Arlington is one of the few communities in Virginia that possesses a direct link to Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. In 1608 Capt. John Smith traversed the Potomac River and mapped the Arlington shoreline, mingling with the Native Americans who lived along the water’s banks.
WITH THE 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown quickly approaching, the county’s Committee on Jamestown 2007 is formulating new projects to commemorate the event and to deepen residents’ appreciation of Arlington’s own unique history.
The county hopes that a series of Jamestown-related programs will boost tourism and showcase local cultural assets, said James McDermott, chair of the Arlington Committee on Jamestown 2007, during an open house last week.
"We’re encouraging everyone to plan projects that ties into Jamestown or local history," McDermott said.
The efforts are part of a larger, 18-month state push to mark the anniversary and provide the state with national exposure.
"This is an opportunity for the light to shine on Virginia, and for the world and country to notice our history," said Amy Ritchie, manager of statewide programs for Jamestown 2007.
The festivities will also teach Americans more about the colonial origins of the country and bring Jamestown "out of Plymouth Rock’s shadow" Ritchie joked.
Locally, the official Jamestown celebration kicks off on May 27, when a replica of Smith’s Godspeed docks at the Alexandria Old Town Waterfront. The ship will be on display for a week, and will be accompanied by live music and historical displays detailing life in Jamestown, and exploring the settlement’s legacy.
The Arlington committee is still in the early stages of planning local events, but has already developed several to highlight the county’s proud heritage. The committee expects to partner with the Arlington Heritage Alliance to sponsor an oral history project.
"We’re a place with a lot of history and not everybody knows about it," said County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman in an interview after the Jamestown 2007 meeting. "This is a good way to enhance the collective understanding of who we are."
Members plan on participating in next week’s Neighborhood Day, with several dressed in 17th century clothing. There will also be a booth at the county’s fair so residents can learn how to be involved in the commemoration.
Next year the committee would like to host a boating event where residents can take canoes and kayaks onto the Potomac. The idea is to re-enact John Smith’s voyage, and focus attention on the role the river has played in shaping Arlington, McDermott said.
IN CONJUNCTION with school officials the committee is compiling a list of Jamestown-themed books for all students, and parents, to read over the coming year.
The county is seeking to use the festivities as an opportunity to implement beautification projects and plant "American Anniversary Garden" — with red, white and blue flowers — in many of Arlington’s parks and gardens.
The events could also serve as a springboard to elicit funds and interest in the Arlington Heritage Center and Black History Museum, both of which are beginning to take shape.
County officials hope that residents and local artists will come forward with their own ideas and projects in the coming months.
"There’s a real variety in these events and hopefully they will reach a lot of people," said County Board member Barbara Favola.
The statewide committee has also planned several marquee events to observe the anniversary. A three-day festival, entitled America’s Anniversary Weekend, will be held at Jamestown from May 11-13, 2007, and both President Bush and Queen Elizabeth II, who attended the 350th anniversary, have been invited.
Virginia culture will be featured as part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the Mall next summer, and various symposiums and fetes will honor the contribution of Virginia Native Americans and Black residents.
Students at more than 90,000 schools across the country will also learn about the origins of the Jamestown settlement through a live educational broadcast on Nov. 9.