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A digital rendering shows the proposed collections facility (via Fairfax County)

A heating plant abandoned when the Lorton prison closed in 2001 could eventually host Fairfax County’s vast collection of artifacts and museum objects.

Located in the Workhouse Arts Center area, the building at 8941 Workhouse Road could be transformed with a second-level addition and upgrades to meet curation standards, allowing the county to hold over 3 million artifacts in a central location.

The project will go before the county’s Planning Commission at a 7:30 p.m. meeting today (Wednesday) as part of a public facilities review process. At this time, the locations housing archaeological and museum collections are at capacity, according to the county.

Currently, the artifacts and museum objects are on display at historic sites in the county and exhibits at the James Lee Community Center in West Falls Church, the Fairfax County Government Center, and other locations.

Some objects are also housed at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park facilities near Manassas, or on temporary display for events and festivals, such as Celebrate Fairfax.

The area where the former heating plant now sits was once used as a cattle shed and hay barn for inmates at the Occoquan Workhouse, which opened in 1910 with a farm operated by prisoners serving short sentences for non-violent offenses.

“Layers of fencing and other security features (most of which have recently been removed) came only later as higher security was required in the last quarter of the twentieth century,” a report says on the workhouse, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

A Fairfax County archaeological report from Sept. 21, 2020, by senior archaeologist Aimee Wells says the workhouse’s shift to more of a medium-security prison changed the property’s use.

“The building that currently stands on the property was built in the mid-1990s as a heating plant on a concrete slab and was in use for less than a decade,” the report said.

The heating plant was decommissioned around 1998 as part of a gradual shutdown of the prison, according to the report.

The 31-foot-tall structure includes a 13,355-square-foot building. The plan currently being considered by the county calls for adding a 1,405-square-foot bump-out addition that’s nearly 21 feet tall.

“The building would include labs, storage, research rooms, offices, collections isolation rooms and the loading dock area, and a records room would be located in the bump-out addition,” a March 2022 staff report said about the project. “Site improvements include dumpster pad with screen, parking area, sidewalk/ADA accessible path, chain link fence along the site perimeter, and an access road connecting to the Workhouse Campus.”

Permits are expected to be sought in coming months through spring 2023, and construction would start, but it would rely on the next public bond cycle to finance it.

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Mount Vernon, the former estate of President George Washington (via Google Maps)

Mount Vernon, the primary home of George Washington before and after his presidency, has begun a new permanent collection nearly as notable as the first president.

Opened on Saturday (March 26), the newly acquired items represent the “largest reunion of original Mount Vernon objects since the dispersal of George and Martha Washington’s estates in 1802,” according to an announcement for the exhibit, “Mount Vernon: The Story of an American Icon.”

“Many objects — Martha Washington’s diamond-studded pocket watch, her ruffled cotton robe, a French porcelain ice cream cooler — are new to Mount Vernon’s collection, treasured by Martha’s descendants for generations before the [Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association] acquired them in 2020,” said the association, which has preserved the historic site since 1860.

The artifacts also include the earliest-known portrait of Washington, which is on loan from Washington and Lee University. Created by painter Charles Willson Peale, it shows Washington in his 40s in 1772 before he would later lead the 13 colonies’ Continental Army against Great Britain in the Revolutionary War.

The news release notes that the collection acknowledges the stories of people who were enslaved on the plantation, along with the Washingtons:

These paintings and decorative arts are paired with never-before-exhibited artifacts from Mount Vernon’s architectural and archaeological collections. These objects reveal the layers of Mount Vernon’s complex history, which includes Native settlements, other Washington family members, enslaved and hired laborers, and the determined women of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association who raised $200,000 to purchase the property in 1860 and still operate the site today.

The historic site also features the entombed remains of the country’s original president and first lady. Admission to the grounds is $28 for those age 12 and up, with reduced prices and free entry for younger kids.

Photo via Google Maps

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