Monthly Archives: May 2016

What’s It Take to Keep a Carousel Goin’ ‘Round?

CarouselSpringFrying Pan Farm Park’s beloved carousel is up and running again after some much needed maintenance.

With the carousel typically shut down for the season from early December until mid-March, winter was a good time to spruce up the park’s antique carousel, which has become quite popular since it was moved to Frying Pan from Lee District Park in 2011. The carousel, just shy of its century birthday, was built in 1918 and featured hand-carved horses that were replaced after World War II. Since then, the simply named “Historic Carousel’’ has been “loved hard,’’ in the words of Park Manager Yvonne Johnson. Some of its components were replaced or repaired over the winter to make sure that children can continue to enjoy “this little piece of history” for years to come.

While safety checks are performed on the carousel every day and it is inspected every year, wooden components wear out over time and, as last season was ending, the decision was made that winter 2016 was a good time to do the needed work.

The horses themselves don’t look any different than they did a year ago. This project was all about the structure. Workmen didn’t find anything catastrophic, Johnson said, but the renovations turned out to be more extensive than originally planned. For example, Frying Pan was hoping to only replace a couple of pieces of decking, but ended up replacing the entire deck. The canopy also was replaced, due in large measure to damage from the elements. Also replaced was the wooden band that connects the sweeps to each other. The sweeps are like spokes in a wheel and jut outward from the center pole above the horses.

Frying Pan mechanic Eric Sumner said the biggest challenge was just the “enormity” of the project. He likened it to a “giant geometry project’’ with everything being cut at acute angles to make the full circle. The deck pieces also are “really, really heavy.’’  Components had to be taken indoors for servicing.   Luckily, the Frying Pan crew got a lot of help from Park Authority carpenter Bobby Smither, who built the new decks, from groundskeeper Ferlin Mathews and his Facility Maintenance crew, and from staff at nearby Lake Fairfax Park. The wood will dry out this summer season, and in the fall staff will stain the deck and paint the sweeps.

The carousel at Frying Pan Farm Park, one of five carousels in Park Authority parks, runs Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.

Author Lori K. Weinraub is a volunteer writer for the Park Authority and a former national journalist for The Associated Press.

Making Sure the Animals at Frying Pan Eat Their Veggies

cowsThe better the grass, the less feed that must be purchased for the animals at Frying Pan Farm Park, so this spring the pasture areas are getting some tender loving care.

Frying Pan Farm Park fences off fields where its cows, goats and sheep eat. After recent soil tests showed the pH level in the fields was lower than ideal – the reading was 5.5 with a preference of 6.2 – Farm Manager Paul Nicholson ordered lime. A lot of it. A ton of lime is being added per acre, and four acres are getting the treatment. Nicholson said lime is slow to work, so it will be a year before its full effect is seen, but grass is coming up, so that’s a good sign. Frying Pan hasn’t put down lime in at least five years, so it was time, Nicholson said.

The pasture area also was aerated and overseeded with a grass seed mix. The Frying Pan animals are partial to orchard grass, clover and perennial rye. At any given time, about 20 animals rely on the pastures for their nourishment, according to Nicholson, and they enjoy the clover and orchard grass.

Frying Pan also takes care of its pasture land by spreading manure and using Fly Predators, beneficial bugs that control flies naturally.  Fly Predators stop pest flies by taking over a fly’s cocoon, thereby killing immature pest flies. And if the grass gets too tall, staff mows it.

Park Manager Yvonne Johnson said it’s like growing a big salad for the animals. It’s important to assure the grass is nutritious for the animals, and growing the best grass requires healthy dirt. Johnson said high acidity is a problem east of the Mississippi River, so it’s common to add lime and is part of normal agricultural care in this part of the country.

Johnson pointed out that the more grass the animals eat, the less hay the park has to buy, and that means less work and reduced costs.

Kidwell Farm’s animals are free to see in the barns or in the fields. Frying Pan Farm Park is located at 2739 West Ox Road in Herndon, Va., and is open daily dawn to dusk. Kidwell Farm is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Author Lori K. Weinraub is a volunteer writer for the Park Authority and a former national journalist for The Associated Press.


