Town meetings, a task force and hours of personal stories about life in the Braddock District finally came together as a book, Friday, June 2, at Lake Accotink Park.
“It literally arrived about an hour and a half before the ceremony,” said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock), who envisioned the project and followed through with its production.
The memories and anecdotes shared by longtime residents at community meetings throughout Bulova’s tenure sparked her interest in recording these stories into a tangible medium. Bulova said she used to talk with her senior staff aide, Florence Naeve, after meetings about what to do with the information the community shared.
“I called it Sharon’s vision,” said Mary Lipsey, one of the book’s four authors.
The authors weren’t the only ones working together, said Lipsey. Community members, county employees and financial sponsors all volunteered time and energy into the research and development of the book’s content as well.
“It’s incredible,” said Lipsey. “It’s been a real group effort.”
BULOVA'S OFFICE conducted a series of three community meetings, beginning in the fall of 2004, meant to provide education about the community’s past and present idea for recording this history before it could be lost in time. Since many of the people who provided such vivid memories of Braddock’s past are elderly, time was of the essence, said Bulova. At the final of the three meetings, the A Look Back at Braddock Task Force was born. The task force volunteers collectively decided the best way to record this history would be in the form of a book: “Braddock’s True Gold: 20th Century Life in the Heart of Fairfax County.”
“We had no idea what would be involved in capturing oral histories and turning it into a book,” said Bulova.
She said the budget began with an envelope of five $20 bills, since they didn’t think it would cost much money to do the interviews and pay for small supplies. The inexperienced publishers didn’t account for all of the little details that would add to the cost of the project, such as videotapes for the interviews and other office-type supplies.
“We then realized it would cost money,” said Bulova. “In the end the budget was $40,000.”
Bulova said the project wouldn’t have survived without the financial help from sponsors. Executives from the West Group, the Van Metre Company, Exxon Mobil and BB&T provided money to fund the project. Bulova and the authors thanked them at the debut ceremony with they first copies of the book. Michael Kuhns, of BB&T, said his company was happy to help fund such an important project in the community.
After realizing they had many misconceptions about book production, Bulova said they immediately knew they needed some guidance from people with more experience. They contacted Paula Esley, the publications chair of the Fairfax County History Commission. Not only did Esley have experience with publishing, she also knew her way around county history.
“Paula has been just wonderful about knowing what to do,” said Bulova.
“It’s been fantastic,” said Elsey, the publications chair for the Fairfax County History Commission. “It started with the oral history, but they didn’t just make them transcriptions, they wove them into the whole story.”
The book is filled with personal memories woven into a story of researched facts, said Elsey. Whether their ancestors were rooted in the area, or they made a life of their own here, oral history contributors added memories that couldn’t be found in historic records at the Virginia Room in the Fairfax City Regional Library. Although Bulova said the authors and researchers “gave the Virginia Room a work out.”
The book project also included a student essay contest, the 2005 Braddock District Student History Competition. Braddock District middle and high school students wrote a paper about any part of history in the area, but the stipulation was that they needed to use at least one primary source. The first place winner, Robinson Secondary School freshman Bronwyn DeLoach, used her family as the source, since she said they have ties to the neighborhood dating back generations.
“I had a connection so when I heard about the contest I really wanted to enter,” said Bronwyn. “My great-great-great-grandfather donated supplies and the land for the Wakefield Chapel.”
In total, three student essays made it into the book. Now the winners, DeLoach, Robinson student Miriam Hodgkins and Annandale High School student Julie Tumasz have their place in recorded history, said Bulova.
“It really was a total volunteer project, which is amazing,” said Elsey.