The Walney Workbooks: Now On Exhibit

How did they feed a nation 160 years ago without the equipment we have today? Here’s your chance to read a farm’s history if a farm could write its own diary.

The Walney workbooks provide detailed information about the daily operations of the Machen farm from 1849 to 1854.

The Walney workbooks provide detailed information about the daily operations of the Machen farm from 1849 to 1854.

At Ellanor C. Lawrence Park rest the workbooks of Walney — historic, hidden gems within Fairfax County that reveal what life on a farm was like during the 19th century.

The Walney workbooks were donated to Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in 1994 by descendants of Lewis H. Machen, who in 1843 purchased Walney, a farm once located within the boundaries of the present day park. Machen was a clerk for the United States Senate until 1859 and, as a result, did not spend much time at Walney while the Senate was in session. He left the daily operation of the farm to his sons, Arthur and James Machen. However, Lewis was an avid record keeper, and he logged the daily operations of Walney in workbooks, one of which is bound in an old congressional act.

The Walney workbooks provide detailed information about the daily operations of the farm from 1849 to 1854. Recorded inside are the names of the overseers, the farm’s white, hired hands, and rented enslaved African Americans, including several mentioned by name — Mr. William Thompson, Henry, John, and William among others. The workbooks also record who completed which tasks each day, weather conditions, who went to market, when crops were harvested, and even when Peruvian guano was spread in the fields as fertilizer.

The workbooks are a treasure trove of information about the Machen family, their everyday life at Walney, and the day-to-day operations of the farm, all of which provide insight into the lives of Fairfax County citizens in the mid-19th century.

This winter, one of the Machen workbooks will be displayed for the first time in Ellanor C. Lawrence Park’s new exhibit, Harvest Time at Walney, at Walney Visitor Center. The exhibit will be open to the public from November 12, 2014, through January 2015.

Author Paige Gibbons is a Fairfax County Park Authority historian. Research for the blog was based on an examination of the workbooks and information from the agency’s museum collection accession files. Walney Visitor Center is inside E.C. Lawrence Park at 5040 Walney Road in Chantilly, Va. 

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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 for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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