Monthly Archives: June 2016

Making Sure Plants, Animals and Artifacts Get Top Level Care

Every once in a while, you sit back, look around a room and think, “These walls need a fresh coat of paint.” There’s nothing really wrong with the wall. It just needs a touchup.

That’s going on in the Park Authority. The Fairfax County Park Authority Board recently reviewed the policies that govern how we take care of our museum and archaeological collections and how we take care of the live plants and animals that are on exhibit at some of our historic sites and nature centers. The Park Board also reviewed and adopted an update to the agency’s Institutional and Professional Code of Ethics for Museum Operations.

Strawberries & Cream Witch Hazel

Strawberries & Cream Witch Hazel

This isn’t just government office paper shuffling. There are good reasons for these actions. As Cultural Resource Protection Branch Manager Dr. Elizabeth Crowell explained, accreditation with the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) requires that the Park Authority have a formal collections policy approved by its board. Accreditation from the AAM is assurance to county residents of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s commitment to, and demonstration of, the professional standards for education, public service and collections care. Crowell noted, “It’s the proof that we’re doing the job the way it’s supposed to be done.”

“The new policy is far more in-depth that the previous policy,” Crowell said, adding that it is appropriate to what AAM requires. Sully Historic Site and Colvin Run Mill were first accredited in 1979, then reaccredited in 1990. In 2002, Green Spring Gardens joined Sully and Colvin Run as accredited AAM sites. “The reason for the updates is that we are seeking reaccreditation for all those sites, plus Frying Pan, and all collections – historic, archaeological, and live plants and animals,” said Heritage Resource Specialist Megan Leining. Combined, Leining said, they are now considered a museum system.

Another reason for the updated policies is that the Park Board first passed a collections code of ethics in 2000. Reviewing and reaffirming the code today reconfirms its value. Since there has been substantial turnover in members of the Board over the past 16 years, this update confirms that the current board approves and supports the ethics code. The AAM Code of Ethics for Museums is online.

The revisions to the policy that governs the handling of exhibit animals “brings the live collections format in line with the industry standard version that is used for the Historic Objects & Archaeology collections,” said Ellanor C. Lawrence Park Manager John Shafer, who worked on the updating. “These revisions are being done to comply with the requirements for the four park sites that are seeking re-accreditation or initial accreditation through AAM,” he said. Those park sites include Frying Pan Farm Park, which has farm animal collections, and Green Spring Gardens, which has living, nationally-significant plant collections. Shafer said the Park Authority’s policy that governs live collections was expanded in this update from covering just animals to now including plants.

“Previously, the collections policy for plants was documented as a plant collections guideline, instead of as policy for FCPA,” said Green Spring Gardens Manager Mary Olien.

So the Park Authority is updating its policies to assure that our employees are using the best practices known for taking care of the historic and archaeological collections, plants and exhibit animals in county parks. It’s how the Park Authority assures county residents that we’re doing our job the right way. 

The formal name of the park policies that were reviewed are Policy 206 Museum and Archaeological Collections with Appendix 15 and Policy 207 – Live Collections Management with Appendix 16. They can be seen in the Fairfax County Park Authority Policy Manual.

 

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

 

 

On the National Register: Historic Huntley

The 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. 
Historic-Huntley017

Fairfax County and Preservation 50

Historic Huntley

It was next door to George Washington’s home.

Land adjacent to Mount Vernon belonged to the Mason family, and there is a house overlooking much of that land. It was built for Thomson Francis Mason, a grandson of George Mason, who drafted the Constitution of Virginia and its Declaration of Rights. Many of George Mason’s words appear in the U-S Bill of Rights that Congress passed 15 years later.

The land owned by George Mason was flat, suitable for farming. His grandson expanded the family’s holdings in 1820 by acquiring the nearby hill that provided an expansive view, and he built a house there because, in the words of author Dorothy Troth Muir, “Virginia gentlemen built their homes on top of hills.”

“When George Washington was in residence at Mount Vernon, he would take regular rides up through his Dogue Run Farm (part of which is now Huntley Meadows Park),” said Huntley Meadows History Interpreter Cheryl-Ann Repetti. “Imagining him riding through the woodlands and fields that once extended all the way down to Mount Vernon is neat.” The house on the hill had a view overlooking it all.

