what they do, and what they plan to do.

Historians and archaeologists worked across the county with 30 teams that were creating master plans for parks and executing capital improvement projects. They analyzed cultural resources at those sites before a shovel pierced the ground. They reviewed more than 300 plans for easements, stormwater issues and development, assuring that nothing of vital historic importance was lost. Along the way they partnered with volunteers, the Friends of Fairfax County Archaeology and Cultural Resources, site friends groups, archaeological and historical societies, the Fairfax County History Commission, the Fairfax County Architectural Review Board, and the public to protect cultural resources.

They conducted archaeological work as part of 20 projects at sites such as Lincoln Lewis Vannoy Park, the Huntley Tenant House, the Colvin Run Mill Miller’s House, Sully Woodlands, and Langley Forks Park. Archaeological oversight took place as part of road projects along Route 7, Route 1, Route 28 and Route 66. University students gained experience in some of those projects thanks to an internship program.

Working with history in Virginia isn’t complete without exploration of the Civil War. Park Authority employees co-chaired the county’s Civil War Sesquicentennial commemoration committee, helped plan local and regional Civil War memorial events, and recommended sites for inclusion in the Civil War Trails program. They also took part in dedication ceremonies as 26 Civil War Trails markers were installed.

Back in the office, archaeologists catalogued more than 40,000 artifacts from Colchester, Sully Woodlands, Colvin Run, Lincoln Lewis Vannoy and Walney, and they updated older archaeological collections to federal and state standards. Some of those artifacts ended up in an exhibit in the lobby of the county’s Government Center, and others popped up on a reignited web page entitled artiFACTS. All this while filling out the immense paperwork required for reaccreditation with the American Alliance of Museums to show citizens they are doing things the right way according to modern day best practices.

Accreditation and best practices means adhering to guidelines of the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and other federal regulations, such as the National Historic Preservation Act, the Antiquities Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Archaeological Resource Protection Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, state and local regulations, and even a section of the Department of Transportation Act. That’s a lot of rules to know. That’s a lot of getting things done the right way.

Fiscal Year 2016 saw substantial work on county historic houses. Staff completed development of a Resident Curator Program and conducted studies designed to protect the Turner Farm House, Sully Historic Site, the Huntley Tenant House, and Colvin Run Mill’s miller’s house. Five historic sites in Fairfax County were headed for the county’s Inventory of Historic Sites, and three may land on the National Register of Historic Places. Park staff reviewed the nominations to make sure the sites qualified and that everything was in order. 

Back outdoors, staff provided technical assistance to the Fairfax County Cemetery Preservation Association for more than 20 cemetery documentation and cleanup projects. They also completed Cultural Landscape Studies for Ellanor C. Lawrence Park and the Great Falls Grange.

Beyond conducting the business of archaeology and history, park staff taught citizens about their cultural resources and how to protect them. They were involved in meetings of the Council of Virginia Archaeologists and the Archeological Society of Virginia. They co-sponsored the annual Fairfax County History Conference, presented papers at the Society for Historical Archaeology Annual Meeting, prepared an exhibit and organized a symposium to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, co-sponsored the Annual Archaeology Symposium with Friends of Fairfax County Archaeology and Cultural Resources, presented papers at the Middle Atlantic Archaeology Conference and judged student papers at that gathering, co-sponsored an archaeology symposium at Gunston Hall, worked on the steering committee for Historically Fairfax, the 275th anniversary of Fairfax County, and ran archaeology summer camps at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Riverbend Park and Huntley Meadows.

Future days will see continuation of these projects and partnerships along with these advancements in Fiscal Year 2017:

  • Continued archaeology at Sully Woodlands, Langley Forks Park, the Huntley Tenant House, and Lahey Lost Valley
  • Installation of monuments at Ox Hill Battlefield Park
  • Installation of an exhibit of Weights and Measures, on loan from Alexandria, in the Government Center as part of the 275th Anniversary of Fairfax County
  • Opportunities for interns and volunteers at Old Colchester
  • Creation of more interpretive signs
  • Rehabilitation of the Tenant House at Historic Huntley and the Miller’s House at Colvin Run Mill
  • A search for an expanded collections space and funding for it
  • Moving collections from a satellite location at Ash Grove to the Frey House
  • Rehousing of paper objects at Walney
  • Improving artifact storage conditions



All in a day’s work. And it’s a lot of work, because history has a lot of days in it.