On the National Register: Green Spring Gardens

Manor House exterior green Spring 2The Fairfax County Park Authority is taking part in the National Park Service’s (NPS) Preservation 50 celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the nation’s protection of America’s historic places by posting a series of blogs about county historic places on park land. The National Register of Historic Places, a part of NPS, was established in 1966. This series is based on information that appears in each site’s nomination to the National Register. The nomination forms give us a chance to look back and learn why the sites were considered to be significant historic places.

Fairfax County and Preservation 50   Green Spring Gardens

Farrand and Macomber

They were masters of landscape design and architectural style, and Green Spring Gardens is the only known time that they collaborated. That is one of the highlights explaining the significance of Green Spring Gardens in its 2003 nomination for the National Register of Historic Places.

The nomination form states, “Beatrix Farrand is recognized as a pioneer of American landscape design,” and she was the only female among the founders of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Her work includes Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown, Princeton University, Vassar, the University of Chicago and Oberlin College. She was a niece of author Edith Wharton. Green Spring was one of the last commissions of her life and her only garden in Virginia.

Walter Macomber was a 20th century architect who was involved with the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg and who spent 30 years as the resident architect of Mount Vernon. Noted for his skills with Colonial Revival, he also was the architect for the State Department Reception Rooms in Washington, and he renovated and redesigned old houses for private owners. One of the houses he renovated was the brick house at Green Spring.

The house is, by itself, significant because it is one of the few rural homes in Fairfax County that remains from the late 18th century. Although renovated in 1942 in Colonial Revival style, the exterior still has chimney, brickwork and other architectural characteristics of the Colonial period.

Green Spring’s History 

The land at Green Spring first appears in historic records of 1706. Some of the owners into the 1800s served in Fairfax County’s government, and the land was farmed for tobacco, wheat and corn. Orchards and dairy farms appeared in the early 1800s, and a map from 1861 shows four taverns on the property along Little River Turnpike. In 1878, the land was purchased by a member of Mosby’s Raiders in Civil War days, Fountain Beattie, who converted the third floor garret level into bedrooms with dormer windows.

The land passed through several other owners in subsequent years including, fortunately, Minnie Whitesell. Archival photos show that the house was in poor shape when she bought the property in 1931 and, against advice to demolish the house, she renovated it and subdivided the property.

Michael and Belinda Straight bought the house along with 33 acres in 1942 and commissioned the work by Farrand and Macomber. Michael Straight was the editor and publisher of The New Republic and the deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Belinda Straight was a child psychologist. The Green Spring nomination says, “The Straights entertained guests of national and international importance,” including authors Aldous Huxley and Saul Bellow, poet Dylan Thomas, Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, and one-time vice president Hubert Humphrey.

The Design’s National Significance

Change, as always, was coming. By 2000, many historic sites had tossed aside the Colonial Revival style and replaced it with historically accurate architecture and design. Private homes displaying the style were routinely redesigned, and much of the area around Green Spring was significantly altered.

As the nomination says, “The area within the cited boundary is the only remnant of the historical property that retains the integrity to justify listing on the National Register.” At Green Spring Gardens, “The work of Walter Macomber and Beatrix Farrand survives for future historical reference.”


Green Spring Gardens is located at 4603 Green Spring Road in Alexandria. More information about the park is on the Green Spring Gardens website.

As part of Preservation 50, visitors to the Fairfax County Government Center at 12000 Government Center Parkway in Fairfax can see an exhibit case in the building’s lobby. The exhibit, a partnership of the Fairfax County Park Authority and the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ), showcases some of the 59 county properties and districts that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. 

The Park Authority and DPZ host two symposia this year on the impact of the National Historic Preservation Act on Fairfax County. The first, “Setting the Stage for Local Preservation,” will bring together historic preservation professionals who have played roles in the National Historic Preservation Act on a federal and/or state level. It will be held on April 16, 2016, at the James Lee Center, 2855 Annandale Road in Falls Church, Va. The second symposium will explore grassroots results of how the Act has affected local historic preservation.  The date and place of that fall symposium are not yet confirmed.


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



Making Memories of Someone Else’s Wedding

Courtesy of Virginia Room - Fairfax County Public Library. Photo taken at Huntley. Maggie’s brother, Albert Harrison, is in the middle. Her husband Joseph Norman Gibbs in the back.

Courtesy of Virginia Room – Fairfax County Public Library. Photo taken at Huntley. Maggie’s brother, Albert Harrison, is in the middle. Her husband Joseph Norman Gibbs in the back.

