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200 Years in the Making

Fading and torn leather covers the wooden box. The leather would help protect the wood from the elements, and also add a decorative element. The box itself, barely more than a foot deep and foot and a half long, is well over a century old. “At one time, it held all the court documents from Fairfax County,” said Susan Gray, curator of the Fairfax Museum.

The box is one of dozens of artifacts relating to the history of the city on display at the Fairfax museum’s newly opened permanent exhibit. The exhibit opened on Jan. 14, the 200th birthday of the Town of Providence, which later became the City of Fairfax. “It’s been an honor and a privilege to be the historic director at this time in the city’s history,” said Christopher Martin, historic resources director for the city.

The exhibit starts on the first floor, where the doors of the elevator have a graphic welcoming visitors to “The Fairfax Story.” After a short trip up, they will find themselves immersed in the history of the city.

Besides the court records box, the museum has acquired the mantel from the Willcoxin Tavern, which stood on Main Street, where the Bank of America is now located; many letters from alleged Civil War spy Antonia Ford; tools used in the construction of Old Town Hall; a log book of the “colored” voters registered in Fairfax County during segregation; and the uniform and Varsity letter of Fairfax High School alumnus and astronaut Pierre Thuot (Class of ’73).

THE PROJECT is the result of more than two years of work on the part of Gray and Martin. “There’s 200 years of city and regional history,” Gray said. “We look at it as a walk through history.”

The exhibits are designed with some flexibility, Gray said, and some of the artifacts will be periodically changed. Some items, however, will likely remain. “We always intended to have a Civil War video running,” Martin said.

The museum, Gray said, has 42 of Antonia Ford’s letters. Only a few are on display, and they will be rotated occasionally to limit the damage that can be done to the various pieces of 150-year-old paper.

Other cases are designed to have their entire contents changed relatively easily. While no set timetable for making changes exists, Martin and Gray do plan to make changes fairly regularly. “If they’ve seen it before, they need to come back,” Martin said.