It was the middle years of the Civil War when Walter Bradley, a newly-arrived immigrant from Britain serving in the Union Army began to hear whispers of large expanses of fertile farmland for sale in Western Fairfax County. A letter back home notifying his father, David Bradley, began what would be five generations of Bradley family farmers in the Floris area near Frying Pan Farm Park.
Nearly 150 years after the arrival of the first Bradley family member, several modern homes dot the landscape of what used to be their property forming a subdivision named Bradley Farms.
The story of the Bradley family is one of dozens that underscore the history and evolution of the Floris area, located just south of Herndon and Frying Pan Farm Park, managed by the Fairfax County Park Authority.
"I think one of the coolest things about working here and being a part of telling the story of the area is in teaching people about all the extraordinary people that lived here," said Yvonne Johnson, historian for Frying Pan Farm Park.
"When you see Fairfax [County] as this very driven, a-type personality, you can see by looking into the past at the people who lived here and their aspirations that it’s always been that way."
THE FRYING PAN name has been tracked back to a 1728 deed of the area, which refers to a small stream that makes up the north boundary of today’s Frying Pan Farm Park labeled "Frying Pan Run," according to Johnson.
"Nobody has really been able to find a definitive answer for why the area was called Frying Pan," she said, flipping through photocopies of documents outlining land transfers in the area.
The land that makes up what is now Frying Pan Farm Park was originally purchased from Lord Thomas Fairfax by Robert King Carter, an early land agent who was once employed by Fairfax. The property transfer came in the form of the 1728 deed, in which Frying Pan Run first emerged as an official name.
The maneuver, according to Johnson, was an attempt at turning a profit on an area believed to be rich with gold.
"People were leaving for America, looking for riches, whether that be gold or something like opportunities in farming or livestock," Johnson said.
Unfortunately for Carter, the area was found to contain only amounts of copper, not gold, and he promptly set up a copper mine north of the park’s present location, to turn whatever kind of profit he could. What is now known as West Ox Road was labeled as such because it was the original 18th century route to transfer Carter’s mined copper in ox carts through Washington, D.C., Johnson added.
WHEN THE MINE proved to not be financially worth the trouble, Carter’s family, who had inherited the land, broke it up and started offering small plots out to farmers looking to make investments.
What resulted was the emergence of the Frying Pan community, complete with a post office, a church and several conventional and dairy farms, according to historical records cited by Johnson. It was during this time that Bradley joined with others in making a life for he and his family.
Near the close of the 19th century, the area had become a popular destination for Washington, D.C. residents looking to get out of the city during the steamy summers. Feeling that the name Frying Pan was too "old fashioned," many of the temporary summer residents proposed a change to a more distinguished name that they could be proud of when telling their families where to send their mail.
The community decided on Floris and the name was officially changed in 1892. The area would hold Floris as its official postage name until it was labeled as the Herndon area of Fairfax County in the 1960s.
Frying Pan Farm Park, a 135-acre recreation acre that houses meeting houses, stables, a petting zoo and an equestrian viewing facility, which stands in its role as the geographical center of the Floris region, was established after the Fairfax County School Board donated five acres of land in 1961 for park use, Johnson said. It sees as many as 250,000 visitors yearly, many in the form of elementary school students on field trips and horse enthusiasts.
DESPITE THE TRANSIENT nature of the United States in recent years, there are some people still living in the area who can track their family roots deep into the soil of Floris. One such couple is Margaret and Howard Peck, whose ancestors settled in the area in the 1750s and the 1870s, respectively.
"It’s absolutely fantastic to think that you’ve lived in a community for so long and to marry someone with that same background," Margaret Peck said while sitting next to her husband in her home, located across the street from Frying Pan Farm Park. "We’ve been all over the country and overseas, but this is our home, this is our community, we’re country people and we love the land here."
Margaret Peck, 81, and Howard Peck, 86, have lived in the same house that they built off of West Ox Road since 1970.
With a family that can boast serving in the area as dairy farmers and school teachers, amongst other professions, the Pecks make up a shrinking demographic in Floris. While all of their children have moved to other areas, both locally and nationally, they said that they were not bothered by the fading tradition of the long-tenured Floris families.
"We’re an oddity … because we have lived all of our lives here and we plan on staying here for the rest of our lives," Margaret Peck said. "We’ve kind of become like the grandparents to the kids in the community, who will eventually make up the new ancestors of Floris."
It is that feeling of a rebirth to the history of the area that keep Margaret Peck from lamenting on the disappearance of the original ancestral families.
"We don’t hold the world in our hands," she said. "We just enjoy it."