Puzzling the Past

History has a bad reputation. It is perceived as memorizing dates, dead rich guys, and dusty artifacts under glass. It is not dynamic and is seen as having nothing to do with our lives.

Historians are still unraveling mysteries at Historic Huntley in Alexandria.

Historians are still unraveling mysteries at Historic Huntley in Alexandria.

Yet that is very far from the truth. History is exciting, full of adventure, romance, tragedy, and comedy. When you visit any one of the Park Authority’s historic sites, you’ll discover all the excitement in history.

One way to look at history is that it is mystery. Historians and archaeologists are detectives trying to piece together what happened from clues. Our evidence is what people left behind. Sometimes our clues are documents, letters, diaries, and other written accounts. Other clues are objects like pieces of pottery, tools, trash, and even entire houses. None of these clues tells the entire story. What we know of the past we know by piecing all these little clues together. Yet we will never have enough clues to get a perfect picture, so sometimes we have to make educated guesses.

You can look at history like a jigsaw puzzle, one of those giant 32,000 piece 3-D affairs. Some of the puzzle pieces are still in the box, other pieces are under the bed or between the couch cushions, a few may be still at the store, and some may be missing altogether. Once we have collected as many of the pieces as we can find, we have to figure out how they all fit together. We may find some more pieces in the future to give us a more complete puzzle, but many of the puzzle pieces will always be missing.

Artifacts help archaeologists and historians understand the past.

Artifacts help archaeologists and historians understand the past.

Despite this, historians and archaeologists do what they do because solving that mystery or putting that puzzle together helps us all understand where we came from, where we are, and (in part) where we’re going. History is so important because it is who we are, and it connects us to a larger story. It is the story of us, and you, and me, and them. History roots us to place, and that is particularly important in a region like ours.

Examine history through your eyes

It is amazing to ask visitors to consider how the lives of their ancestors differed from the lives we live. Our historic interpreters engage visitors by asking them to help solve the mystery or put the puzzle together. We ask visitors to:

  • Consider how their lives would change if they lived in a different time
  • Examine the clues in a historic house to uncover how the family lived and built their home
  • Fire a bow and arrow and think about what the Powhatan ate, what games they played, and how they farmed
  • Make biscuits in a colonial kitchen
  • Solve (or piece together) how our ancestors do the things we do

 There are ways we make history come alive and make it personal. These questions challenge kids and adults. They make history fun.

Come to a park historic site, or look around your home. What mysteries and puzzles can you uncover around you? What mysteries are you leaving behind for future historians?

Written by Geoffrey Cohrs, historic interpreter and site coordinator, Huntley Meadows Park

Find more information about Fairfax County Park Authority historic sites, Historic Huntley, and historic rental sites.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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