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.  

Dranesville Tavern – History and Hospitality

Dranesville TavernIt was a business entrepreneur’s dream, even in 1818. Buy land where major roads meet, and build a place for people to break their journeys. Feed them, give them a place to sleep, assure the safety of their belongings. Send them off the next morning happy after a big breakfast.

Washington Drane was the businessman who opened a “new tavern on Leesburgh Road.” Drane’s “house of entertainment” sat near the junction of the Georgetown Turnpike and the Leesburg Pike, today also known as Route 7. His purpose in selecting that particular rural site, he noted, was to create a “new building on the road leading from Georgetown to Leesburgh: 15 miles from the former and 15 miles from the latter place,” breaking up the two-day trip.

Soon the area around Drane’s place expanded with a church, a post office, a store, doctors’ offices, residences — and five taverns. Dranesville was perfectly located to serve those bringing goods and animals from the rich farms of the Shenandoah Valley to the competing coastal markets of Alexandria and Georgetown. There are stories of how Kentucky farmers drove their turkeys first through tar and then through sand to coat their feet for the long trip to market.

One of the five taverns, Dranesville Tavern, was built in 1823 and remains along Leesburg Pike. The log building with massive Seneca sandstone chimneys grew with two additions over the years. It served as a place of food and lodging on the Leesburg Pike for at least 130 years. In 1865, after a renovation of the inn by owners Mr. and Mrs. George Jackson, the Alexandria Gazette newspaper described it as “one of the best roadside inns in the state of Virginia.”

When the Park Authority became the site’s owner, the agency reopened Dranesville Tavern in 1978 as a historic site. Soon, people returned to the inn to offer their own stories of earlier visits. They told of having meals and staying overnight at Dranesville Tavern in the years before Leesburg Pike became a hard-surfaced road and electricity reached as far into the country as the Dranesville area of Fairfax County.

One delightful elderly woman, Margaret Ailes Wilmer, remembered a visit she made to the tavern when she was 10 years old. She was being treated to a trip with her father from Harper’s Ferry to Washington. They were travelling by horse and buggy. It was winter — December 10, either 1909 or 1910, and very cold. They had started in Harper’s Ferry with hot bricks to warm them. At Leesburg, Mrs. Wilmer’s father went into a drug store and bought a newspaper, half of which to stuff in back of her coat and half in front to keep her warm.

They reached Dranesville Tavern after dark, halfway to their destination. Upstairs, their bedroom was on the east end of the tavern, above the closed parlor and away from the heat of the kitchen and the parlor fire. Sixty years later she still remembered the cold.

When father and daughter awoke in the morning, the water in the washbasin pitcher had an ice coating that her father broke for her to wash her face. Breakfast she recalled with glee. As the only guests, they joined the host family in the dining room at a long table where she ate a “huge” stack of pancakes with syrup before climbing back into the buggy.

Today, the trip from Leesburg to Georgetown is a brief one on a road crowded with residential communities and shopping destinations. The Dranesville Tavern is just a spot along the way, a landmark that has stories to tell of other times. It reminds us of what a difference a few decades can make in the journeys we take.

Based on research conducted by former Sully Historic Site Historian Barbara Naef.

Editor’s Note: Leesburg was sometimes spelled with an “h” in olden days.

More About Dranesville:

Historic Overlay District

Dranesville Tavern on the National Register

Dranesville Tavern Notes

Blacksmithing in Fairfax County

Frying-Pan-Blacksmith-1Tang! Tang! Tang! The sound of the blacksmith working at his forge once rang across the Fairfax County countryside. From the earliest days of the colonial period until well into the 20th century, blacksmiths were important members of Fairfax County communities. Each large plantation, neighborhood, and small town probably had at least one blacksmith, just as localities today have hardware stores and auto repair shops.

In the late 18th century, enslaved blacksmiths Sam and George worked at Sully, now Sully Historic Site, in western Fairfax County. From New York in 1789, Sully owner Richard Bland Lee inquired as to the probable success of establishing a shop, asking, “Am I likely to make anything of the Blacksmith’s shop?” About the same time, blacksmiths Nat and George, also enslaved, were working at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Archaeological excavations have unearthed evidence of their brick forge and shop.

