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Franconia sign (via Fairfax County)

General Robert E. Lee has suffered another defeat in Virginia — the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has voted to rename the Lee District to the Franconia District.

The board unanimously approved changing the county code to reflect the new name on Tuesday (Dec. 6), formalizing a change that it had already supported in June.

The name change is the latest in a series of efforts to disentangle localities from names honoring Confederate leaders, though Fairfax County’s release noted that there is no conclusive historical evidence that the district was named for Robert E. Lee.

Still, the release said the general perception is that the name honors Lee. Name changes for that district and Sully District were recommended in March by the county’s Redistricting Advisory Committee.

While other officers like John Mosby have also been brought up for discussion, Lee has been an easy and iconic target for renaming. In 2019, Arlington renamed its Washington-Lee High School to Washington-Liberty, and Fairfax County Public Schools renamed Robert E. Lee High School for Rep. John Lewis in 2020.

Supervisor Rodney Lusk helped launch the renaming initiative last March and said it’s been an issue on his mind for years:

Back when I was a candidate, I heard from many in the community about their desire to have conversations about [the name]. For me, as an African American and a proud resident of this district for the past 22 years; whose lived my life, raised my two African American daughters under the signage of the Robert E. Lee Recreation Center, under the signage of Robert E. Lee High School, it’s been a conversation I’ve carried in my heart for many years, and I know that’s true for many others in our community… As we turn the page and continue to write the history of our community; we’re not erasing history, we’re making it.

Staff said much of the groundwork required for the name change has already been laid out. The last changes will be updates to the county’s GIS mapping and election precincts, which will all be completed this spring.

“Residents deserve a community that better reflects them,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “We can’t go back and change history, but we absolutely have a right to decide what it is in history we want to celebrate and what it is in history we want to learn from and do better.”

The county release said the renaming will also include:

  • Lee District Rec Center, which is now known as the Franconia Rec Center
  • Lee District Park is now called Franconia Park
  • Lee High Park is now Lewis High Park
  • Lee Residential Permit Parking District is now the Lewis Parking District
  • Lee Community Parking District is now renamed the Franconia Parking District

The day after the Board of Supervisors vote, the Fairfax County Park Authority announced that its board had unanimously approved renaming three of its facilities:

  • Lee High Park to Lewis High Park
  • Lee District Rec Center to Franconia Rec Center
  • Lee District Park to Franconia Park
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The Virginia Board of Education held a public hearing last week on new draft standards for history and social studies (via VDOE/YouTube)

Fairfax County’s teacher unions expressed relief after new state-proposed history standards were rejected by a governor-appointed board late last week.

On Thursday evening (Nov. 17), Virginia’s Board of Education voted unanimously to again delay approving new history standards drafted by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).

The proposed standards had numerous admitted mistakes, errors and typos, and was radically changed from a 400-page working draft first publicly released over the summer.

The new document was also significantly shorter. A longer “framework” document which will include information on how to teach the material will be released next summer, per the Washington Post.

“We are pleased to see that the Board of Education has heard the voices of teachers, students, parents, and community activists,” Fairfax County Federation of Teachers (FCFT) President David Walrod said. “The draft of standards presented [Thursday] was hastily assembled, with multiple new versions being released in a matter of days.”

Among the most discussed changes in the draft standards were omissions of both Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Juneteenth as holidays. They also described Virginia’s indigenous peoples as America’s “first immigrants,”

The draft also eliminated racism in America as a central theme to be taught in many grades, while removing instances of teaching students about culture and government outside Europe and the U.S.

The board’s rejection came after a four-hour public hearing where a number of speakers, including Walrod, called the new standards a “whitewashing” of history.

The VDOE first released this draft less than a week before the board was scheduled to vote on it, leading members to complain about the short timeframe for reviewing such large changes.

The approval had already been postponed from August after a previous draft was similarly riddled with mistakes and errors. That draft was also about 400 pages long, compared to the 57-page document this time around. Read More

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The Roy Rogers on Belle View Blvd (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

(Updated at 4:20 p.m.) On an April day in 1968, Roy “King of the Cowboys” Rogers and his wife — “Queen of the West” Dale Evans — appeared in front of thousands along Leesburg Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads to open America’s first Roy Rogers.

