Historic Collections Tell Fairfax County’s Stories

_DSC0023A tournament lance? Part of Fairfax County’s history? Well, yes, it’s one of more than 6,000 items in the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Historic Object Collection, which preserves material culture that is representative of Fairfax County’s heritage.

The lance, it turns out, is not from King Arthur’s time but from the early 20th century, when jousting was again a popular sport. In a combination of equestrian skill and athleticism, riders galloped their horses and attempted to thrust their lances through a small ring. These club-like tournaments were the inspiration for “catching the ring” on the later evolutions of carousels.

The Historic Object Collection encompasses many items from the 18th through 20th centuries associated with the early history of sites that are now parks and with the families who lived and worked at these sites. It also contains objects representing the general history, growth and development of Fairfax County and its individual communities. These items are exhibited at parks and at special community exhibits.

The Park Authority maintains a collection of archival materials that are important to researching the history of the sites. More than 4,000 archival items document site histories and ownership and record through photographs, maps, letters and other documents the agency’s restoration of historic structures.

The two collections support interpretive programs at historic sites and in exhibits. They help visitors enjoy, understand and appreciate Fairfax County’s heritage and historic resources. The Park Authority follows the highest professional museum standards of stewardship in protecting and maintaining this important legacy.dsc_0057.jpg

Some Historic Object Collections are exhibited on site, such as 18th-century objects owned by Richard Bland Lee, Northern Virginia’s first congressman and the original owner of Sully.

The Haight family lived at Sully during the mid-19th century, and a top hat, said to be purchased by Jacob Haight for Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration, is part of the collection and occasionally on display at Sully.

Flour sack pansy_0007At Colvin Run Mill, photographs of the Millard family, the miller’s desk, mill receipts and grain sacks, a family bible, and an apron belonging to Emma Millard represent objects associated with the mill. The collection contains early photographs of Green Spring and documents relating to prior owners. Original photographs, documents, family letters and accounts pertain to other historic structures and sites.

Some collection objects relate less to a specific site and more to the history of the county. A sampling of objects from the early 20th century Colvin Run community includes a log cabin quilt, a biscuit block, blacksmith and milling tools, and a broom machine used by a blind man.

The collection also contains objects from community organizations, such as memorabilia from local Grange meetings and hymnals from Frying Pan Spring Meeting House. Civil War era maps, engravings and artifacts are reminders of wartime events that occurred across Fairfax County.

The Park Authority shares objects from its Historic and Archaeological Collections monthly in our artiFACTS blog. For inquiries about the Historic Object Collection, contact the Museum Collections Manager at 703-631-1429.


Apples, Virginia, and Fall: A Colorful, Tasty Combination

Apples 3Virginia has terrific apples. Fairfax County sells apples at its 11 Farmers Markets. You shop at Farmers Markets. That’s a combination that begs for homemade applesauce.

The making of applesauce has been part of Farmers Market demonstrations that have been presented by interpreters from Frying Pan Farm Park. The making of applesauce was a common task in Fairfax County kitchens of the 1930s, and the demonstrations showed how to maximize your use of fruits and vegetables that are in season. It also showed how food’s life can be extended by canning. Canning meant a variety of food was available during cold winters when there were no crops in those days before cross-country shipping.

Apples 1You don’t need canning for fresh applesauce. Put those apples to use this year for something special at Thanksgiving.

This is the recipe the interpreters used at the Frying Pan demonstrations:

Homemade Applesauce

6 apples, any variety, peeled, cored, and chopped into chunks

1 cup apple juice, apple cider, or water

1 Tbl lemon juice

Sprinkle of cinnamon

Sugar to taste (optional and not really needed!)

Put all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.

For chunky applesauce, when the apples have become very soft, mash them with a fork.

For smooth applesauce, let the applesauce cool and puree in a food processor or food mill.

Eat. Enjoy it hot or cold!

This blog was based on notes compiled by Frying Pan Farm Park Marketing and Development Assistant Bonnie Butler.