Other records about blacksmithing are numerous. In 1814, near Colvin Run Mill, Rezin Offutt willed a tract of land “where my blacksmith’s shop stood” to his children, and he willed “what blacksmith tools is on the plantation” to his wife, Mary. Years later, John W. Tracey, who also lived close to Colvin Run Mill, called himself a “Coach and Wagonmaker” on the 1884 Fairfax County census. By 1906, however, he was listed as a “Blacksmith, wheelwright, and farmer.”

Frying-Pan-Blacksmith-3-ToolsThe skills required of the blacksmith were many. He crafted and repaired farm implements, domestic tools and firearms for himself and for the local community. As a wheelwright, he made and repaired wagon and carriage axles and wheels. As a farrier, he fashioned and fitted horseshoes.

Henry Moffett (1898-1984) was a fifth-generation blacksmith. The first shop his family owned was in Leesburg. In 1904, Henry’s father purchased a lot in Herndon and built a new shop. That blacksmith shop burned in the Herndon fire of 1917. Attesting to the importance of smiths to communities they served, the shop was the first building in town to be rebuilt and the first to be wired for electricity.

Henry Moffett was the shop’s last owner. He served the needs of his rural community during a period of changing technology, from horse-drawn wagons to automobiles and from hand-operated machines and tools to electric devices. Besides repairing wagon tongues, mending plows and shoeing horses, Moffett sold coal, wood and stove equipment.

By 1955, there were not enough horses left to shoe, wagons to repair, or ironwork to be done to keep him in business. He closed the shop at the age of 68.

In 1975, the entire building was moved piece by piece and reassembled at Frying Pan Park. It became a permanent part of the county’s heritage, thus preserving the last known original blacksmith building in Fairfax County.

Frying-Pan-Blacksmith-2Today, citizens and visitors visit this once-common element of the Fairfax County rural and town landscape. The art and skill of the blacksmith have not been lost, however, remaining present in horseshoe making and other iron work at the park and in traditional American folk art and contemporary architectural forms.

The Moffett Blacksmith Shop is open for demonstrations during selected special events. Call Frying Pan Park at 703-437-9101 for further information. Colvin Run Mill Historic Site also hosts blacksmith demonstrations on select Sundays.

This article was originally written by former Fairfax County Park Authority Collections Manager Jeanne Niccolls.

20 Years of Acoustic Jams

Back in 1998, after a tree fell onto her Kidwell farmhouse office, Frying Pan Farm Park Historian Yvonne Johnson (now the park’s manager) was working in a temporary office in a construction trailer. A knock on that trailer door introduced her to a woman with a Louisiana accent and a little dog named Missy. Debbie Billodeaux had an idea to encourage musicians to gather and play on the front porch of Frying Pan’s new Country Store. Johnson loved the Acoustic Jam idea and thought the sessions might draw a handful of people. In less than a year, 20 to 40 people were showing up to play at each jam. “That kind of gathering was traditional in the time period the park preserves,” Johnson said.

Since then, visitors have enjoyed regular Acoustic Jams as musicians come together in a warm, friendly setting to play harmonies on guitars, banjos, mandolins, dobros, fiddles and bass. According to Johnson, a couple hundred park patrons might see the musicians play on a nice day. “It was so gratifying to see the response from the visitors,” Johnson said.

Billodeaux’s dream of having a place for musicians to play and introduce their music to new audiences is still going strong. They still gather, pick and strum at different locations around the park depending on what space is available.

The park will mark the 20th anniversary of the Acoustic Jam on Sunday, October 21, 2018. Looking back, Johnson said, “Debbie came up with a great idea that improves visitors’ experiences and doesn’t cost the park anything. Over the years, the jams have touched the lives of thousands of people.”

Estimating an average of 20 musicians per session over about 50 Jams a year for 20 years, a conservative estimate of attendance at the gatherings is just over 20,000 musician visits. That doesn’t count the visitors who sit a spell and listen.

Here is the history of the Acoustic Jam, in Debbie Billodeaux’s own words.

“The Acoustic Jam started out as a once-a-month jam on the third Sunday of each month. I was inspired to start the jam when I saw the Country Store being opened up at the park in the spring/summer of that year. I thought this would be a perfect place to jam and, I must say, very convenient for me as I live close by.  I liked jams because I could play with others, learn new songs, and the flexibility of a jam worked well with my busy schedule. At the time, I was going to the CABOMA jam (Capitol Area Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association) in Arlington. Yvonne and I talked about how a jam would work and be reflective of how people historically enjoyed music in a rural farming community. We intentionally set the Frying Pan jam up on the third Sunday so it would not interfere with the CABOMA jam in Arlington (second and fourth Sundays).