“Inside the shoppe, Roy and Dale served up hot Roast Beef sandwiches to the first several customers,” promotional materials said at the time. “Over 5,000 autographed pictures of Roy and Dale were passed out to customers.”

Yes, despite the Old West motif and being named after a movie star cowboy, the fast food chain known for its roast beef and fried chicken began in Fairfax County, opening its first restaurant at 5603 Leesburg Pike.

Today, it’s now a McDonald’s set to undergo a revamp.

The story behind how Roy Rogers came to be born in Fairfax County starts with J. Willard Marriott, founder of the once-local but now-international hotel chain.

“Mr. Marriott wanted to get into the fast food business,” Jim Plamondon, co-president of Roy Rogers restaurants, told FFXnow. “Just like what Ray Kroc was doing with McDonald’s.”

Marriott began his career running a D.C. root beer shop before transitioning to a coffee shop-style eatery called Hot Shoppe. He opened his first hotel in Arlington in 1957.

But fast food was hot in the 1960s, and Marriott, an experienced restaurant owner, wanted a bite of that market too. So, when a new roast beef franchise called “RoBee’s House of Beef” opened in the Midwest, Marriott decided to acquire it, Plamondon explained.

Plamondon knows this history intimately. His father, Peter Plamondon Sr., was an executive in charge of Marriott’s restaurant division at the time, and he helped the hotel company launch its fast food business.

However, legal reasons prevented the company from acquiring RoBee’s trademark, so they needed a new name.

“One of the people on [Marriott’s] board of directors…said ‘Well, I know the agent for Roy Rogers, the cowboy,'” Plamondon said. “[Rogers] was a rock star back then. I mean, he was huge. He was as big as any movie star you would name today.”

Rogers was also very amendable to licensing his image and name to merchandise and businesses. At one point in the mid-20th century, more than 400 products had Roy Rogers’s name on them — second only to Walt Disney, per Rogers’s official website

Marriott and Roy Rogers struck an agreement, and the new fast food restaurant took on the Hollywood cowboy’s name. Read More

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The Sully District Governmental Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Fairfax County has opted not to move forward with a potential Sully District renaming.

Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith announced at yesterday’s board meeting that she believes “the best step forward at this time is to retain” the name of the magisterial district, which encompasses the southwestern corner of Fairfax County.

Based on input from virtual town halls, emails, and community conversations, she proposed instead finding new ways to educate residents and visitors about the area’s history, particularly at the plantation in Chantilly that gave the district its name and is now the Sully Historic Site.

“In working on a path forward, I am actively talking with the NAACP, the county’s equity officer and the Fairfax County Park Authority executive director about ways we can have a more honest conversation about the history of our country, county and the Sully District,” Smith said in her board matter.

Supported without further discussion by the full Board of Supervisors, the decision concludes a months-long effort to gather public feedback after the county’s 2021 Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC) recommended name changes for Sully and the former Lee District earlier this year.

After completing its primary task of redrawing the county’s electoral district maps, the committee was charged in January with reviewing whether to rename any districts based on possible historical ties to the Confederacy, slavery or racism.

According to a report finalized in March, Sully District was named after the plantation built by Richard Bland Lee, the first person to represent Northern Virginia in Congress. It said four generations of humans had been enslaved and trafficked at the property, including over 100 people during Lee’s tenure as owner.

When Lee inherited the land from his father in 1787, he received 29 enslaved people, according to the park authority’s history of the site, which features Lee’s 225-year-old house as well as 120 acres of park, gardens, a smokehouse and other structures.

While the website acknowledges the presence of slavery, it refers to the property as Lee’s “country home.” Smith’s board matter suggested that the county be more active and creative in providing information and programming about that aspect of the site’s history.

Smith said people weighed in with a variety of perspectives on whether to rename Sully District, including at town halls held on June 2 and Sept. 1, but the “most important thing I heard in these conversations was the need to heal our community.”

“The best way to do this is to work on ways to tell the true story of our sometimes complicated and misunderstood history and that of the Sully District specifically,” she said. “One way to do this is to educate the public about how land was developed, who benefitted and who was marginalized in the process.”

In addition to reevaluating what stories are told at the Sully Historic Site, the county could highlight historically Black neighborhoods affected by its westward expansion, similar to efforts to preserve Gum Springs in the Mount Vernon area. Read More

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The caboose in Herndon is undergoing repairs (Photo via NOVA Parks/Twitter).

