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Celebrating Herndon's History

From 2001-03, Chuck Mauro, president of the Herndon Historical Society, immersed himself into all things Herndon, writing a book about the town's history.

All the work paid off as the information dug up for the yet-to-be published manuscript serves as the backbone for the town's 125th anniversary celebration this Saturday.

"From a historical perspective, the celebration is important because a lot of people don't understand how the town came about or why it's even named Herndon," Mauro said.

IN ITS EARLIEST DAYS, Herndon technically didn't exist. The area was just farms — mostly dairy — until a post office was established in the train depot in 1858. Over the years, as the metropolitan area grew, so did the town.

"Herndon went from farms to white collar to blue collar. That has been the progression," Mauro said.

He said the progression was natural: the dairy farmers would take their 10-gallon milk jugs to the train depot daily to be transported into Washington D.C., which led to them making money to invest into their farms to increase productivity. Then in the 1950s, the population began to expand as people figured out they could make more money in business rather than through farming, which also led to businesses moving further from the D.C. area as land values increased. The workers of the relocated businesses made their homes in Herndon. The creation of the Dulles International Airport continues to make the area attractive to investors.

"A lot of areas in Northern Virginia have been around for a long time. Being so close to D.C., may be why they stayed around so long. The area developed around it."

MAURO SAID that while researching his book, he was able to come across several significant historical artifacts, both human and material.

For instance, he was able to interview Frederick Washington, a one-time Herndon resident who was born in the 1940s. Washington had recollections of an area of Herndon known as Cooktown, which at that time, was for the black residents.

"I can't remember if it was Mr. Washington or his daughter, Sylvia Washington, who is a local teacher, who walked into the depot and saw the photographs from the Berkeley collection. Fred could actually remember what was going on in the pictures and recognized some of his family and friends," Mauro said.

He also discovered the house in which Confederate spy Laura Ratcliff lived in after the Civil War was still located just south of Herndon and is still used as a private residence today.

"After Commander William Lewis Herndon was killed in 1857, there was a proclamation by the Virginia government to his widow and I held it in my hands. And there was a coin minted in honor of Herndon and I held that too," Mauro said.

Explaining that even though the town's namesake had no connection to the area, at the time, the sinking of the U.S.S. Central America in 1857 was the biggest maritime disaster. Most people don't know about it today because it was overshadowed by the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic in 1912.