Remembering a Sully Legend


With sadness and tremendous respect, we note the passing of Margaret C. Peck on August 13, 2018. Peck was a local historian and had a major impact on Sully Historic Site.

This blog is based on another that was written by current Sully Historic Site Manager Carol McDonnell when Peck retired from the Sully Foundation Board in 2012. It continues to reflect our feelings and respect for her:

Margaret Peck gave 40 years of service to the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA), the Sully Foundation, Ltd. and the Northern Virginia community.  She served 18 years with FCPA, including time as the manager at Sully from 1971–1988. She spent another 22 years as a board member of the Sully Foundation, Ltd., serving as the Treasurer for 10 of those years.

She also was an active local historian, educator, author and contributor to several books, including Washington Dulles International Airport, and Around Herndon in the Images of America Series. She was a contributing author and editor for Voices of Chantilly, Recollections and Stories from 22 long-time residents, Stories of Floris, Sully: 1794– Stories and Letters, and the cookbook Samplings from Sully’s Hearth.

I interviewed Margaret in 2012 at her lovely home in Herndon, preparing for the Park Authority to present her a special achievement resolution. She was most proud of the preservation of Sully when Dulles International Airport was built. She worked personally with Sully’s first curator, Eddie Wagstaff, and was partially responsible for the fight to save Sully from becoming part of the buffer area for the airport. As manager at Sully, she helped develop a successful school-aged museum education program, including the four learning centers at the site today.  She especially enjoyed developing the kitchen program, and she liked to “take words and put them into action” through demonstrations of real cooking representing the late 18th century.

Peck researched historic letters and documents for years, documenting stories for the families who lived at Sully, especially the Richard Bland Lee family. Margaret helped develop the historic site’s docent manual and trained many people to lead tours and interpret the site, giving them confidence to present in-depth tours and share the human aspects of Sully’s history.

Through the years, Margaret appreciated working with exceptional staff to produce programs such as Christmas tours and seasonal festivals in both fall and spring.  She remembered working with a Mr. Bush, an older gentleman from Herndon who gave horse and wagon rides on the Sully grounds for 25 cents a ride.  She actively worked with the Society of the Lees of Virginia in their support of Sully projects and their lending of collection pieces.  She also was a successful advocate, along with her dedicated husband Ben, for the preservation of Frying Pan Farm Park’s school house and meeting house.

Among her memories were the thrill of watching the first Concord jet arrive at Dulles, viewing it from Sully along with park visitors and staff.  Her favorite memory was a Thanksgiving Day when snow began to fall, and across the field came Bland Lee V, the great, great grandson of Richard Bland Lee, along with his wife and daughter.  They had come to see her and take a tour amidst the beautiful snowfall on that special holiday.

We will treasure Margaret Peck’s memory as she treasured hers of that snowy day.



FCPA Sites Receive American Alliance of Museums Accreditation

Assurance that your Park Authority is serving you.         

CRM 1Colvin Run Mill

Schools are accredited to show they meet a certain level of educational excellence. The same is true of museums, and in 1979 the Fairfax County Park Authority became the first county agency in the nation accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). Today, the news is even better.

AAM has announced that the Park Authority’s Resource Management Division (RMD) and four of its sites have received AAM accreditation. For nearly three years, we’ve been working toward re-accreditation. We completed a self-study and submitted it to the AAM in July 2016. Next was a visit from museum professionals who reviewed documents, interviewed staff and toured sites. The AAM representatives saw FCPA Collections at Walney Visitor Center in Ellanor C. Lawrence Park and at the Frey House, then visited Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria. They toured Sully Historic Site and Frying Pan Farm Park, spent time with the Park Board, and attended a reception attended by park advocates, volunteers and staff members at the county government’s Herrity Building, where the Park Authority’s main offices reside. Their final day was spent at Colvin Run Mill Historic Site and amid the archaeological collections at the James Lee Community Center in Falls Church.