“The first jam was attended by less than 10 people, but it grew steadily.  It was usually bigger in the summer when people can be outside.  The early jams were at the Country Store, which is near the playground, and it has always been interesting to see how kids react to live music and seeing a variety of instruments close-up. In the early years, my guitar teacher at Chantilly Music, Bill Suter, would often suggest that his students get out and play with other people. He would tell them about the jam, and a dozen or more people came from his referral. I often send out an email reminder to those at the jam reminding them of the jam date and telling them about other events and jams in the area.  Jim Norman is a local resident and dobro and bass player who attends the jam, and he pushed for us to increase it to twice a month. In March 2002, we began holding jams twice a month.

“The park staff typically will ask if there are a couple of people that can play music at the Farm Harvest Day or an event for the Friends group, and so we typically do that once or twice a year. Several years the jam has been the closing act on the performance stage at the 4-H Fair. Sometimes a picture of those performances showed up in a newspaper. The Frying Pan Jam was featured once as the cover story on the Herndon Connection. Through the years, we have had a couple of people that show up to listen on a regular basis.

“There was a lady who came regularly often requesting certain songs.  She grew up in West Virginia and had heard many early country legends sing as a child.  She was a music fan, and she would have her husband drive her over. When he was too old to drive, they would have friends bring them. I do not know her name, but I took a picture of her and a friend and gave her a copy.

“We have had a couple of professional musicians stop by. It is a real treat for us.  We have quite a few people that are in now or have been in regional bands. We have had a number of people that have met others at the jam and then formed small bands. We also have a lot of beginners, so there is usually a big mix of experience at the jam.”

The Acoustic Jam musicians have been the closing act for the annual 4-H Fair at Frying Pan for the last five years, Johnson said. “Debbie Billodeaux’s wonderful idea, hard work and decades of dedication have been an amazing gift to the thousands of musicians and audience members that have enjoyed the Frying Pan Jam.”


Frank de la Fe Leaves Legacy of Accomplishment at Park Authority

The Park Authority has attracted many great leaders throughout its history. Another well-known and respected alumni and friend of our park system has passed. The Park Authority was recently notified that Frank de la Fe, a longtime resident of Reston, a County Planning Commissioner and a former at-large Member and Chairman of the Park Authority Board died.  

Park Authority Executive Direde la fector Kirk Kincannon responded to his death writing, “Frank served with distinction on the Park Authority Board for nearly six years, from 1996 through December 2001.  He had a unique brand and style of leadership which allowed the Park Authority to thrive under his care.  It was during this time that a renewed and healthy relationship with the Board of Supervisors was firmly established. The Park Authority acquired its 20,000th acre of parkland during his tenure and created invaluable partnerships with the community, businesses and other government agencies.  Under Chairman de la Fe, the Park Foundation was created, a Strategic Plan was adopted, a new vision statement embraced and bond referenda approved by the voters.  He often shared his commitment to development of a park system that served a diverse community and left no one behind.”

Kincannon added, “That’s the short story.  Frank brought personal tenacity, a sense of fair play and a demand for excellence that set the stage for what the Park Authority has become today – a nationally recognized Park system providing quality facilities and services to our community.”

Paul Baldino, another Park Authority colleague recalled,” I had the good fortune to be appointed Director of the Fairfax County Park Authority and serve under Chairman Frank de la Fe. His leadership, wisdom, skill in working with staff, no-nonsense attitude, and wry humor changed the strategic direction of the organization and racked up a series of accomplishments that continue to benefit the outstanding park system enjoyed by Fairfax County residents.”

He was named Citizen of the Year by the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations in 2001. He was described as an agent of change and the driving force behind a land acquisition program that resulted in the preservation of more than 4,000 acres of open space during his tenure. In partnership with the Board of Supervisors, he was able to turn $20 million in bonds into $37 million worth of land resources.

His attributes were many and were captured in a program from the Citizen of the Year celebration which described de la Fe as, “A native of Cuba who understood and promoted a multifaceted approach to diversity in our neighborhoods.” Frank understood the need to provide services to people from many backgrounds and circumstances, and he never lost sight of the special needs of all residents for open space, quiet areas and places to peacefully enjoy nature.