The house is called Huntley, probably named after a family ancestral home in Scotland called “Huntly,” without the E. The Mason home in Alexandria, the one with the E, was built around 1820 – tax records indicate 1825 — and was nominated for a place in the National Register of Historic Places in March 1972. This blog is based on that nomination, and it gives us a chance to look back and learn why the site was considered in the first place to be a significant historic place.

At the time of the nomination, Historic Huntley was a private residence owned by Col. and Mrs. Ransom G. Amlong. It had undergone a Historic American Building Survey in 1969 and was considered significant because of its Early Federal Period architecture and its connection to American history.

Thomson Francis Mason was born at Gunston Hall in 1785 and grew up at Hollin Hall, the home built by his father. He and his family owned several houses, and Huntley was a secondary house for him. Huntley was on a productive farm, and the site included a tenant house (which subsequent research suggests was built in 1827, probably for the overseer), an ice house, a springhouse, a root cellar and a necessary.

The nomination form says the house called Huntley “was constructed with a refinement and individuality very much in keeping with the Mason family’s remarkable building tradition.” There are indications that a trained architect was involved in the home’s design, notably because of its placement on the hill. It sits near the top of a hill with a view of several miles over the Hybla Valley and on to the Potomac River. The home is built not at the very top of the hill, but into the hillside. A full basement was constructed under the structure, which compensated for the degree of slant on the hillside, and all of the parts of the building work together quite well. The nomination points out that outside roof and pavilion designs, as well as the style of the interior rooms, reflect a sophistication and knowledge of advanced early 19th century architecture. Author Tony P. Wrenn argues that Huntley’s design is similar to designs of George Hadfield, a significant architect of the day. Hadfield served as superintendent of the Capitol and helped design Washington City Hall and Arlington House, the one-time home of Robert E. Lee that stands as a central point in Arlington National Cemetery.

Mason began building Huntley a few years after marrying Elizabeth C. Price of Leesburg in 1817. He was a prominent lawyer and, in the 1820s, played a key part in the efforts that led to the separation of Alexandria from the District of Columbia. He later served two terms as Alexandria’s mayor.

Upon his death in 1839, Huntley passed to Mason’s widow who kept it for the next 20 years before it was transferred to two of Mason’s sons as security on a debt to a family friend. In 1868, Albert W. Harrison shared partial title to the house, and by 1871 he was listed as the farm’s sole owner. The National Register nomination form notes that a correspondent for the Syracuse Journal in 1875 wrote, “The house stands boldly on a hill spur, looking over broad acres of corn, rye, wheat, oats and fertile meadow—a site to see. Beyond, in plain vision, rolls the Potomac.” Harrison died in 1911, and the property passed to his heirs. Historic Huntley today is located on Harrison Lane, just outside Huntley Meadows Park.

Wrenn, the author, wrote of Huntley: “It survives as a notable example of early nineteenth century architecture; as an example of a farm or country house of an early nineteenth century city dweller; as a Mason family house and as part of a well sited and relatively complete complex. When considered together, these factors make Huntley an important architectural landmark.”

Historic Huntley is located at 6918 Harrison Lane in Alexandria. More information is on the Historic Huntley 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.

 

On the National Register: Sully Historic Site

The 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. 

sully-exterior-spring-2015

Fairfax County and Preservation 50 

Sully Historic Site

There’s a sense of gratitude and wonderment as you hold a few pieces of paper and read the several paragraphs on it that were written just over 45 years ago. The gratitude is for the time taken to write those words. You wonder if the author had any idea that someone would read them nearly a half-century later.

The words are on a National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form that was submitted on December 18, 1970, to the National Park Service by Dr. Edward P. Alexander, the chairman of the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. There are eight paragraphs, and the nomination form suggests they were probably written by someone on the staff of James W. Moody, Jr., the director of the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. Along with those eight paragraphs are basic site information, latitude and longitude coordinates, notes about the significant architecture and condition of the property, a map, bibliographical references, notes on preparers and the certification that completes the six-page nomination.

The nomination submitted in December 1970 was for Sully Historic Site, the home of Richard Bland Lee, Northern Virginia’s first congressman. The site was listed on the nomination form simply as Sully. It is one of Fairfax County’s 59 properties and districts today listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Although the 1970 application is cited in National Register records, there is evidence that Eleanor Lee Templeman, the great-great granddaughter of Richard Bland Lee, wrote to the Department of the Interior in January 1961 requesting Sully be recognized as a historic site. The acting director of the Department of the Interior replied that staff was “generally familiar with Sully’s history and architecture,” adding that “the Historic American Buildings Survey…has recently completed measured drawings of the structure.” Further studies were completed later that same year.

