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Tapping Reston’s History

Archivist talks about searching through Reston’s past.

Just a few days ago, Veronica Fletcher, 26, received a call from a reporter from San Francisco asking about Reston. The reporter needed information about the 41-year-old planned community because he was writing an article on the smart growth movement.

“He thought Reston would be a great example of that 40 years ago,” said Fletcher, an archivist for George Mason University’s Special Collection and Archives. A subset of that collection, the Planned Community Archives, makes up about 90 percent of the entire collection. A brunt of the Planned Community Archives, or 450 cubic feet worth of materials, focuses on Reston.

“[The Reston collection] roughly takes up 20 percent of our total space,” said Fletcher, who receives regular inquiries about the contents. Much of it can be seen on online and continues to be digitized.

“If you type ‘planned communities’ in Google, the first thing that pops up is the Special Collection and Archives, which includes the archive of Reston materials,” said Fletcher.

FLETCHER’S PRESENTATION Wednesday, March 22 was part of the Reston Museum’s “History Comes Alive” program held at the museum at Lake Anne Village Center. About 20 Restonians attended the talk, which museum volunteer and Reston resident Lynn Lilienthal helped organize.

Realizing that she was talking to the choir, Fletcher didn’t review Reston’s history, but rather talked about how to search, or possibly add to, the collection.

It’s a message that hasn’t been lost by many attendees who have lived in Reston since the beginning.

Bonnie Whyte, a Reston resident since 1965, recently visited the archives. “We were looking for information on clusters built in the 1970s,” said Whyte. “And we found it.” Whyte, who volunteers at the museum, wanted to add interesting historical information about the clusters for several of the walking tours the museum organizes.

“The indexes for the archives are quite good,” added Whyte.

IN THE COMING years, many of the materials will be scanned so they can be viewed online. “It’s not a big warehouse that collects dust,” said Fletcher, emphasizing that the collection is very accessible.

According to Fletcher, the archive is part of the second most used collection at GMU. “Between 2003 and 2005 researchers examined 107,714 documents within the Planned Community Archives Collection. That puts PCA second behind GMU Archives as the most requested collection,” said Fletcher. In addition, the Planned Community Archives Web site has received over 20,000 hits.

It’s that level of accessibility that has members of the Reston Museum hoping for more collaboration. Vicky Wingert, president of the Reston Historic Trust, which runs the museum, said that the museum could be an excellent site for the archivists to set up exhibits. “We could come up with lots of themes,” she said.

The idea sounded good to Fletcher, who ended the program by displaying several historic photographs. Wearing white gloves, she gently removed several old photographs of some of Reston’s first buildings under construction.