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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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