As loud gun shots rang through the air, visitors walked through history without the risk of actually getting shot.
Walking through the Blenheim Estate May 6-7 was like taking a trip back in time, only much safer. Soldiers aimed Civil War-era weapons at each other during firing demonstrations, grabbing the attention of everyone on site. Spectators had opportunities to witness live war demonstrations, tour the historic Blenheim House, listen to educational talks and revisit the history of the war at the 2006 Fairfax Civil War Weekend.
“I think it’s kind of interesting to be able to see these things and see people’s opinion of the war,” said Diego Jauregui, a sixth grade student from Centreville.
The weekend was a huge success, according to Chris Martin, director of historic resources for the City of Fairfax. In addition to more horses and cavalry than in 2004, Martin said the 2006 weekend also had more visitors.
“It was just a glorious success,” said Martin. “We had wonderful weather and steady crowds. We were very pleased.”
The temperatures stayed in the mid-70s Saturday, May 6, and in the mid-60s Sunday, May 7. The sun shined on the site both days, adding to the event’s success, said Martin.
Some of the reenactors agreed that the greatest success of the weekend is the education it provides. Reenactor soldier Paul Goss said he enjoys sharing his knowledge with the public to provide a better understanding of history, especially since so much history took place right around Fairfax.
“Most of the fighting in the east took place within 100 miles of here,” said Goss.
Steve Wolfsberger, the reenactor coordinator, said the demonstrations and talks are especially important for children’s understanding of Civil War history.
“Children remember something they see and hear more than what they read,” said Wolfsberger. “We are a living history.”
THE DEMONSTRATIONS were popular, so were the restoration tours. The wait to get into the Historic Blenheim Estate Saturday afternoon was nearly an hour, but it didn’t deter visitors from getting in line.
Upon reaching the front of the line, Hildie Carney told each group of 10 about a brief history of the house and how the city acquired it. The circa 1858 Blenheim Estate, owned by the Willcoxon family for generations, was willed to the Scott family in the 1990s. When the Scott family heir decided to sell the property, Carney, president of Historic Fairfax City, Inc. (HFCI), said negotiations were tight. Developers offered the heir upwards of $5 million, but he ultimately sold all 12 acres to the City in 1999 for just over $2 million. This, said Carney, was a huge feat for the city, since the house is on the National Register of Historic places and contains well-preserved examples of Civil War soldier graffiti.
"I’ve been part of the plan since the start seven years ago,” said Carney. “This is very near and dear to my heart.”
The house is undergoing a restoration process, which is why Carney said the opportunity to walk through it now was so valuable, since it will be closed to the public for some time until the restoration is complete.
"We're hoping it will become a tremendously popular site and put Fairfax on the map," said Carney.
Since the removal of most of the wallpaper inside the Blenheim house, Civil War-era graffiti was revealed on the walls. Soldiers occupied the house during the war, and many wrote their names or Army identification on the walls with charcoal or graphite.
“Some of the charcoal signatures are very large and didn’t survive as well as smaller, crisp pencil drawings,” said Kirsten Travers, a conservator working on paint removal in the house.
Historians who were giving tours of the house said the house was used as a hospital during the war, but they don’t have a lot of details about much of its occupation or other uses.
“At least with this paint removal, we’re getting somewhere,” said Travers. “We have something to start with.”