In 1971, in a letter to Interior’s Chief of the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, Templeman wrote, “Gentlemen: I wish to express my delight and appreciation that at long last, my great-great-grandfather’s home in Fairfax County has been approved for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.” She noted in her letter that she had not been notified, learning of the registration “only through the grapevine, followed by my personal request to your office.”

The 1970 nomination form says that Sully had public buildings with restricted access. The buildings today are open for tours, and the site has a museum. In 1936, a federal Historic American Buildings Survey was conducted at Sully. The main building, which was the house of Richard Bland Lee, was in good condition, unaltered, and stood on its original site as it does today. Upon seeing it near completion, Lee’s father-in-law said of Sully, “It is a very clever house, has an elegant hall 12 feet wide and a handsome staircase and two very pretty rooms on the first floor.”

The nomination notes that Sully was built in 1794 as “a three-part frame farmhouse set on a foundation of local brown sandstone.” It mentions a side hall plan, two brick chimneys, the gable roof, an east wing that was added in 1799, and a west wing added as a kitchen in the 1840s. Also highlighted is “the original one-story porch or ‘piazza’ on the south side, which has handsome scrolled work beneath the eaves and is supported on fluted square columns,” and the building’s center section, where “nearly all the beaded clapboarding and the window sash is original.”

Most of the original woodwork at the time was in the house’s earlier, center section, including mantels, floors, chair rails and baseboards. The handsome mantels, noted in the nomination, appeared to be adapted from a 1750 publication of Betty Langley’s The City and Country Builder’s and Workman’s Treasury of Designs. The hall retained its original staircase that rose all the way to the attic.

An assortment of outbuildings is mentioned in the nomination, including a log cabin thought to have been built in 1745 and later converted into a kitchen when the main house was built. Also listed are the site’s smokehouse and a stone building built around 1800, possibly as a home for the farm’s overseer. Through archaeological research, we now know that the 1745 cabin was actually the original kitchen, built sometime around 1794. We also now know that the stone building was the site’s dairy.

Over the past 40 years, staff also has learned much about the slaves and indentured servants who were at Sully. There are records revealing an inventory of slaves, their names and functions and, in some cases, letters referencing the sale of slaves.

Richard Bland Lee built Sully. He was a younger brother of “Light Horse” Harry Lee and an uncle of Robert E. Lee, and Richard eventually became Northern Virginia’s first congressman, a member of the First Federal congress from Northern Virginia. The congress was held at that time in Philadelphia. Though the original application says that while at Sully, Lee played host to prominent visitors such as James and Dolley Madison as well as George Washington, we’re no longer certain that Dolley Madison or Washington were there. We do know that James Madison was a visitor, as were a grandson of Benjamin Franklin and former Virginia Governor General Light Horse Harry Lee.

Lee sold Sully to a cousin in 1811, and it passed out of the Lee family at auction in 1839. After a series of private owners, the Federal Aviation Agency acquired Sully in 1957 with plans to burn it in preparation for the building of, what is now, Dulles International Airport. A special act of Congress forbade its destruction and stated it should be preserved as a museum. Sully underwent a full restoration of the main house and outbuildings in 1974-75 to bring the appearance of the buildings back to 1794, and a grand re-opening was held in September 1975.

In accordance with that act of Congress stating that Sully be preserved as a museum, it remains so today.

 

Sully Historic Huntley is located at 3650 Historic Sully Way in Chantilly. More information is on the Sully Historic Site 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.

 

 

ISO Draft Horses at Frying Pan Farm Park

DanTraining1Wanted for long, caring relationship. Seeking big, strong animal, yet warm, tender, and good with children. Will provide loving home and lots of good meals. You have a tough act to follow.

It has been six months since the death of the last of the two draft horses at Frying Pan Farm Park’s Kidwell Farm, and the search continues for a team of horses to replace Jesse, who passed last year, and Michael, who died in 2013. Particularly after Michael’s death, Jesse was one of the farm’s most popular attractions.

Prior to Jesse’s death, Frying Pan had draft horses for more than three decades. The park uses draft horses to pull wagon rides and other antique farm equipment for demonstrations. They fit well under Frying Pan’s mission to preserve a piece of Fairfax County’s rural heritage on the working demonstration farm. Kidwell Farm recreates the era from 1920 to 1950, when family dairy farms blanketed the county landscape.

