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Historic District Opens Doors to the Past

A major part of this year's Centreville Day activities will take place in Centreville's Historic District. It's off Route 29 and Braddock Road, and events there will center on the Mount Gilead Road area.

Visitors will learn about Centreville's rich, historic past — both Colonial and Civil War — while touring a part of town that many residents don't even know exists. But on Saturday, Sept. 14, from 11:30 a.m. to at least 4 p.m., the past will come alive for those attending the Historic District activities.

Working hard to make it all possible are Su Webb, Sue Davis, Mary Ahrens, Connie Peresada, Alan Rems, Spencer Marker and Sharon DeBragga. And attendees will get in the spirit of things by receiving "passports" that will be stamped as they visit each particular area, that day.

"We're really proud of the historic part of Centreville Day," said Pat Lawless, president of the Centreville Community Foundation (CCF), which sponsors the annual event. "We think it will really help redefine Centreville Day. It's really exciting, and Su Webb has done an outstanding job of pulling it all together." Appropriately enough, part of the proceeds from Centreville Day will go toward the Historic District's restoration.

On the big day, vendors will sell textiles, candles, pewterware, etc. at an 18th-century Market Fare reminiscent of the Centreville 1785-92 Trading Post Era. Visitors will tour the Mount Gilead trading post and view Civil War earthworks, as well as 18th-century graves at St. John's Episcopal Church.

Tour guides — who'll answer questions about their professions — will include Steven Bashore and Bill Winter. Bashore is the mill coordinator at Stratford Hall Plantation in Westmoreland County. Winter, formerly associated with Mount Vernon, is an expert in 18th-century restoration carpentry.

Visitors will also tour the historic Mount Gilead house and its grounds. The house dates back to 1785, and was originally constructed as a tavern.

"Confederate Gen. Johnston used it as his residence during the winter of 1861-62 when the Confederates occupied Centreville," said Marker, president of the Historic Centreville Society. "It's the sole, surviving home that was in the original Village of Newgate — which is Centreville's former name."

Girl Scout Troop 3023 of Virginia Run will stamp passports at this location and at the Civil War trenches. And the Westwood Traders, dressed in period garb, will escort guests to the doors of Mount Gilead.

The nearby Royal Oaks house was dismantled in the 1950s, but period-costumed docents will give details of its history. It once stood on Mount Gilead Road and, in 1765, Willoughby Newton sold 30 acres there to Newton Keene Sr. The land was sold many more times, and one of its buyers was John Orr — who has the oldest gravesite in the St. John's Episcopal Church cemetery.

It was also purchased by Daniel Roberdeau, a Revolutionary War general and a member of the Continental Congress; he lived there until about 1783. Much later, the Royal Oaks house was the Union generals' headquarters when they occupied the town during the Civil War.

Mountain View School (on Spindle Court in Centreville) is coordinating the activities at this house and at the Sears house. (Royal Oaks once stood directly across the street from the Spindle family's Sears house on Mount Gilead Road).

"We're really excited about it," said Sharon DeBragga, career development coordinator at Mountain View. "Since we're the only high school in Centreville, we like to do our part."

As its name indicates, the Sears house was ordered — around 1920 — from a Sears & Roebuck catalog. Some 22 different models were offered, and a two-bedroom bungalow like this one sold from $600 to several thousand dollars.

"The house came in by rail to the Herndon Station and was brought to the site by two rail cars — in 30,000 pieces," said DeBragga. "It came with 750 pounds of nails, about 27 gallons of paint and an instruction booklet."

Local contractors assembled such houses for about $450 — and in 40 percent less time than it would have taken to build a conventional house. The Spindles were one of the first Centreville families, and they eventually bought one of these houses. Visitors to the Historic District on Centreville Day will learn about their history.

Brothers Benjamin and Robert Spindle were born in Prince William County in the 1830s, served in the Civil War and ended up in Mosby's Raiders in the Confederate Cavalry. They settled in Centreville after the Civil War.

"Robert became a Fairfax County supervisor [representing] the Centreville District, in July 1901," said DeBragga. "Benjamin was a local businessman. The sign on his business read, 'Wheelwright, wagonmaker, blacksmith and undertaker.' He's buried at St. John's."

Their descendants later purchased the house from Sears and lived in it for many years before the county eventually bought it. Mountain View's administrative assistant, Pat Darr, is a descendant of Robert Spindle and will be at the Sears/Spindle house during Centreville Day, as will other Spindle family members.

Activities at St. John's Episcopal Church include a concert by children and adults at noon. It will be followed at 1 p.m. by an adult choir and organ concert. Then at 3:30 p.m., the Rev. Howard Kempsell Jr. will preside over a Civil War-period service. There'll also be dramatic narrations about people buried in the church cemetery — including details of the military execution of the two "Louisiana Tigers" who were part of a Confederate battalion.

Box lunches of two pieces of chicken, a roll, an apple, a sugar cookie and lemonade will be sold for $6, starting at 11:30 a.m. Lunches may be purchased in advance by phoning the church at 703-803-7500. Historic Christmas ornaments and Centreville afghans will also be sold, and the church ladies' group will host a craft fair and used-book sale on the first floor of the parish hall.

In addition, James Owens of the 1st Minnesota will be on site and dressed in the uniform of a Union officer. And authors of Civil War books will be on hand to sign their books. The authors include Centreville's Carl Reiner who wrote "Sgt. Bellnapp's Secret," a historical novel about the Civil War, and Jack Maples, who wrote the Civil War novel, "Reconstructed Yankee."

Paul Taylor will sign his book, "Discovering the Civil War in Florida: A Reader and Guide," and will discuss his new work, "He Hath Loosed the Fateful Lightning: The Battle of Ox Hill (Chantilly), Sept. 1, 1862."

Free shuttle-bus service to and from Old Centreville Road Shopping Center and Centreville's Historic District will be provided all day from satellite parking lots at Trinity Centre, Centreville United Methodist Church and Centreville High. Shuttle-bus service will also run between the shopping center and the Historic District. Parking in the Historic District will not be allowed.