Monthly Archives: December 2017

CYA’s Ralph Wills Remembered Fondly

By William Bouie, Chairman, Park Authority Board

ralph-willisIt is with great sadness that we share the news that Ralph Wills died on Monday, December 18, 2017. Chantilly Youth Association reports that he died peacefully with his family by his side, and for that I am grateful. Ralph was one of those guys who just did what needed to be done and did it with a smile and a handshake. All of us will miss him, but the people he touched; the countless kids will really feel the loss.

To the Fairfax County Park Authority Ralph was much more than President of the Chantilly Youth Association, a post he held since 1998. He was an effective member of the Green Team advocacy group that supported our park bonds and an active participant on the Athletic Council. For me, and other members of the Park Authority Board, it was much more personal. He was the type of person that left you wondering how you could be a better person; just like him. He was gregarious yet humble. He was direct but always kind. And he was a community leader in the old sense of the word, when individuals made a world of difference in very ordinary ways. Not that there was anything ordinary about Ralph.

ralph-willis-signOn November 7, 2015 the Park Authority named a field after him at Sully Highlands Park. It was the least we could do and it was a well-deserved honor. Rectangular Field #1 at Sully Highlands Park honored his many accomplishments as a community leader and youth sports advocate. He was active with the Chantilly Youth Association (CYA) since 1984. He served as president of CYA for decades, representing the interests of 13,000 players. Over the years, he coached youth and adult soccer and softball teams, as well as playing soccer, softball, baseball and volleyball. He worked with 56 teams during his service as Boys under 16 Commissioner for the Suburban Friendship League, also served as Senior Soccer Coordinator for CYA and as Soccer Coordinator.

Ralph had lots of titles, and lots of years on the field. He attended countless meetings of all types in order to get better facilities for kids, and athletes of all types. He was hands on and personally put out “Parks Yes” bond signs or pushed a single button, sending emails to thousands of families in support of Park Bonds. He advocated in front of elected officials for more money for parks. He believed in partnerships and friendships.

I understand that the Ralph Wills Memorial Fund will provide a means by which we can further ensure that his memory – particularly his love for kids and his commitment to making sports a part of their lives –is remembered. For details about the fund and for information about services, visit the CYA website at

I know that the world is much better place because of Ralph Wills. He was effective and tenacious. In the words of the legendary Babe Ruth, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” Rest well Ralph.

On the National Register: Dranesville Tavern

Old_Tavern_(Dranesville)__11919_Leesburg_Pike_(moved_from_orig _location)_Herndon_vicinity_(Fairfax_Virginia)In the past, there were three types of taverns.

There were the truck stops, called wagon stands, which catered to teamsters.

Then there were the I-25 rest stops of the day – the stage coach taverns about a dozen or so miles apart — where a fresh relay of six-team horses would be available, maybe two or four teams at each tavern. Imagine riding from Fairfax to Kings Dominion and stopping every 12 miles to change engines and have a brew.

Finally, there were the stage coach centers that stabled 40 to 80 horses. The when-are-we-going-to-get-there, Mom-I-have-to-go-to-the-bathroom places. Fredericksburg on the Washington-to-Kings Dominion run.

Dranesville Tavern was the first type, a wagon stand. The truck drivers of the day who weaved supply wagons through the Piedmont region of Northern Virginia would frequent it. In the early 1800s, western Virginia was evolving from frontier woods into farmland. Turnpikes, heavily promoted by the federal government during the War of 1812, connected eastern cities to those farms and brought supplies to the settlers. Georgetown and Alexandria were centers of commerce shipping supplies west and providing ports for the products returning from the Shenandoah Valley. Dranesville Tavern was superbly located along the route from those cities to Leesburg and points west.

DVT kitchenThe building itself is a good example of three distinct 19th century building periods. It was originally a two-story log house joined to a one-story log kitchen. There were more alterations around 1850 when the building was enlarged and modernized, notably with the addition of a second floor above the kitchen and porches. Sometime around 1893 the rear porch was enclosed, and the front porch was enlivened with turned posts and scroll-work brackets.

Dranesville’s start as a notable Fairfax County commercial and social center began sometime in the early 19th century. Archaeological investigation indicates the tavern was probably built around 1823-1830 and, most likely, by Sanford Cockerille, who had previously purchased the land. In 1852, the tavern and 12 acres of land around it were transferred to George W. Jackson, and the place was called The Jackson Hotel. Indications are it did quite well as a business until the railroads arrived. That same federal support of transportation on turnpikes during the War of 1812 evolved into support for transportation on rail, and by 1836 trains were beginning to carry people and goods on a line to Harper’s Ferry. It was a preview of what happened again in the mid-20th century. The Jackson Hotel found itself isolated on a two-lane highway watching cars zip past nearby on a new interstate highway. Still, there was enough business for the Jenkins family, which owned the tavern from 1881 to 1968. A railroad through Herndon led to the economic decline of Dranesville.

dranesville-national registerDranesville Tavern’s nomination for the National Register of Historic Places says, “During George Jackson’s ownership at the time of the War Between the States, the tavern witnessed the flow of military activity which travelled the turnpike in support of the nearby battles. First and Second Manassas, the Battle of Ox Hill and the Battle of Dranesville all took place not far from the tavern.”

Jackson died shortly after the war, in 1868, and the tavern passed through a couple of other owners before being acquired by the Park Authority to prevent its destruction during a widening of the Leesburg Pike, Route 7. The tavern today does not sit on its original location. To preserve it, the building was moved about 100 feet south. Following its placement in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, Dranesville Tavern was restored. It opened to the public as a historic site in 1978.

The Fairfax County Park Authority acquired Dranesville Tavern in 1968 and restored it. It is located at 11919 Leesburg Turnpike in Herndon. More information is on the Dranesville Tavern website.

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