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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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Morning Notes

A car at the Franconia-Springfield Metro station pick-up line (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Sidewalk Projects Planned to Address Route 7 Pedestrian Safety — Virginia and Fairfax County officials are working to add sidewalks along Route 7 in the Culmore area of Bailey’s Crossroads. Prioritized sites include the Liberty gas station where a pedestrian was hit and killed by a vehicle in December, prompting safety advocates to campaign for improvements. [Annandale Today]

Person Rescued from Lincolnia House Fire — “Units arrived on scene with smoke visible and fire on the second floor. Two of three occupants evacuated the home prior to fire department arrival. One occupant was trapped in a bedroom. Crews rescued the occupant via a ground ladder — unharmed!” [FCFRD]

Former FCPD Officer Sentenced in Daughter’s Death — Jason Michael Colley pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree assault in Frederick County Circuit Court last week in connection to his 6-month-old daughter’s death in 2017. Sentenced to a combined 50 years, he will serve eight in private home detention and serve five years of supervised probation on the condition that “he not engage in physical punishment of children.” [ABC7]

Old Dominion Drive Closed for Two Days — “Old Dominion Drive (Route 738) will be closed to through traffic between Balls Hill Road (Route 686) and Route 123 (Dolley Madison Boulevard), weather permitting, from 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 8 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 9 to replace stormwater pipes…Traffic will be detoured via Balls Hill Road, Lewinsville Road (Route 694) and Route 123 back to Old Dominion Drive.” [VDOT]

Two Charged in McLean Church Burglary — Two men were reported forcing entry into the Faith Bible Presbyterian Church (6901 Haycock Road) through a window at 5:17 p.m. on July 31. Officers found the 18-year-olds inside the church, taking property. They were both charged with burglary and property destruction, and one of them was charged with providing false identification to law enforcement. [FCPD]

Reston Assault by Teens Under Investigation — “Officers from the Reston District Station of the Fairfax County Police Department are investigating an assault that occurred Wednesday night in the South Lakes area, according to the weekly crime report. Around 10:45 p.m., a group of teens stole property and assaulted a person in the 11900 block of Barrel Cooper Court…The victim was treated for non-life-threatening injuries” [Patch]

Renovation of Merrifield Fire Station Complete — “After a little over two years, the renovation at Station 30, Merrifield, is complete. [Thursday], crews moved back in. Station was totally operationally during the renovation with a trailer for personnel in back. The reno included an addition of 440 square feet.” [FCFRD/Facebook]

Graffiti by Soldiers Revealed at Historic Fairfax Farmhouse — “Between March 1862 and June 1863, hundreds of Union soldiers left their enduring marks in charcoal, graphite or crayon on the walls of the attic and first and second floors of Historic Blenheim, a brick 1859 farmhouse and 12-acre estate on what is now Old Lee Highway.” [WTOP]

It’s Monday — Humid throughout the day. High of 91 and low of 76. Sunrise at 6:17 am and sunset at 8:13 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Herndon’s Merrybrook building, which has history rooted in the Civil War, is now under the Fairfax County Park Authority (via Visit Fairfax)

The developer of Arrowbrook Centre, a massive mixed-use project in Herndon, has officially dedicated nearly three acres of land to the Fairfax County Park Authority. 

The park authority announced on Wednesday (Aug. 3) that Arrowbrook Centre LLC gave it 2.6 acres of land in the northwest quadrant of Centreville Road and Sunrise Valley Drive. Known as Merrybrook, the property was home to Confederate spy Laura Ratcille Hanna.

She lived at the home from 1869 until her death in 1924. More recently, David and Winifred Meiselman owned the property and continued to live on it through a life estate lease agreement with Arrowbrook Centre LLC.

The stakeholders decided to dedicate the property to preserve its local history. 

The property’s home is on the state and national register for historic places because of its connection with the Civil War and its architectural development. 

 “The Park Authority will be considering the best course forward for this property,” David Buchta, a heritage conservation branch manager for FCPA, said. “There are a few options to consider but all of them focus on telling the story of this property and the people who lived there. We are pleased to have this property and thankful that Arrowbrook Centre LLC was willing to provide this generous gift to the community.”

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A sign welcoming all to Gum Springs, at the corner of Fordson Road and Richmond Highway (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

As motorists make the turn onto Fordson Road from Richmond Highway, they are greeted by a green sign welcoming all to Gum Springs. Underneath the bolded letters, it reads “1833.”

Gum Springs is perhaps the most historically significant Black community in Fairfax County. It was founded nearly two centuries ago by West Ford, a former enslaved person at Mount Vernon who was freed.

A number of his descendants also believe he’s the only son of George Washington, a claim Mount Vernon officials have denied.

What isn’t disputed is that the family of the nation’s first president deeded Ford 160 acres of land. In 1833, he sold that land to purchase 214 acres in what is now the southeastern portion of Fairfax County.

He named this new community “Gum Springs,” supposedly after a tree and a spring where Washington watered his horses.

And, for the last 189 years, Gum Springs has been home to thousands of people that were not necessarily always welcomed in the county.

