Normally, Clifton's a pretty quiet town of less than 200 residents. But each year, on Clifton Day, the streets swell with thousands of people from all over the Washington Metropolitan area — and this year should be no exception.
The 36th annual Clifton Day celebration is set for Sunday, Oct. 12, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (rain date, Oct. 19). Admission is free, and the town will be chock-a-block with food, fun and a festive feel.
"It's the one day when Clifton is everybody's hometown — where all are welcome like neighbors and treated like friends," said event spokeswoman Sharon Cavileer. "And the VRE train is running again, this year," added town Mayor Jim Chesley. "I encourage everybody to take it."
Besides the event's traditional offerings such as arts and crafts vendors, antiques, pony rides and a Civil War reenactment, something new has been added — a concert by two of the region's top bluegrass bands. Seldom Scene and The Mark Newton Band will perform in the gazebo in the town park from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Admission is $5/person, and Lisa Howard — host of WAMU/WACU radio and on staff at Bluegrass Unlimited magazine — will emcee.
Newton's 2000 hit, "Follow Me Back To The Fold" — a tribute to women in bluegrass — was one of the genre's biggest releases that year. And Cavileer called Seldom Scene a "legendary bluegrass band" that often plays at the Birchmere in Alexandria.
"This is real talent — first-quality bluegrass," she said. "Both are professional groups heard on the radio. And $5 is a steal — you'd pay more than that at the Birchmere."
Some 200 crafts vendors will line Chapel Road and Main Street. Visitors will be able to purchase a wide variety of items, including handmade jewelry, pottery and ceramics, stained glass, oil paintings and watercolors, photographs, wooden furniture, baskets, herbs and wreaths, sculpture and metalwork, leather goods, calligraphy, floral arrangements, Halloween and Christmas decorations, candles, kitchenware, clothing and toys.
THEY'LL ALSO BE treated to live demonstrations of woodcarving, syrup making, basketry spinning, herbal crafting, pottery making, lace tatting, rug weaving and silhouette making. Look for this section in Ayre Square, next to the Heart in Hand restaurant.
Antiques are always a part of Clifton Day, too, and they'll be found near the Heart in Hand, in front of the fire station on Chapel Road and along Pendleton Avenue. And the Clifton Farmers Market will hold its last day of the season, also on Chapel Road, from 9 a.m.-noon, offering fresh produce, pumpkins, honey, breads and other treats.
Local Girl Scouts and the Clifton Presbyterian Church will be selling snacks and a sit-down dinner, respectively, between the railroad tracks and the Hermitage Inn on Richardson Lane. The dinner is a grilled chicken breast with mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and Caesar salad. Also offered will be pizza, apple crisp, fruit cup, fruit smoothies and other beverages.
The Heart in Hand will dish up its traditional Brunswick Stew and other goodies, and the Clifton Store across the street will be open for business, as usual, with its normal menu of both hot and cold sandwiches. The Clifton Gentlemen's Club will serve its ever-popular, state-championship chili, plus side dishes.
But that's not all. The Clifton Lions Club will serve hot dogs and hamburgers, and the Clifton Woman's Club will offer baked goods, bagels and cream cheese. Cub Scouts will sell cotton candy and popcorn; funnel cakes and caramel-covered apple slices will also be available, and Boy Scouts will have lots of their steaming, hot apple cider and baked goods.
UNDER ITS COMMANDER, Tony Meadows, the 49th Virginia Infantry will hold a Civil War encampment at the Clifton Presbyterian Church manse. The members will discuss weaponry and show what soldiers and women wore in the 1860s. They'll also display and demonstrate their rifles — black-powder, rifled muskets that let off big booms and lots of smoke — and other equipment used by Civil War infantrymen.
A Kids' Crafts area will be set up at the Clifton Town Meeting Hall on Chapel Road (next to the fire station) And the Clifton Horse Society will provide pony rides, photos and face-painting for children at the barn near the railroad tracks, at the entrance to town on Clifton Road. Activities will be near the Long & Foster, Realtors office.
Parking will be available off Chapel Road east of town and at lots on Newman Road, Kincheloe Road, Clifton Elementary and the flood plain. Cost is $5 and goes toward charity.
Clifton Day is the year's biggest fund-raiser for all the town's charitable organizations. All the proceeds go to groups including the Lions Club, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Clifton Elementary PTA and the Clifton Betterment Association, dedicated to the preservation of this historic town. A children's AIDS clinic in Haiti will also benefit from the day.
For those wishing to leave the car at home and take the train to town, the Virginia Railway Express will be running. Hop on at Manassas, Manassas Park, Rolling Road or Burke. Trains will go to and from Clifton from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. It's free, going; return tickets, available at Clifton's caboose, are $5. For the schedule, see www.vre.org. For more Clifton Day information, call 703-968-0740 or see www.cliftonday.com.
Visitors may also take self-guided, walking tours of this quaint town with old-timey charm. Stroll by a dozen historic homes, the general store and beautiful churches. The Clifton Primitive Baptist Church, built by freed slaves in 1869, will be open; its handmade pews, altar and pot-bellied stove are all original to the church.
As Oct. 12 nears, final preparations for Clifton Day are underway. Now, said Cavileer, "We just pray for good weather." And if that works out, added Chesley, "We'll have a super-duper crowd."