Although Michael and Jesse had not been doing much work for the past few years, they were still popular with children and adults alike. “These animals were beloved,’’ said Park Manager Yvonne Johnson.  Up until his death, Jesse still wanted to be petted and scratched.

The search for a new team began after Jesse’s death so as not to upset him, Johnson said. Jesse was 35 when he died, and it took a lot of work to care for him. Johnson said the park is committed to taking care of the draft horses for life, even after they can no longer work.

No one at the park knows how long it will take to find the right team. The ideal draft team will be a well-broken duo of geldings between 7 and 12 years old, able to work for 15 years, added Farm Manager Paul Nicholson.

The horses have to be able to pull wagons, take part in demonstrations and work in the crop fields. They must be comfortable around children and be able to tolerate noises and lots of activity. And they have to be in top-notch physical condition, so retired horses need not apply.

Frying Pan is looking in the Amish community, scouring livestock auctions and networking. Nicholson said two other parks in the region also are looking for draft horses, and they are sharing resources.

Johnson said, “This is a big deal, a major undertaking. Kids get very attached to the horses.” They are one of the few animals the farm keeps long term, and the staff is looking for a young healthy team that can handle the rigors of a working farm. That’s not easy to find.

DanTraining2

In the meantime, park staffers are being retrained to work with a team because it’s been a few years since they’ve had working horses.

The fields, stalls and wagons are ready. “We’re just waiting for the right team,’’ Nicholson said.

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

Not Here! It’s Just Not Safe

noswim002Is swimming allowed at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve? The short answer is no.

There’s no doubt that wading or swimming in a river or stream can be relaxing, invigorating, refreshing and sometimes, all of those at once. It’s fun – but it’s not safe or responsible to do in the Potomac Gorge.

The Potomac Gorge is special, probably more special than most folks in the Washington area realize. It’s one of the rarest biological ecosystems in the mid-Atlantic. The gorge is a 15-mile stretch from Riverbend Park in Great Falls down to Theodore Roosevelt Island near Georgetown. There are floodplains, rocky cliffs, and narrow valleys within the gorge, carved over eons by the erosive forces of the Potomac River. It is a dynamic union of rocks and river that is home to many unusual plants and animals along with unusual combinations of some species.

Scott’s Run, a part of the Gorge, was named for the large stream that flows through the park’s western edge. Thousands of hikers each year experience its scenic beauty, rugged trails, and dense forests. Designated as a nature preserve, the entire area and all of its resources are protected, including the creeks and streams.

The beauty of the Gorge’s carved valley, though, can be deceptive. The water’s thunderous power is obvious at one of the gorge’s feature attractions, the cascades and falls at Great Falls National Park. But that’s not the only place along the river’s run that the gorge creates quick, dangerous currents and underwater hazards.

FFXwater-rescue

Rescue in Scotts Run, June 2015

With the large creek flowing through its western end and the Potomac River bordering its north edge, Scott’s Run inspires in some visitors the idea of swimming or wading, particularly on a warm summer day. But swimming or wading in the park is illegal and dangerous. Yet the perception of Scott’s Run as a safe swimming hole persists, fueled by social media posts of people on rocks around the creek and near its low waterfall.

The falls where Scott’s Run spills into the Potomac is the preserve’s most visited and scenic spot. The creek’s beauty and often clear water mask its flashy nature. Within minutes, the stream can transform from tranquil to torrential. Scott’s Run originates near Tyson’s, in one of the highest spots in Fairfax County. During rainstorms, all the water that falls on roof tops and parking lots enters the stream rapidly and rushes only four miles before it reaches the nature preserve. This can create a dangerous situation in a short time for anybody in the water.

Fairfax County Park Authority regulation 1.21 states that swimming, bathing, and wading are prohibited in parkland bodies of water. That includes streams, creeks, ponds, and lakes on Fairfax County Park Authority property. Deceptive currents and submerged rocks can create hazardous situations. The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department website says 72 percent of the department’s river-related response incidents are shoreline-based activities, not boating incidents. In addition, entering the water degrades banks and increases erosion, which affects water quality.

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is one of the most beautiful, alluring, remarkable parks of the Fairfax County Park Authority. It’s just a gorgeous place to be. We want you to visit, be a good steward of its resources, and enjoy this special place responsibly.

We also want you to arrive safe and sound at home after your visit.

 

Author John Callow is the Manager of Riverbend Park, which sits a short distance upstream from Scott’s Run Nature Preserve.