“Gum Springs gave African-Americans a place of being,” Ron Chase, director of the Gum Springs Historical Society and Museum, told FFXnow on a recent summer afternoon. He’s lived here nearly all of his life and is one of potentially 500 descendants of the original residents. “It gave them a sanctuary. It gave them a place to live.”

But community leaders say Gum Springs’ present and future are now threatened.

Only about 30% of residents who live in the community today are Black, according to 2021 county data.

There are the typical culprits, like urban sprawl, road construction, gentrification, and the exploding house market. But what makes this situation particularly unique is Gum Springs’ contributions to not just county history, but its place in American lore.

“We are constantly being challenged,” Queenie Cox, president of the New Gum Springs Civic Association, told FFXnow. ” This community is [under threat] of being dismantled, and eliminated for its contribution to this [nation’s] history and to the history of our first president of the United States.”

A sign about Gum Springs (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Preserving the identity of Gum Springs

Both Cox and Chase say there’s a litany of recurring battles that Gum Springs keeps having to fight to keep the community alive.

For one, there’s the exploding housing market, bringing new residents to the historic community. It’s in a major corridor, only a few miles away from Old Town Alexandria, while being a manageable commute from the District. Read More

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Reston’s massive Soapstone Connector project will likely cut through a historic district (via FCDOT)

A massive, half-mile road extension in Reston will likely have to cut through a historic district on Association Drive.

The Soapstone Connector would bring a new, direct link between Sunset Hills Road and Sunrise Valley Drive over the Dulles Toll Road — a critical connection that would relieve congestion on Wiehle Avenue.

As preliminary design work continues, county and state planners have revised an environmental assessment — first completed in 2017 — with updated traffic studies, summaries of previous public hearings, an impact analysis and additional documentation, according to Negin Askarzadeh, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation’s Soapstone Connector project coordinator.

The county’s transportation department held a meeting on the topic for the first time in several years last night (Monday). It was the first public meeting since 2018.

The county still favors one option of several discussed thus far: the southern terminus would be located at the intersection of Soapstone Drive and Sunrise Valley Drive, while the northern terminus would connect to Sunset Hills Road. The proposal would disrupt nine of 10 sites potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The Soapstone Connector would link Soapstone Drive to Sunset Hills Road over the Dulles Toll Road in Reston (via Fairfax County)

A new memorandum of agreement between federal, state and county stakeholders details a number of mitigation measures to limit the impact on the historic area.

Askarzadeh also said a public historical report would be prepared in order to “meaningfully convey the importance of the district” as part of Reston’s planned community.

By 2046, the existing transportation network won’t be able to accommodate projected peak hour demand for travel in the area. The average delay at Reston’s major intersections is expected to increase from 40 to 80 seconds.

A draft evaluation — known in planning jargon as a 4(f) evaluation — also states that “there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of land from the historic district,” according to the county. The report, completed in 2020, was recently approved for public availability.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is expected to make a decision on the preferred alternative for the project after reviewing the drafted agreement. The document also requires the approval of the Federal Highway Administration to determine that no other alternative is feasible to proceed with the project.

Once those approvals are in place, the county will coordinate with the Virginia Department of Transportation to begin designing the project.

At the meeting, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn said he looks forward to the next steps in the planning process.

“This project has been a long time in the making so we’re moving forward,” Alcorn said.

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A new exhibit at Reston Museum explores Black history and activism (courtesy Reston Museum)

(Updated at 11:55 a.m. on 7/29/2022) A traveling exhibit chronicling the nearly 400-year-old struggle for Black equality is coming this month to the Reston Historic Trust & Museum.

“Determined,” a traveling exhibit by Virginia Museum of History and Culture, traces Black history in Virginia through stories about the struggle for equality and our collective ideals, according to a press release about the exhibit.

The exhibit, which runs from July 26 through Aug. 28, will have items and information chronicling Black history, including supplements from the Reston Museum.

The original exhibition at the Virginia Museum in Richmond featured the stories of 30 people, including Mary Smith Peake and Barbara Johns Powell, with more than 100 objects and multimedia content. The exhibit closed in March 2020 and isn’t currently on display there.

The traveling exhibit that has been lent to Reston Museum is smaller, consisting of 10 double-sided informational panels without the artifacts and multimedia content, according to Reston Museum Executive Director Alexandra Campbell. (This article has been corrected to reflect the difference between the traveling and original exhibits.)

“Along with the Determined exhibit, the Reston Museum will feature artifacts from the Reston Museum’s collection showcasing Reston’s founding as a diverse community and how Restonians continued to pursue equality for all members of their community,” Campbell said. “We hope our visitors enjoy learning not only about the history of Reston, but also how it fits into the larger context of Virginia’s history.”

The museum, which is a nonprofit organization, is located in Lake Anne Plaza and is open Tuesday through Saturday.

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Gum Springs in Fairfax County (courtesy New Gum Springs Civic Association)

Gum Springs, the oldest Black community in Fairfax County, is holding its Juneteenth celebration this weekend as it faces an uncertain future.