Frank championed equitable access to athletic fields, supported skate parks to address the needs of teens, he envisioned off leash dog parks and espoused the need for transparency in all decisions of the Park Board and a means by which residents’ opinions could be heard. During his tenure the Water Mine opened at Lake Fairfax Park; plans to build Cub Run RECenter were made, the Park Foundation was formed, the Cross County Trail was proposed, and Clemyjontri Park property was donated. Those were merely the highlights of six years of success with Frank at the helm.

Park Authority Board Chairman Bill Bouie recalled his friendship and collaboration with Frank noting, “I worked with Frank on many projects through the years and he was always a great sounding board. Thank you Frank for your service, your friendship and dedication. You will be missed my friend.”

The family has asked that donations be made to the Park Foundation in his memory. For information visit online at www.fairfaxparkfoundation.org



I Have a Question about Wildlife

Huntley Meadows egret2Who Do I Contact?

There are a lot of resources for Fairfax County residents who want information about wildlife. So, which resource do you use? Often, it comes down to who has the authority to resolve your concern. This blog and its links may help.

First, here’s a web page with contact information for all sorts of people who deal with local, statewide and national wildlife issues: www.fairfaxcounty.gov/wildlife/contacts-and-additional-resources.

You’ll also find online A Field Guide to Fairfax County’s Plants and Animals, and the county website has information about wildlife species in the county.

Who Does What?

Next, a little about who does what and who may be the best person to contact for your situation.

Fairfax County has a Wildlife Management Specialist located in the Police Department. She oversees wildlife management, mitigates human-wildlife conflicts, and oversees the Deer Management Program and Canada Geese Management Program.

mothers-day-deer-4.jpgAlso in the Police Department are the Fairfax County Animal Protection Police. They enforce laws related to domestic and wild animals, investigate animal cruelty complaints and dog bites/attacks, remove stray dogs, and respond to calls about wild animals that appear sick or injured. The Fairfax County Animal Protection Police can be reached through the Police non-emergency number at 703-691-2131.

The Fairfax County Animal Shelter is the county’s only open-access municipal shelter. The shelter takes in stray companion animals that are in need, companion animals whose owners must surrender them when no longer willing or able to care for them, and animals that have been seized or taken into custody by Animal Protection Police. The shelter does not accept healthy, adult wildlife for any reason. For questions about orphaned wildlife, contact licensed wildlife rehabilitators. For questions about shelter programs, adoption, and intake procedures, contact the shelter at animalshelter@fairfaxcounty.gov or by phone at 703-830-1100.

The Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) protects the county’s natural resources. The agency partners with state officials and the county wildlife management specialist to manage animals. The Park Authority doesn’t “own” the animals, but it does teach about them. There are local wildlife experts at park nature centers, and those are the places to go to see and learn about wild critters.

Not all parks in the county belong to the Fairfax County Park Authority. Bull Run, Pohick Bay, Fountainhead and others are overseen by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. NOVA Parks is a system of regional parks shared by Arlington County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, the City of Alexandria, the City of Falls Church and the City of Fairfax. There’s also a national park, Great Falls, and Mason Neck State Park. Contact staff at those parks for issues in those parks.

Living With Wildlife

Please remember that it is illegal to keep or care for orphaned, sick or injured wildlife unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. It takes specialized knowledge and training to care for a wild animal. One of those rehabilitators in the Fairfax County area is the Wildlife Rescue League. An organization called The Wildlife Center of Virginia provides needed health care to native wildlife.

Remember, don’t feed the wildlife. That causes problems. There are state regulations pertaining to unauthorized feeding of wildlife, including deer and bear.

raccoon.jpgInformation on resolving conflicts with wildlife is provided by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF). There are laws and guidelines governing the trapping of nuisance wildlife, and a list of licensed wildlife trappers is available on the VDGIF website. The Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline phone number is 855-571-9003. This helpline is staffed by wildlife specialists who can help identify wildlife damage and recommend solutions.

Diseases spread by animals fall under the domain of the Fairfax County Health Department. The Health Department has information about rabies, ticks and Lyme disease, and diseases carried by insects.