The iconic caboose in Downtown Herndon next to Herndon’s Railroad Depot and the Washington & Old Dominion Trail is getting a facelift.

Earlier this month, crews began working on repairing the exterior structure of the caboose. The project is expected to wrap up some time next month, according to the Town of Herndon’s Department of Public Works.

According to town staff, the caboose developed surface rust and paint began chipping off of the exterior, prompting the need for the project.

“The project involves the removal of the rust, repainting of the exterior surfaces including the undercarriage, and restoration painting of the W&OD seal and associated lettering on the caboose,” the town wrote in a statement to FFXnow.

The caboose was brought to the Town of Herndon in 1989 after the Herndon Historical Society expressed interested in securing a caboose for the Herndon depot.

The all-steel caboose, which weights 45,300 pounds and is roughly 37 feet long is base don a design used on U.S. railroads after World War II.

The latest work on the caboose is being completed by The Matthews Group, Inc. under the supervision of the town’s Department of Public Works.

Photo via NOVA Parks/Twitter

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The Freeman Store and Museum in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Town of Vienna could have a historical gold mine waiting to be found in old-timey toilets underneath the grounds of its Freeman Store and Museum (131 Church Street NE).

Historic Vienna Inc., the nonprofit that has operated the store since 1976, plans to fund an archaeological dig of the property after a survey identified several potential areas of interest, including two sites that might have the remains of either wells or outhouses.

“The gold in this property is probably in the privies and the well. Apparently, if you read about this stuff, [the past owners] would just at some point start throwing a lot of trash down as they changed over or moved on, and there’s often some really revealing stuff,” Historic Vienna President Anne Stuntz told the Vienna Town Council on Oct. 10.

The Freeman Store was built in 1859 by New Jersey merchants Abram and Susan Lydecker as a house and Vienna’s first general store. It benefitted from new railroad tracks at what is now the intersection of Church and Mill streets, according to Historic Vienna.

The building also served as a post office and was occupied by both Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War. After its last resident moved out in 1955, the store was sold to the town in 1969 and restored in 1976.

Historic Vienna has wanted to explore the site “for decades,” Stuntz said, but this year, the organization finally accrued the approximately $20,000 needed for a dig, thanks to the volunteers who sell books out of the store’s Used Book Cellar.

“We think [the dig] will materially increase our historical understanding, and we’d end up with more stories to tell about the Freeman Store and early Vienna history,” Stuntz said.

According to a letter to Town Manager Mercury Payton, the town previously approved a non-invasive ground-penetrating radar (GPR) survey of the property on Nov. 1, 2021 that found 36 potential areas of interest, including four sites that have been singled out for excavation:

  • The two possible wells or privies
  • A side yard where there could’ve been a barn
  • The immediate backyard, where there may be either a tree or a trash dump

The sites will each be about 4 square meters in size, but they could expand “if significant finds are uncovered,” the letter said.

If approved, the dig would be done by The Ottery Group over 10 business days between November and the end of March — ideally in early March, when the days will be longer and the ground warmer, Historic Vienna treasurer Leigh Kitcher said.

The organization said the excavations will avoid coinciding with major events, and the sites will be covered with tarps at night. Stuntz and Historic Vienna Vice President Nancy Moats have discussed even having people sleep over at the store.

“We certainly don’t want Civil War relic hunters trying to find goodies on our property,” Kitcher said. “So, there’s a balance between how much you promote this and showing little dug-up holes.”

After the dig, Ottery will restore the land and bag and document any artifacts. Historic Vienna will be responsible for their long-term storage, possibly with Fairfax County’s archaeology team.

Moats suggested the group could host a public archaeology day or a small exhibit at the Freeman Store “if the number of finds and their significance warrants it.”

“We’re all about education and informing the public in the Town of Vienna,” she said.

Since Historic Vienna leases the Freeman Store property from the town, the town council needs to amend the lease before the dig proceeds. That vote has been scheduled for Oct. 24, but the council was decidedly enthusiastic about the project.

Councilmembers Howard Springsteen and Nisha Patel speculated that the town use the excavation to plant a holiday tree on the property. Ed Somers advocated for keeping any findings in Vienna, though that may not be feasible for larger objects or ones that need a climate-controlled environment.

