Swapping Stories: A Historical Tradition

Swapping Stories: A Historical Tradition

An old Pennsylvania Dutch adage warns, "The hurrier we go, the behinder we get."

It could well be the slogan of the Franconia Swap Story series, which explores the history of the Franconia area of Fairfax County. It is a history not to be rushed past in the present.

On a recent Saturday morning at the John Marshall Library, just off Franconia Road, enthusiasts of Historic Franconia and members of the Franconia Museum Inc. gathered to explore that area's involvement with the Civil War. As the panelists related, it was extensive.

As questioned in the flier announcing the two-hour session, "Did you know —

* The nearest Civil War military engagement to the City of Alexandria was fought at Burgundy, once the home of George Mason's grandson?

* Clermont was the home of John Mason, the youngest son of George Mason, and was later used as a smallpox hospital during the Civil War?

* Rose Hill was the site of a Mosby Raid where Mosby's men captured an aide to Gov. Pierpoint of the "Preferred State Government”?

THESE POINTS and many others were elaborated upon by Carl Sell, Don Hakenson and Edith Sprouse during the sixth Franconia Story Swap. Hakenson and Sprouse, both recognized historians, are members of the Franconia Museum Inc. Board of Directors. Sell has been a resident of Rose Hill since the mid-1960s.

Introducing the session, Sue Patterson, president, Franconia Museum Inc., noted, "These things take on a life of their own."

"The library property we are in today was donated by Virginia Power so they could get approval to place power lines through Rose Hill," Sell explained. "This area was completely rural."

Sell related that when his father used to suggest a ride "into the country," that meant going from Huntington, where they lived, to Franconia. He then marveled, "All the real-estate ads now advertise Franconia as close in to D.C."

In 1967 Sell said he bought his home in Rose Hill for $26,000. "It had been built in the 1950s for $13,000, and I thought I was paying too much," he exclaimed. The first house in Rose Hill was built in 1954 and is still occupied.

"The only telephone in the area was a pay phone at the shopping area. If it rang, anyone in the vicinity answered and relayed the message or passed on the request to return the call to the caller," Sell explained.

BUT ALL THAT was well after "John Singleton Mosby chased the Yankees down the old road," said Don Hakenson, local historian and author. "Rose Hill was often raided by Mosby, known as The Gray Ghost."

Hakenson related that Burgundy Village and Franconia saw a lot of action during the War between the States. "Rose Hill House was raided by Mosby. Thirty-three Confederate rangers attacked Alexandria and pushed the Union pickets back to Shooters Hill," Hakenson stated. "People died in both Franconia and the Burgundy area."

Hakenson emphasized, "Union troops were stationed throughout Burgundy Village and Franconia. The 3rd and 4th Maine, under Gen. Howard, founder of Howard University, were headquartered at Burgundy Farm plantation."

Sprouse, who lives in Hollin Hills, Mount Vernon District, explained that the former Rose Hill, Clermont and Burgundy plantations are all interrelated because at one time they were all owned by the Dulany Family. "Then about 1840 John Mason bought Clermont," according to Sprouse.

During the two-hour session, Hakenson related many of the instances covered in his book, "This Forgotten Land: A tour of Civil War Sites and Other Historical Landmarks South of Alexandria, Va."

THERE ARE A total of 32 sites throughout the area known as Historic Franconia. They are detailed, with descriptions, in a brochure titled, "Historic Franconia: Lee District, Fairfax County, Va.," published by the Franconia Museum Inc.

Completely volunteer-driven and managed, the Museum does not have a permanent home but places exhibits in the Helen Wilson Community Room, Franconia Government Center, local libraries, and other community meeting places. In addition to its swap stories, the Museum hosts history tours, Franconia History Day in October, and other special events throughout the year.

Events are published on its Web site at Franconiamuseum@yahoo.com and www.fairfaxcounty.gov/gov/bos/ld/about lee district. htm.

The members encourage anyone who has "a story to tell or a picture, artifact or map to contribute" to contact them. "We are here to tell your story," they insist. "We at the Franconia Museum believe that you must know where you came from to know where you are going."