 Explore an exhibit of memorabilia from a wedding held 130 years ago

Ever been to a wedding? Think of the memories you carry from it. Now imagine experiencing the memories of Margaret Harrison Gibb’s May wedding day in a very different era.

On May 27, 1886, Margaret Harrison married Joseph Norman Gibbs at Historic Huntley, an 1825 house resting on a hill with lovely views of the Hybla Valley and beyond to the Potomac River. Mementos of that wedding are on display in a temporary exhibit at Historic Huntley now until May 21. Information and items relevant to her family’s dairy farm are also on display.

A book on marriage given to the young couple and a congratulatory telegram are included in the exhibit, as is a dance card Margaret kept to remember an even earlier May day. Carried via a delicate cord wrapped around her wrist, the card listed all of the dances and the names of the young men who claimed them. Future husband J. Norman Gibbs competed with E. A. Thompson for Margaret’s attention and the opportunity to dance quadrilles with her.

Maggie, as Margaret was called by her family, was a young woman who reached beyond the confines of her family’s farm in Fairfax by joining, at age 17, the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle. Books in the exhibit reflect her explorations into the worlds of history, literature and science. Margaret’s Chautauqua membership card is part of the display.

Maggie’s interest in books was encouraged at a young age by her aunts who gave her books of children’s stories. Aunt Molly gave her the slim volume included in the exhibit, Grace Greenwood’s Recollections of Childhood. Greenwood was the first female correspondent for the New York Times, a staunch advocate for the abolition of slavery and for women’s rights. Was Aunt Molly intending to encourage an independent spirit with Greenwood’s stories of adventurous girls who could never keep their dresses tidy?

Items regarding the Harrison dairy farm are also included in the exhibit. Thompson Francis Mason, attorney, politician, and grandson of patriot George Mason, built Huntley as a summer country retreat from his busy life in Alexandria. For Angeline and Albert Harrison, however, Huntley was a year-round home and their family farm. Initially, they grew wheat and other grain crops but soon switched over to dairy farming. Fairfax would eventually become Virginia’s leading producer of dairy products.

The Harrisons found practical and social support among a community of New Jersey Quaker families that had migrated to the Alexandria area before the Civil War. They organized the Woodlawn Agricultural Society and the Woodlawn Housekeeping Society, and they shared in the reports on dairying methods, how to raise chickens, and the best recipes for pound cake. There were also agricultural fairs and excursions on the Potomac.

Within the circle of transplanted northerners, romances sometimes bloomed. Joseph Norman Gibbs, Margaret’s husband, was the son of one of the early Quaker families that moved from New Jersey. Like Maggie, Norman had aspirations slightly outside conventional farm life. Two years before he married Margaret, Norman asked the Ladies’ Mount Vernon Association if he could build a lunch counter outside the gates of Mount Vernon. Gibbs’ family members operated the business into the 1920s.

Maggie and Norman never had children of their own, and none of Maggie’s siblings married. The items that once belonged to Margaret that are on display at Historic Huntley are part of a generous donation from Susan Hellman, a descendant of the Gibbs family. Ms. Hellman has given all of us a tangible connection to a past Fairfax County.

Historic Huntley is located at 6918 Harrison Lane, Alexandria VA, 22306, near Huntley Meadows Park. The house is open Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tours begin at 10:30 a.m., 12 noon and 1:30 p.m. A Twilight Tour closes the Maggie Harrison exhibit on May 21 at 7:30 p.m. Call 703 768-2525 for further information.

Author Cheryl-Ann Repetti is the Historical Interpreter and Site Coordinator of Historic Huntley.

Gardening with Your Dog

3aI adore gardening, and I love my dog. Fifteen years ago I retired with two goals. One was to learn more to enhance my townhouse garden, and the other was to get a dog. Fast forward 15 years, and I have a 14-and-a-half year-old toy poodle named Chocolat, and I have become a Green Spring Master Gardener. My garden is still a work in progress, and sweet Chocolat is my constant companion while I design, dig, prune, water and putter. When I was taking classes at Green Spring and studying at home, I also was learning about gardening with my best friend. A book I found helpful was Cheryl Smith’s Dog Friendly Gardens-Garden Friendly Dogs.