The AAM team filed a report, an AAM commission reviewed it, and accreditation officially was granted August 6, 2018.

Here’s what was accomplished:

  • Accreditation for RMD, which oversees Historic Artifact Collections and Archaeological Collections
  • Reaccreditation for Sully Historic Site, Colvin Run Mill, and Green Spring Gardens
  • First-time accreditation for Frying Pan Farm Park (pictured below)Frying Pan 2

“It is an honor and a privilege to have been reaccredited by the American Alliance of Museums,” said current Park Services Division Director Cindy Walsh, who headed the Resource Management Division during the reaccreditation process. “This validates our commitment to excellence and dedication to meeting the highest standards for our museums and collections. More importantly, it demonstrates our assurance to county residents that we will continue to preserve and protect Fairfax County’s important heritage.”

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

AAM establishes the standards through which museums are recognized for their commitment to excellence, accountability, and professionalism. The organization says that “as the ultimate mark of distinction in the museum field, accreditation signifies excellence and credibility.” AAM says that the designated Park Authority sites “have demonstrated they meet standards and professional practices, and have shown themselves to be core educational entities that are good stewards of the collections and resources they hold in the public trust.”

Sully 1Sully Historic Site

The AAM says there are about 33,000 museums in the United States. Of those, 1,070 are currently accredited.

AAM review assures residents that museums meet certain requirements 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.

Since the last time the agency was accredited, the Park Authority has 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 emergency plans and Friend Groups agreements.

Green Spring Manor house 1The Friends of Green Spring go by the acronym FROGS

AAM’s accreditation 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 tells 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 works in the agency’s Public Information Office.

Reflections on the Passing of an Old Friend: Harold Henderson

By Bill Bouie, Chairman, Park Authority Board

The Park Authority lost a stalwart advocate with the recent passing of Harold Henderson, a former Lee District Representative to the Fairfax County Park Authority Board. We lost of man of vision and a dedicated volunteer who understood the importance of public service. Many of us simply lost a friend.

Harold HendersonThe Alexandria resident was appointed to the Board in 1997 and reappointed in 2000. He left the board in January 2003 for personal reasons.

Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay noted, “Harold Henderson dedicated his life to making our community a better place. When I reflect on his memory, I remember fondly his love of our parks and recreation areas. While on the Park Authority Board, and for many years before and after his term, Harold was a staple all across Lee District. I can say – without question – that Harold played a large role in making our world-class parks what they are today, and his legacy will live on forever.”

I echo Jeff’s sentiments and believe that we were incredibly lucky to have found a person willing to serve who could see the possibilities that existed in places like Lee District Park, the Banks and Berman-Gerber properties, Huntley Meadows, local stream valley parks and Greendale Golf Course. Did I mention that Harold loved to play golf? He served as an ambassador for golfers throughout our park system.

Legendary golfer Arnold Palmer said, “Success depends less on strength of body than upon strength of mind and character.”

Harold lived that ethos and served the residents of Fairfax County with distinction. He endeavored to find a way to make the park system better for all providing facilities and protecting natural and cultural resources. He worked closely with the Board of Supervisors and fellow members of the Park Authority Board, helping to establish a more harmonious relationship that has benefited all residents. This was a critical first step that has resulted in a Gold Medal, nationally renowned park system that is about to receive its second accreditation, having met every single criteria – all 144. Thank you Harold for laying the groundwork!

Under his leadership as committee chair of the Administration/Management Committee, he also helped guide the selection of top-notch directors of the agency. He has been at the forefront of our success and even after his tenure Harold’s expertise did not relate only to the park system. A Certified Fraud Examiner, Henderson had a long career in conducting, supervising and managing criminal, civil and administrative investigations and security programs, including Hotline programs for the reporting of crime, fraud, waste, abuse and/or mismanagement.