“I defer to [Historic Vienna], but I would like to keep whatever’s found in Vienna in Vienna somewhere so people can see it,” Somers said.

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Jefferson Manor neighborhood in Groveton (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

One of the oldest neighborhoods in southeastern Fairfax County is holding its birthday party this weekend, despite the likelihood of rain.

Jefferson Manor near Groveton is celebrating its 75th birthday tomorrow (Saturday) with a block party that will include food trucks, music, beer, a kids’ zone area, and a magician. Franconia District Supervisor Rodney Lusk and Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay are both expected to attend.

Held on Monticello Road between Fairhaven Road and Edgehill Drive from 4-7 p.m., the block party is expected to draw about 300 attendees, even with the potential for dicey weather, Jefferson Manor Citizens Association President Derek Cole told FFXnow.

“We started the block party in 2017 just to celebrate how tight-knit our community was,” he said. “The turnout that we get speaks volumes to the community participation that we have.”

Consisting of about 550 semi-detached duplex homes, Jefferson Manor was built in 1947, as thousands of veterans returned home from World War II for jobs in the military and government.

Then covered in dairy farms, Fairfax County was a perfect place to build a home and settle with a family near enough to the urban core. Between 1940 and 1960, its population sextupled, growing from about 41,000 to nearly 249,000 people in just two decades. Those new residents needed homes fast.

A D.C. developer named Clarence W. Gosnell began buying up land across the county, including about 80 acres near Old Town Alexandria from S. Cooper Dawson, the co-owner of the well-known Penn-Daw Hotel.

Gosnell immediately went to work on the land, naming the neighborhood and the surrounding streets after president Thomas Jefferson.

Gosnell was one of the developers who was able to put up housing quickly and affordably,” Tammy Mannarino, a local historian who recently presented at a Jefferson Manor Civic Association meeting. “And he did that by having them be partially prefabricated.”

Gosnell’s company built and installed 12 to 16 homes a month in the neighborhood, a rate only exceeded by how quickly the homes were being sold, The Washington Post reported in 1947.

Every time they released a section of Jefferson Manor, it sold out,” Mannarino said. “They almost couldn’t build them fast enough.”

Homes were directly marketed to veterans, with Gosnell often advertising the starting price of $8,750 — about $114,000 today — as something “you can afford.”

Amenities soon sprang up to serve the budding neighborhood. Mount Eagle Elementary School (then called Penn Daw School) was built in 1949 to accommodate the new families.

However, as was the case in many county neighborhoods, there were restrictions on who could buy the homes.

The original contracts to purchase a Jefferson Manor home all contained a discriminatory covenant precluding anyone “not of the Caucasian Race” from occupying, using, selling, renting, or being given the home. The only exception was for “domestic servants.” Read More

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A historical marker for the McLean Volunteer Fire Department was installed outside the Old Firehouse Center in 2020 (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 5:35 p.m.) Fairfax County will install six new historical markers over the next year honoring Black and African-American history. The markers will highlight local civil rights activists, enslaved peoples, educators, and a famed four-star general.

At last week’s Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting, it was revealed that a Board-appointed committee had chosen the winners of the inaugural “Historical Marker Contest.”

The student-led contest, which was launched a year ago, was designed “to focus on narratives and oral histories of our African American communities, whose history, culture, and accomplishments in the County are underrepresented in our history books, lessons, and markers.”

Local students submitted 53 proposals for potential markers that held relevance to Black/African American history in the county. From there, 14 finalists were considered, and six were chosen.

The winning proposals will become physical historical markers sometime in the next year, per Providence District Supervisor Dalia Palchik, who presented the joint board matter at the meeting on Sept. 13.

The six markers are:

  • Louise Archer — The principal at a one-room schoolhouse in Vienna during the early part of the 20th century. She also established one of the county’s earliest 4-H Clubs for African Americans
  • Lillian Blackwell — A civil rights activist who successfully sued Virginia to ban segregation in public accommodations, including schools and movie theaters
  • Annie Harper — A Gum Springs resident who successfully challenged Virginia’s poll tax
  • Gunnell’s Chapel — A small wooden post-Civil War Methodist church in Langley
  • Gen. Colin Powell — A four-star general who was also the first African American to be appointed Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as Secretary of State. He was a McLean resident.
  • The West Springfield 16 — A group of 16 enslaved persons who lived and worked on the property where West Springfield High School now sits

Next, staff and the History Commission wil work to “refine the language of the marker,” have the marker made, and plan the eventual installations.

