Enter a park, and your senses respond. You feel something – calm, excited, relaxed, or invigorated. Vision and hearing intensify. You look to see what’s there – green trees, fluttering leaves, blushing/unfolding flowers, a gravel path, the playground swing, the flow of the river, the calm of the lake. Sometimes when you visit a nature or themed park, you miss the history of the place. You see the amenities. You see what is there. You miss what was there.
Step into the Frying Pan Farm Park Visitor Center and you’ll see an 1,800-square foot auditorium adorned with exposed beams crossing below a 26-foot high ceiling. It’s a modern facility with up-to-date amenities designed to host office gatherings, birthday parties, weddings or other social functions.
Gaze beyond the new floor and the modern upgrades into the building’s history. You’ll be impressed. At its heart and soul are the spirits of a preserved 19th century dairy barn and church.
The Ellmore family owned and operated farmland here from 1892 to 1945. Mary Cockerell Ellmore purchased a 50-acre farm in 1892, and both the barn and the house on the site were built that same year. The original barn had space for 14 cows and four horses. An addition built by the family sometime around 1928 expanded the building to 28 stalls.
The Ellmores operated the site as a dairy farm until 1945, when they sold it to Mason F. Smith, Jr. and Mary Peck Smith. The Smiths renamed the land Masonary Farm and continued the dairy operations for nine years.
The barn changed ownership three other times before the Chantilly Bible Church purchased the building and a little land around it in September 1984, and in 1988 the barn was converted into a church sanctuary. In the meantime, the Park Authority in 1960 acquired the nearby Old Floris Schoolhouse and surrounding land from the Fairfax County School Board. That was the beginning of the site’s historic preservation. The draft horses, chickens, peacocks, rabbits, sheep, goats, cows and pigs that were common dwellers of early 20th century farms became the new occupants of Kidwell Farm, the working farm section of Frying Pan Farm Park. The park’s mission became the re-creation of the working farm atmosphere of the 1920s to 1950s. In 2001, the Park Authority acquired the five-acre parcel that the Chantilly Bible Church owned, including the Ellmore farmhouse and barn.
In the fall of 2005, the barn was transformed into the Frying Pan Farm Park Visitor Center with office, library, classroom, meeting and rental space. An exhibit about the Floris Community and the area’s dairy history, titled “Dig Into the Past,” was added to the building in 2009.
The barn is part of Kidwell Farm’s glimpse into the patterns of family farming, an operation run by Mom, Dad, the children, and maybe a farmhand. The barn provided a loft for hay storage, a milking parlor, and stalls for draft horses, pigs, and any number of cattle, sheep and goats, and was used as needed for birthing or shelter during inclement weather. Other outbuildings at the site include the dairy, smokehouse, corn cribs, equipment sheds, a chicken house, an outhouse and various run-in sheds for livestock. The antique equipment shed houses horse-drawn and mechanized equipment, including several early 1900 Fordson, John Deere and Farmall tractors which are kept in working order.
The Moffett Blacksmith Shop, circa 1917, originally was located in the nearby town of Herndon. It stands at the farm entrance across from the kitchen garden. It’s fully operational, and volunteer staff occasionally help man the forge. Volunteers also tend the garden, assist with educational programs and with hayrides and special events throughout the year.
The next time you’re at Frying Pan Farm Park, step into the Visitor Center and its 1,800-square foot auditorium adorned with exposed beams crossing below a 26-foot high ceiling. Explore the exhibit room. Then look beyond the modern facility with its modern amenities, and gaze back into its history. Perhaps you’ll feel a sense of the park’s heart and soul.
Frying Pan Farm Park is located at 2739 West Ox Road in Herndon, Va.
Article researcher Nancy Saunders is the Historian Assistant at Frying Pan Farm Park. Author David Ochs is the Park Authority’s Manager of Stewardship Communications.