History Found Just Below the Surface

LAP corduroy road 6.9.2016bIf you look at all the roadways crisscrossing and checker boarding Fairfax County, any random 90 feet of asphalt and concrete would not stand out. But there is a section of roadway we know about that stands well above all other county roads because of its makeup and historical significance.

IMGP8206In June of 2016, the Archaeological and Collections Branch (ACB) of the Fairfax County Park Authority was notified of an archaeological discovery during a routine road maintenance project near an entrance to Lake Accotink Park. The earth had opened to reveal a 90-foot long section of corduroy road, a type of road made by placing sand-covered logs perpendicular to the direction of the road. They were constructed to support travelers over low or swampy areas, improving impassable mud or dirt roads. They helped, but they were rough even in the best of conditions. Loose logs were a hazard to horses.

County archaeologists immediately documented the road. Detailed notes were taken, and scale drawings created. The hand drawings were digitized and added to the Geographic Information System mapping layers maintained by the ACB. Archaeologists mapped the site using a surveyor’s total station so that its location would be recorded with a very high degree of accuracy. The ACB also updated records maintained by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

Corduroy RoadJust as in real estate, location is critical in archaeology. Based on the road’s proximity to other Civil War era sites and features, including the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, it is likely that this road was built in the middle 19th century around the time of the Civil War. Because the site was in a road project area, the best way to preserve it was to document it and then leave it in place. To better protect it, the road was capped by a layer of gravel prior to repaving of the existing road. Because of the documentation, future archaeologists and future maintenance personnel will know of its existence and can take appropriate steps to protect it. This particular road was found to be intact and is highly significant. It likely is eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

LAP corduroy road 6.9.2016cDiscovery of such a well-preserved road is a rare find, and this wasn’t the first such discovery in Fairfax County. Less than a year earlier, construction crews made a similar find on Ox Road near George Mason University.

“I didn’t think I would ever see one (corduroy road),” said Fairfax County Park Authority Senior Archaeologist Chris Sperling, who oversees the Park Authority’s archaeological efforts and worked on both corduroy road sites. “Discovery of two in less than a year is unheard of.”

Get an in-depth look at corduroy roads and their importance to Fairfax County in this video interview with Sperling.

The ACB serves numerous roles in the preservation of Fairfax County’s heritage resources.  The office reviews development plans in the county, coordinates protection of cultural resources for federal projects, and conducts field excavations that comply with local, state, and federal policies and laws. Recovered artifacts are processed in a laboratory facility in Falls Church. Approximately three million artifacts and documents are in the county’s archaeological repository.  

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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 https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

2 thoughts on “History Found Just Below the Surface

  1. Liz Hart

    This is a comment for Chris Sperling, offered on 11/6/19. Chris, when I was a child growing up in Richmond, Va., in ca. 1968-74, I had the experience of wandering in the woods near Camp Hanover in Hanover County, Va., which was (and I think still is) a private property owned by the Presbyterian Church (Hanover Presbytery). There was in those woods an extant “corduroy road” (or so it was described to me). It was quite visible on the ground’s surface as a man-made work and was at that time recognizable and intact. I have always remembered the sight of that road, and recently on a trip to the Fredericksburg/Spotsylavnia County Battlefields I took note of the term “plank road” (as in the famous Orange Plank Road west of Fredericksburg). So hoping to learn the difference between a “plank” road and a “corduroy” road, I ran across this post here. I hope that someone has thought to excavate the Civil-War-era corduroy road running across the property at Camp Hanover (at some point)–if not, please be advised that the site there was visible and intact in ca. 1970. My memory is that, as you enter the camp from its front entrance, the woods in question were on the right (direction?) and probably about 100-200 yards or more into the woods from that roadway. FEH

  2. Tim

    I worked for VDOT in 1977, on the rehabilitation of Hunter Mill Rd. project. We un-earthed a large section of a cordaroy road. An older and wiser person explained to me what is was as the excavators dug it up.


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