2aThe Master Gardener mantra is “Right Plant-Right Place.” This could not be more accurate for sharing the garden with our furry friends. Dogs like to investigate and trot around plants. If you’re into training, teach “stay out of the beds.” Chocolat learned this very early. If you find yourself more tolerant of dog garden exploration, plant vigorous plants. Try, for example, coneflowers, black-eyed Susans, liriope, or Mexican primrose. A few tough shrubs include Pieris, laurel, and viburnum. Hollies and barberry are prickly bushes that might discourage some dogs. Do not plant any variety with sharp thorns or points. They might injure a dog’s eyes. If you have a specific plant question, find a Master Gardener at a Fairfax County Farmer’s Market or on Saturdays at Green Spring Gardens.

While you garden, stop and play with your dog. Provide him/her with outside toys. If you have space, give him a section to dig. Teach your dog to defecate in a specific area. Pick up fecal matter as quickly as possible to keep your dog healthy and to discourage rodents. I learned not to weed in front of Chocolat. She would copy my behavior and begin digging up flowers. Container gardens can be a good solution for pet friendly gardens.

5aEco-Savvy gardening was a big part of the Master Gardener classes. I now always use nontoxic products. If you share the garden with your animal, you really need to be strictly organic. The National Institutes of Health found that canine lymphoma is significantly elevated in dogs exposed to lawn pesticides. Using cocoa mulch also can be harmful to your pet.

Last summer I thought the squirrels were eating my strawberries until I noticed Chocolat happily nibbling them off the bush. I shared this with a Master Gardener friend who told me her Golden Retriever loved raspberry canes. Chocolat is only five pounds, so she did leave some strawberries for the squirrels. The humans in the house got very few. I will put in more plants this season.

1aDo not leave your dog unsupervised in the garden. In our house, a big dog is called a “real” dog. Chocolat is tiny. She can’t be left alone because the neighborhood Cooper’s hawk finds her fascinating. He often flies low to investigate her. If you have a real dog, leaving him alone will probably encourage digging. Being in the garden with him can stop the digging before he makes a mess and thinks that it’s all fun and games.

A great deal of bonding can take place when you’re out in the yard with your four-legged friend. So get your plants and pet and enjoy the time outdoors.


Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Master Gardener.


Delicate and Refined: An Orchid

pink ladys slipperThey are rare, they are fickle, they are picky, they are beautiful, and we have them in our parks. The frustrating thing is, we can’t really tell everybody where they are because, well, folks steal them. Worse yet, when they are transplanted they usually die because they require specific, exacting environmental conditions for survival. Change anything about the soil, water or light and the plant dies. So the theft is pointless, even from the thief’s point of view.

They are pink lady’s slippers, a type of orchid, and if you know what to look for they are a joy to find. The staff at Hidden Oaks Nature Center recently was in contact with a patron over concerns for a group of the flowers growing within sight of a busy park facility. Park staff has been aware of them for more than ten years,

Over those years, we have been counting flowers and checking to see if there has been evidence of collecting or picking. Fortunately, we have not found that the flowers have been disturbed, even though a number of the blooms are in proximity to a very heavily used recreational area. We typically check about three or four times a week during the blooming season.

Staff has discussed the idea of roping off the site with Bob Stevenson, who oversees park maintenance and care of athletic fields in that part of the county, but the feeling is that adding ropes would create more of an attention draw than protection of the area. The main stand of flowers in that area is, fortunately, under trees, back a few feet from open grass. For the last decade, staff purposefully has not trimmed pine trees that stand between the flowers and the frequented facility so as to visually block the area of the pink lady’s slippers. This has discouraged people from sitting or walking in that area. Stevenson also does not want to post any signage, again not wanting to draw attention to the flowers.

We are fascinated by this beautiful flower, and years ago Hidden Oaks had the opportunity to host one of the plant’s leading researchers, Dr. Douglas Gill from the University of Maryland. He noted that a patch of lady’s slippers in Annandale Community Park was diminishing due to the natural succession of the surrounding forest, which was in transition from evergreen to deciduous. For the last six years or so, we have not found a bloom in that park.

According to Dr. Gill, the pink lady’s slippers are unusual in that the plant can go dormant for up to, and possibly more than, 20 years. The amount of light, ability of the seed to connect with the proper rhizomes, plus other growing conditions will affect the number of blooms we see each year. Unlike many other plants, a healthy stand may not increase in number each year even in the best conditions. Orchids have a surprisingly challenging process to go from pollination to a new bloom. In the best case scenario, a pollinated seed may take six to ten years to even produce leaves. Hopefully, the reduced number of blooms we have noticed at another particular park is due to many of the plants going dormant and they will bloom again.