As Palchik noted at the meeting, the process to get each marker made and installed can be a “lengthy one” but the plan is to have them all in place within a year.

The board matter also authorized the preparation of a proclamation honoring the students, county and Fairfax County Public Schools staff, and the voting committee for their ideas and work to make these markers a reality.

Their work “has allowed us to engage deeply and authentically with the contributions of our Black/African American community in Fairfax County,” the board matter says.

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The Sully District Supervisor’s office is seeking feedback on whether the district should be renamed (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The public engagement process regarding a possible name change for the Sully District is kicking off next month.

A virtual meeting to discuss changing renaming the district is set for tomorrow (Thursday) at 7 p.m. A brief presentation by county staff will be followed by an online forum. Interested participants can email sully@fairfaxcounty.gov to receive a meeting link.

The discussion follows a March recommendation by the Fairfax County Redistricting Advisory Committee for a name change. The committee recommended renaming the Lee and Sully districts because of the names’ historic ties to the Confederacy and slavery.

In late June, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to change the name of the Lee magisterial district to Franconia.

A spokesperson for Sully District Supervisor Kathy Smith said she has not reached a decision on whether a name change is warranted.

“Her goal is to make a decision after the meeting but doesn’t have a specific date to make a decision,” the spokesperson wrote in a statement to FFXnow.

Residents are also encouraged to share their comments and feedback by emailing sully@fairfaxcounty.gov or calling 703-814-7100.

A decision is not expected at the forum, according to event organizers.

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A historical marker for the McLean Volunteer Fire Department was installed outside the Old Firehouse Center in 2020 (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

If buildings could speak, the Old Firehouse Center in McLean would have some tales to tell — almost a century’s worth, in fact.

Originally built in 1925, the low-lying brick structure hosted the McLean Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD) as well as the wider community, which was starting to take shape.

“McLean’s fire department was the first to be incorporated in Fairfax County,” Carole Herrick, a Dranesville District representative on the Fairfax County History Commission, said. “Back then, it served as the community center of its day, and we want to preserve its rich history.”

The history commission will help honor that legacy with a belated dedication ceremony later this month for a historical marker erected outside the firehouse at 1440 Chain Bridge Road in 2020.

Delayed by COVID-19 concerns, the ceremony will take place at last at the Old Firehouse Center at 1 p.m. on Aug. 21, according to the McLean Community Center, which now uses the facility for its teen after-school programs.

Free and open to the public, this event is being sponsored by MCC, the county history commission, the McLean Volunteer Fire Department, and the McLean Historical Society.

Speakers will include Herrick and Fairfax County History Commission Chair Cheryl Repetti, and MVFD members will be on hand “to discuss various displays,” the press release says. The ceremony will open with Boy Scout Troop 128 and close with an indoor reception.

Joining a sign posted for McLean overall in 2003, the MVFD marker is one 55 installed since Fairfax County’s Historical Marker Program began in 1998. It reads:

The McLean Volunteer Fire Department incorporated in 1923 in Fairfax County. A two-bay firehouse was built and a Ladies Auxiliary formed in 1925. Construction of a rear addition in 1932 provided work during the Depression and offered space needed for equipment and community activities. For several years, the firemen organized the McLean Carnival to raise funds for the department. An air raid observation tower was added during World War II. In 1948 a four-bay station replaced the previous building. A new station opened on Laughlin Avenue in 1988, ceding the vacant firehouse to Fairfax County that the McLean Community Center converted into a teen center.

Though the department has a new home, the old firehouse still holds a special place in the memories of long-time volunteer firefighters like Clyde Clark, who joined the department in June 1962 and recently commemorated 60 years in the role.

Clark’s tenure with the fire department has included stings as chief, assistant chief, and on the board of directors. Currently on the McLean Volunteer Fire Department History Committee, he fondly recalled the firehouse’s role in the department and the community in a statement to FFXnow.

“The coffee pot was always on. People were welcome to stop by, to hear the latest local news and local gossip,” he said by email. “There really was nothing else open like that. No Starbucks like there is today. It was a delightful place to be, and it really served as the center of the community.”

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