County staff often receive inquiries or requests for removal of dead animals on private property or roadways. County staff can provide guidelines on animal carcass disposal/burial on private property, but staff do not remove dead animals. For animal carcasses on a state road, contact the Virginia Department of Transportation.

State Offices

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation is Virginia’s lead conservation agency. These are the folks who protect land, open space, clean water, and natural habitat, provide access points to the outdoors, such as launch ramps, and manage state parks. 

birds006The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries manages inland fisheries, wildlife, and recreational boating. The Fairfax County Park Authority works closely with VDGIF. Most bodies of water in county parks are managed by VDGIF, not the Park Authority. For example, FCPA owns the land around Burke Lake, but the lake waters are managed by VDGIF as a fishing lake, and all VDGIF rules and regulations apply. VDGIF is the ultimate authority on wildlife management in Virginia. Fairfax County falls under VDGIF’s Fredericksburg Regional Office (540-899-4169).

Other Sources for Wildlife Information
The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia is an excellent source for information about protecting birds and their habitats.

The Raptor Conservancy of Virginia is dedicated to teaching people about birds of prey.

The Save Lucy Campaign provides conservation education about North American bats and raises awareness of White-Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease, which has decimated North American bats.

The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District promotes soil and water conservation, prevents pollution and reduces runoff. NVSWCD is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia that partners with government agencies to conserve soil resources, control and prevent soil erosion, prevent floods, and manage water. They heavily promote hands-on conservation, provide technical expertise, and have programs that develop young environmental leaders.

National Agencies
Here are a few other related organizations on the federal level:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are all about human health care.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has wide-ranging oversight of fisheries, wildlife, wetlands and more under the goal of conserving nature in America.

The U.S. Forest Service manages and protects national forests and grasslands.

And the U.S. National Park Service oversees national parks.

Historic Collections Tell Fairfax County’s Stories

_DSC0023A tournament lance? Part of Fairfax County’s history? Well, yes, it’s one of more than 6,000 items in the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Historic Object Collection, which preserves material culture that is representative of Fairfax County’s heritage.

The lance, it turns out, is not from King Arthur’s time but from the early 20th century, when jousting was again a popular sport. In a combination of equestrian skill and athleticism, riders galloped their horses and attempted to thrust their lances through a small ring. These club-like tournaments were the inspiration for “catching the ring” on the later evolutions of carousels.

The Historic Object Collection encompasses many items from the 18th through 20th centuries associated with the early history of sites that are now parks and with the families who lived and worked at these sites. It also contains objects representing the general history, growth and development of Fairfax County and its individual communities. These items are exhibited at parks and at special community exhibits.

The Park Authority maintains a collection of archival materials that are important to researching the history of the sites. More than 4,000 archival items document site histories and ownership and record through photographs, maps, letters and other documents the agency’s restoration of historic structures.

The two collections support interpretive programs at historic sites and in exhibits. They help visitors enjoy, understand and appreciate Fairfax County’s heritage and historic resources. The Park Authority follows the highest professional museum standards of stewardship in protecting and maintaining this important legacy.dsc_0057.jpg

Some Historic Object Collections are exhibited on site, such as 18th-century objects owned by Richard Bland Lee, Northern Virginia’s first congressman and the original owner of Sully.

The Haight family lived at Sully during the mid-19th century, and a top hat, said to be purchased by Jacob Haight for Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration, is part of the collection and occasionally on display at Sully.

Flour sack pansy_0007At Colvin Run Mill, photographs of the Millard family, the miller’s desk, mill receipts and grain sacks, a family bible, and an apron belonging to Emma Millard represent objects associated with the mill. The collection contains early photographs of Green Spring and documents relating to prior owners. Original photographs, documents, family letters and accounts pertain to other historic structures and sites.

Some collection objects relate less to a specific site and more to the history of the county. A sampling of objects from the early 20th century Colvin Run community includes a log cabin quilt, a biscuit block, blacksmith and milling tools, and a broom machine used by a blind man.

The collection also contains objects from community organizations, such as memorabilia from local Grange meetings and hymnals from Frying Pan Spring Meeting House. Civil War era maps, engravings and artifacts are reminders of wartime events that occurred across Fairfax County.

The Park Authority shares objects from its Historic and Archaeological Collections monthly in our artiFACTS blog. For inquiries about the Historic Object Collection, contact the Museum Collections Manager at 703-631-1429.