Protecting our natural resources is one responsibility of the Park Authority. Another is connecting people to nature. This situation would appear to create a conflict in those goals, but there is a way to see these beauties. Hidden Oaks has led pink lady’s slippers walks around Mother’s Day at one park annually since 2007, and even before that at Annandale Community Park.

This year, Hidden Oaks will hold a pink lady’s slipper walk on Saturday, May 7 at 2 p.m. Details are on our website. We welcome you to learn more about this glorious orchid.



Author Suzanne Holland is the Visitor Services Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale.

History by the Shovelful at Colvin Run Mill

Update: May 15, 2017


nails2Nailed it.

Renovations are underway at the Colvin Run Mill Historic Site’s miller’s house, and pleasant, historic surprises are being discovered. Consider this one an unintentional time capsule.

The house is getting new shingles, and it may not be surprising that nails were found during the renovation – but these nails from the building’s roof appear to be originals from the time of the house’s construction. The Park Authority’s Heritage Conservation Branch Manager, David Buchta, confirmed that when he examined them.

“They are all hand headed and appear to have been made from nail stock,” said Colvin Run Mill Site Manager Mike Henry.

Site Historian Kathryn Blackwell said the nail stock production likely came “at a time between hand-forged and machine made, so they’re a really interesting find!”

The conservation work at the Colvin Miller’s House by the Heritage Conservation Branch is nearing completion. “Exterior work includes a new cedar shingle roof, extensive masonry work, which removed inappropriate mortar applications, and new shutters,” Buchta said. “The interior work is highlighted by reinforcement of second floor joists, historically accurate painting, and re-created custom millwork for doors and moldings.”

May 2, 2016

CRM-Arch-WorkBiggest mole holes you’ve ever seen? Nope, just test pits being dug by Fairfax County Park Authority archaeologists in a new search to uncover the past at the Colvin Run Mill Historic Site.

Colvin Run’s main feature is a restored and working mill – a water-powered technological marvel built around 1811. But among the other structures on the site is the Miller’s House, home to the families that operated the mill. In 2011, a formal Historic Structures Report for the house identified problems with the structure and recommended steps needed to preserve and maintain the facility for generations to come.

Funded by bond money, that treatment plan is now set to be implemented. One of the proposed improvements is the installation of a ramp that will allow mobility-impaired patrons to experience the building. Because installation will disturb the ground at the historic site, archaeology began on the property before work commences. Swinging into action, archaeologists Alisa Pettitt and Jonathan Mayes from the Park Authority’s Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch mapped a grid around the house and began to dig.


Documenting every shovelful of earth they turned, the team conducted a systematic search around the house, uncovering artifacts and clues as they went. More than two dozen shovel test pits were opened and explored. Combining the information they uncover with historic documents, the archaeologists will be able to piece together some of the activities that occurred at the Miller’s House. Their work will reveal any past features that might be present and, hopefully, provide data that will both assist in the restoration and interpretation of the building.

So what did they find?

During excavations at the house, archaeologists discovered intact features and an intact soil layer that had not been impacted by modern activities. Although most of the artifacts recovered from tests were architectural, such as bricks, nails, and window glass, there were several unique finds. A ceramic doll arm, discovered on the east side of the house, evoked images of a young child playing in the yard on a spring morning. A piece of lead shot from the west side of the house called to mind hunting activities. A small fragment of Jackfield ceramic, which dates to the late 18th or early 19th century, was usually made in the form of coffee or tea services, suggesting an important activity of the time.  The excavation, analysis and preservation of these and other artifacts offer a window into the lives of the folks who lived and worked at this historic mill.

While the final analysis and report has yet to be written, the process of uncovering fragments of the past has added an additional sense of excitement to the restoration project. The story of the Miller’s House and its generations of inhabitants will continue to unfold one shovelful of clues at a time.

Colvin Run Mill Historic Site is located at 10017 Colvin Run Road in Great Falls, VA.


Author Mike Henry is the Site Manager at Colvin Run Mill. Co-author Dr. Elizabeth Crowell is the Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch Manager for the Park Authority.