He was also a Former Commissioner/Chairman of the Fairfax County Civil Service Commission and served as Lee District Chairman of the Park and Recreation Advisory Board. He was active in local civic and athletic organizations and received the Lord Fairfax Citizenship Award, among other honors.

Even after he left our Board he was still interested in parks and attended many functions, accompanied by his family who looked after his needs. I will miss his warm smile and his wry sense of humor. An anonymous author wrote,” It takes just a minute to find and recognize a special person, an hour to appreciate them, and a day to love them. However, it takes an entire lifetime to forget them.” Harold will not be forgotten and his legacy will serve the residents of Lee District well into the future.

A memorial service and gathering of friends and family will be held on Saturday, August 25, 2018 (1 to 4 p.m.), at Twin Lakes Golf Course in the Oaks Room. Twin Lakes is located at 6201 Union Mill Road, Clifton, VA.

For more information, contact the Public Information Office at 703-324-8702.

Former FCPA Director Bill Beckner Remembered

Bill BecknerA man who brought national honors to the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) and devoted his entire career to the field of parks, recreation, and interpretation of the natural world has passed away. Former FCPA Director William C. Beckner died on July 27, 2018, at the age of 70.

Beckner joined the Park Authority in 1977 as the agency’s chief naturalist. Eight years later, he led the agency’s detailed strategic planning process, and in February of 1989, he was named the Park Authority’s director. He served in that post until December of 1993, when he left the FCPA to establish his own consulting business.

In 1990, Beckner advocated for the Park Authority to have the ability to control park proffers that developers donate to the county. He wanted to ensure a balance between parks and buildings. Beckner stated that if the Park Authority oversaw the donated land, “…then we would be doing what we’re supposed to be doing: protecting and preserving environmental and cultural resources. That’s our mission.”

Beckner remained an advocate for a robust park system throughout his tenure. Upon his resignation in 1993, then Park Authority Board Chairman Gregory C. Evans said Beckner had been instrumental in the repair of major park facilities, downsizing of the agency, and planning for new public golf courses. The Washington Post quoted Evans as saying, “Mr. Beckner has shown great vision during his tenure as director and placed the Park Authority in an excellent position to continue as one of the leading park systems in the nation.”

Most recently, Beckner was President of Conservation, Environment and Historic Preservation Incorporated of Chevy Chase, Maryland, a company that provided management, planning, and consulting services to park, recreation and resource management organizations.

Brenda Adams-Weyant, Executive Director of the National Association of County Park and Recreation Professionals (NACPRO), remembered Beckner for his service and expertise. “He had a long and accomplished career in parks and recreation, and I am glad that I had the chance to work with him. Bill served on the NACPRO Board in the late 1980s and in recent years was an advisor to the board.”

Adams-Weyant added, “When a member contacted me with a challenging management issue, Bill had the experience and resources to help.”

Beckner was also inducted into the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (AAPRA), a group of distinguished practitioners and scholars in parks and recreation management who are committed to the advancement of that field.

According to his AAPRA bio, the Iowa native began his career in parks and recreation in 1966 as a Recreation Specialist in the United States Air Force. After military service, he studied recreation administration at Iowa State and environmental science at Clemson. During his Master’s research, he worked for the National Park Service on the Blue Ridge Parkway as a ranger/naturalist.

Beckner also spent time with the Mississippi State Park Commission and the Oregon State Park System before coming to Fairfax County.

While Beckner was director of the FPCA, the Park Authority:

  • Was a 1993 NRPA Gold Medal finalist for Special Recreation
  • Earned the National Golf Foundation’s 1991 and 1992 Golf and the Environment Award
  • Earned the NRPA 1991 National Aquatic Program of the Year Honor
  • Won two National Association of Counties Awards for Excellence and Innovation

AAPRA notes that he made multiple presentations for park organizations and spent much of his time helping improve park and recreation opportunities and resources.