The New Gum Springs Civic Association (NGSCA) will celebrate Juneteenth with a community day tomorrow (Saturday), featuring roller skating, food, music, and words from the great-great-great granddaughter of the community’s founder, West Ford.

There will also be a performance by the Caribbean American International Steel Band, NGSCA President Queenie Cox tells FFXnow, along with a special playing of a song written by Dr. Cleve Francis, a cardiologist at Inova Mount Vernon. The doctor/country musician wrote the song in honor of the victims of the Buffalo mass shooting last month.

The event is being held from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Martin Luther King Jr. Park (8115 Fordson Road).

Gum Springs Community Day and Juneteenth Celebration 2022 (courtesy the New Gum Springs Civic Association)

West Ford founded the community of Gum Springs in 1833 on land that he purchased after being freed from slavery at Mount Vernon, where he worked under George Washington. There are also claims that Ford was the son of America’s first president, though Mount Vernon officials have denied that.

In the nearly two centuries since its founding, Gum Springs in the Mount Vernon District has become a well-known historically Black community, but it’s now at risk of disappearing.

“We are constantly being challenged,” said Cox, who grew up in Gum Springs and lives in the house her grandfather built in the 1940s. “This community is [under threat] of being dismantled, eliminated and minimized for its contribution to this [nation’s] history.”

Recently, longtime residents have protested changes they fear could erase the community’s history.

Last year, plans for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s long-gestating widening of Richmond Highway shifted, further encroaching on the borders of Gum Springs. The change left a number of residents feeling like their community is being unfairly targeted.

Another community group, the Holland Court Property Owners Association, has also set up within the borders of Gum Springs, a move that the NGSCA views as intentionally trying to minimize the community’s historical impact.

Cox calls those efforts disrespectful and wrong, noting that other Black communities in the region have experienced similar challenges.

“The steps that certain individuals within the community are taking are contributing to the vanishing Black communities, and it diminishes the contribution that those Black communities have made…to American history,” Cox said.

A Gum Springs Conservation Plan was developed in 2015 as an effort to work with the county to preserve the community. However, Cox says that plan hasn’t fully been reviewed by county staff or adopted by the Board of Supervisors in the seven years since.

Celebrations like the one coming this Saturday are important, because they bring people and awareness to the challenges that Fairfax County’s oldest Black community are facing, Cox says.

“The only way that Gum Springs is going to get the protection it needs is that we have to be very vocal and public about it,” Cox said. “Gum Springs has to fight harder in order to get what other communities in the Mount Vernon District has and continues to achieve.”

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Morning Notes

A heron flying above Lake Audubon in Reston (photo by Marjorie Copson)

County Seeks Feedback on Covid Response — While the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over, Fairfax County is starting to evaluate how it handled the crisis. The county government is conducting two surveys — one for the community and one for businesses — to gather feedback on people’s experiences. The surveys are available online and at county libraries until July 5. [Fairfax County Government]

Fairfax City Community to Weigh in on Street Renamings — “Fairfax City Council is hosting a public hearing at its regular meeting Tuesday night to solicit feedback on a proposal to rename 14 streets in the city whose current names are associated with the confederacy, slavery or the ‘Lost Cause.'” [Patch]

Trash Pile Fire Extinguished in Lorton — “Units are on scene of a large outside trash pile fire in the 9800 block of Furnace Road, Lorton. The fire is contained but crews are working to fully extinguish it.” [FCFRD/Twitter]

Learn the History of Juneteenth — Author and University of Maryland history professor Dr. Richard Bell will discuss the history and significance of Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the abolition of slavery in the U.S. As of last night (Monday), there are still openings for the hour-long, virtual presentation, which will start at 6:30 p.m. and requires advance registration. [FCPL]

Lincolnia Fire Started by Unattended Cooking — A townhouse fire in the 4500 block of Southland Avenue on Friday (June 10) displaced five people and caused approximately $77,747 in damages. Investigators determined that the fire was started accidentally by “unattended food cooking on the stove” in the kitchen. [FCFRD]

Vienna Eases Rules for Roofs Over Decks — “The Vienna Town Council voted tonight to amend the zoning ordinance to enable homeowners to upgrade their outdoor living space by putting a roof over up to 400 square feet of a deck under certain conditions. For more details, visit http://viennava.gov/zoning.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

County Urges Vigilance for Signs of Child Abuse — “Fairfax County is asking community members to be on the lookout for possible signs of abuse and neglect, now that kids are out of class…Twana Johnson, assistant program manager, child abuse & neglect prevention services at the Department of Family Services, says as child supervision declines during summer months, so do calls to the hotline.” [WDVM]

FCPS Program Teaches Kids How to Ride Bicycles — “33 schools participate in the program, including both elementary schools — which typically have 30 bikes and 40 helmets on hand at a given time. [Safe Routes to Schools coordinator Sally] Smallwood estimates 10% to 20% of FCPS students in grades three to eight do not know how to ride a bike.” [ABC7]

It’s Tuesday — Rain in the morning. High of 83 and low of 72. Sunrise at 5:44 am and sunset at 8:37 pm. [Weather.gov]

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