In the last three months, Amy Ritchie has been seeing a lot of Virginia and meeting a lot of Virginians. Everywhere she goes, Ritchie asks communities to become what she calls "pilot communities" in the celebrations leading up to the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown settlement in 2007.
"You get to meet people," she said. "It's interesting and exciting how people catch on and want to do things in their communities."
The pilot communities will put together events between now and 2007 celebrating that community's history and tying it to the overall history of Virginia. Ritchie, who works for a group called the Jamestown 2007 Steering Committee, said she hoped the pilot communities will lead the way in the historical commemoration.
"Pilot communities will be examples to the rest of the state of what types of programs can be done," she said.
LAST TUESDAY, Ritchie and other organizers of the commemoration ceremony took their message to McLean. At an informational meeting they worked to inspire McLean residents to become a pilot community.
"It gives us a great opportunity to remind ourselves of who we are, where we're going and what we're about," said David Rogers, a consultant working with Foundation. "I would challenge you and us to become a shining example for all Virginia."
Communities would not necessarily have to tie their commemorations directly to the Jamestown settlement. Rather, Ritchie said, they would be free to use the attention paid to the Commonwealth because of the settlement's 400th anniversary to showcase their own history.
"We're not going to tell communities what they should do, we're going to let people take this idea and run with it," she said.
She suggested that some communities might want to create a new museum, organize civic events, launch a community beautification project, design special school programs or initiate a lecture series. The programs will be financed through state grants. A $2 increase in yearly car registration fees between now and 2007 will fund the grants.
"We're asking communities to look at their community, their history, their heroes, their heritage and to market their history in some way, to promote it," she said.
IN 1606, King James I of England granted land in his Virginia colony to a group of investors. Three ships — the Constance, the Godspeed and the Discovery — set out for the New World with 108 settlers. The colony they founded at Jamestown in 1607 predated Plymouth by 13 years. Even though Jamestown was eventually supplanted by Williamsburg, Del. Vincent Callahan (R-34) called the settlement "a monumental event of the Western hemisphere."
Elaborate commemorative ceremonies have been held before. In 1907, an eight-month long World's Fair devoted to technology and industry was held in Hampton Roads to mark the 300th anniversary of the first settlement. In 1957, Queen Elizabeth of England and other members of the royal family visited Jamestown, her Empire's former colony.
Organizers of the 2007 event predict it will be at least as monumental. The British royal family will return, the U.S. President is expected to visit and organizers are trying to secure a military flotilla from either the U.S. Navy or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. NATO will also host an international conference on democracy.
CITIZENS AT THE MEETING responded positively to the presentation. Several ideas were suggested, including putting statues of famous Virginians in McLean Central Park or reenacting the arrival at Jamestown for schoolchildren at the Claude Moore Colonial Farm. Jane Strauss, the School Board member for the Dranesville District, also said that a special program could be added to the school curriculum to coincide with the commemoration.
"We have all kinds of history here that we can build on," said Jan Auerbach, who sits on the board of directors of the McLean Citizens' Association. But Auerbach cautioned that such a commitment would require a lot of time from volunteers. "Everybody in this room I could name three or four things they're already involved in," she said, looking around at the other people at the meeting.
John Faust, the president of the MCA, suggested using the boundaries of McLean defined by the MCA for the purpose of the commemoration. But several speakers said that it would be a good idea to include Great Falls because original Jamestown settler Capt. John Smith is said to have traveled up the Potomac River to the falls.
Hearing the suggestions, Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R-Dranesville), who attended the meeting, said: "It seems that we're getting into a planning phase rather than the making a decision phase."
The citizens then decided to formally establish an organizing committee for the commemorative activities and to meet again later in the summer to brainstorm project ideas. David Hunt, a staffer for Del. Vincent Callahan (R-34) and a candidate for state senate volunteered to organize the next meeting.