Among the committees on which Beckner served:

  • The President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, Land Resources Committee
  • The Planning Regulations Team for the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Act
  • The National Urban Recreation Study
  • The Nationwide Outdoor Recreation Plan.
  • The Professional Services Committee, Professional Ethics Committee and Education Committee for AIN (chair)
  • The Legislative and Education Committees for NACPRO (chair)
  • Program Committee for NRPA
  • The Natural Resource Council of America
  • The Advisory Committee for the Virginia Tech Natural Resource Management Graduate School.

He also he worked for the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) conducting research. In this role, Beckner facilitated research in the parks and recreation field that served as a tool for agencies nationwide.

Nancy Magill, Beckner’s partner of 32 years, is planning a tribute to Beckner in the fall.

Beckner talks about the creation of the Park Authority’s first donated park, Eakin Park: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iohBvTO-khc&feature=youtu.be

David Ochs, Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority, and Judy Pedersen, Public Information Officer for the Park Authority, contributed to this blog. Photo provided by AAPRA.

Wildlife in the Backyard

DSC_0816_edited-2Fairfax County residents are blessed with both the conveniences of an urban life and an environment that supports a wide range of wildlife. We don’t have to go far from home to see deer, eagles, fox, frogs, snakes, fish, coyotes, salamanders, geese, ducks and other bird species numbering over 200 that have been spotted in parks. A former county wildlife biologist once said there may not be a yard in Fairfax County that isn’t crossed by a fox at night.

Generally, our interactions with wildlife are mild and relatively uneventful. They go their way and we go ours. There’s nothing here trying to eat us. Occasionally we are rewarded with a sighting that brings us closer to nature. Once in a while we’re too close to nature and we clash – a car accident with a deer, a snake bite, a bee sting or a hissing goose.

When nature gets a little close for your comfort, you don’t have to turn into a snake handler like some of our nature center volunteers. There are steps you can take that will keep you safe and in your wildlife comfort zone.

Garter Snake 4First and foremost, do not approach any wild animal. Don’t pick up a snake to be cool, don’t pick up a newborn that looks like it’s alone, don’t try to help an injured creature of the wild. Any animal that’s out of its comfort zone and facing an unusual situation might lash out. Rabies is also a possibility in Virginia.

If you have any reason to think you may be dealing with a rabid or dangerous animal, get away from it and call either the police non-emergency number, 703-691-2131, or 911. Report any wildlife acting in a dangerous manner, whether or not it’s on parkland, to the Police Department’s Animal Control Division at 703-691-2131.

RaccoonWhat about an animal that repeatedly returns and causes problems? Why not trap or relocate a nuisance beast? For one, it’s against the law, a violation of state game regulations, and relocation rarely works. The animal may return to the site of the problem, may start a conflict in a new place, or may not survive the stress of the move. In addition, if the animal was there because the habitat was good for it, another animal of the same species may move in. And once you trap an animal, what are you going to do with it? There’s no place to put it because, except for catch and release fishing, it is against Park Authority regulations, state law, and sound wildlife management to release any animal, wild or domestic, on parkland.

There are, however, people who can help. The non-profit Wildlife Rescue League provides wildlife rehabilitation services in Fairfax County. The Rescue League hotline number is 703-440-0800. It’s usually best for wildlife to be left in the wild, and sometimes an injured animal may not recover. However, we understand there are people who want to help animals. Do it the right way. Wildlife rehabilitation is not an amateur hobby. It is regulated and licensed by the state. Call the Wildlife Rescue League.

Dealing with a Nuisance Animal

The best action for avoiding wildlife conflict is preventive. Animal-proof your home or yard. No single action will work every time, and you may have to try several things. Here are some ideas that may keep wildlife away.

Don’t Feed the Bears, So To Speak
Remove food sources. Keep pet foods (and pets!) indoors; secure trash; fence gardens.

Remove Sources of Shelter
Wood piles, mounds of yard clippings, and other vegetative debris can attract rodents and reptiles.

Claim Your Territory

Fences, chemical deterrents, and creative plantings may prevent wildlife from trespassing.

BatBATS: For such a tiny, gentle, and relatively rare animal, nuisance bats cause a lot of concern. Remember, bats can carry rabies, so use caution. If you have a bat in your house, contact the Animal Protection Police at 703-691-2131. Don’t wait overnight to see if a bat will leave on its own. Some bats can enter buildings in openings as small as a half-inch, so it may take a specialist to ensure that the area is truly bat-proof.

If a bat is someplace people don’t go (behind shutters, in an attic), you can wait for all the bats to leave and then seal the area. If bats are in an area such as the space between your house and shutters, contact a bat specialist. If you try to remove it yourself, you may injure the bat or it may become aggressive. More about bats. Field Guide.

BeaverBEAVERS: Beavers are a source of frequent nuisance complaints. They play a key role in Eastern temperate deciduous forests by changing the habitat and thus help reduce the effect of flooding, remove pollutants and sediment from water, and create wetlands habitat for wildlife.

The key to keeping beaver out of an area is to make it harder for them to get food. Wrap the bottom four feet of trees in hardware cloth. Leave enough space between the tree bark and the cloth to allow the tree to grow. Here are three links for more information about beavers: Wildlife/BeaverBeaver Facts, printable card;  Field Guide.

DeerDEER: Residents tell us that besides damaging their plants, deer make their dogs “go nuts.”

In many places, there are too many deer for the habitat available. This forces deer into dangerous situations. They may share the road with your car, and they may become more susceptible to disease. Experts recommend an eight-foot tall fence to exclude deer.

The county’s Animal Control Department has a deer management program on public lands. More about deer.

FoxFOXES: Foxes frequent Fairfax County yards, and we’ve had reports of them stealing newspapers, tampering with bird feeders, and just sitting and staring as if to say, “Really? You know if you chase me off again I’m just going to come back later.”

Foxes, like other canines, have an excellent sense of smell. They can be discouraged by strong odors (ammonia-soaked cotton balls or pepper scents) and by proper sanitation. They’ll feed on trash or on the rodents that trash attracts. Learn what attracted the animal in the first place, because removing it might be enough to encourage the critter to move on. More about foxes and a video about foxes. Field Guide.

SkunkSKUNKS: Skunks help us by eating insects and rodents, but they smell bad. A skunk burrow under a deck, although not common, can be a rather unpleasant wildlife experience.

Before blocking a skunk’s access to its burrow, first make sure all the animals in the burrow, including the young, are out. Block or screen the entry point to prevent them from returning. Moth balls may prevent skunks from returning home, but don’t leave them out in the open. Place the balls near the opening of the burrow in a weatherproof container with holes to allow the odor to disperse. More about skunks. Field guide.

SquirrelSQUIRRELS: Squirrels are year-round residents, but that doesn’t mean they stay in one place. Migrations in spring and fall help disperse the young into new areas, which may include attics, sheds, and basements. Squirrels can be common in your yard if it contains their natural food sources of bark, flower buds, insects and nuts. More about squirrels. Field Guide.

WoodchuckWOODCHUCKS: It is usually the burrow, not the woodchuck, that produces the ankle-twisting curses we hear throughout the county.

Woodchucks, or groundhogs, are closely related to squirrels and can climb trees. They’re also very good burrowers. Keep them out of your yard with a fence that reaches 18 inches below ground level. If you know where the animal’s burrow is, you can block its entry points.


There are several resources for help on nuisance animals:

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries maintains the legal list of nuisance wildlife on its wildlife web page. The department also provides tips and advice for homeowners. If you see someone committing a wildlife crime, report it to the Wildlife Crime Line at 1-800-237-5712.

Fairfax County’s wildlife biologist in the Animal Control Division of the Police Department can help.

The Fairfax County Park Authority Nature Centers have expert staff that can answer backyard wildlife questions.

If you have any question whether you may have a rabid or dangerous animal nearby, call the police non-emergency phone number, 703-691-2131.