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Past Happenings, Today's Remembrances

Franconia history is people driven — then and now .

More than 500 Franconia residents, past and present, filled the gymnasium of Franconia Elementary School Saturday, Nov. 28 to immerse themselves in the area's history and enjoy the camaraderie that has been the hallmark of this corner of Lee District since it was known as Frankhonia Farm.

This Fifth Annual Franconia Day Celebration, under the aegis of the Franconia Museum, not only abounded with historic memorabilia and reminiscent stories but also featured entertainment by the Edison High Concert and Chamber orchestras, Rose Hill Elementary School Sound Waves and Rockers, Hayfield Elementary School Chorus, Franconia School Chorus and Performing Mustangs, and the Sticky Rhythm Dance Studio.

One of the highlights of the event was the release of the latest volume of "Franconia Remembers." A collection of family stories of long-time residents, volume three continues one of the museum's most popular events, "Story Swaps," by putting into print tales of a by-gone era before Franconia became sandwiched between Springfield and Kingstowne.

"This book is a window into the life of Franconia before multi-lane highways, sidewalks, shopping malls and traffic jams. Twelve families share their personal stories of what living in Franconia was like in the early 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s," said Phyllis Walker-Ford, president, Franconia Museum.

That history is personal with her as it is with so many involved with the museum. Walker-Ford's great grandparents purchased 13 acres of land in the area in 1860. In 1881 they donated one half acre to what was then the Mount Vernon School District for the Laurel Grove Colored School.

Closed in 1932, the Laurel Grove Colored School has been restored by family descendants and interested citizens to tell the story of the community's refusal to narrow its ambitions. "Of all the colored schools opened in the region, only Laurel Grove exists today," according to the Laurel Grove School Association. Additional information is available at www.laurelgroveschool.com.

Her family history formed one of the pictorial displays on view throughout the room last Saturday. Others included pictures of a winning baseball team, the former Sylvia Theater, the old general store, a host of family photos, and much more.

The cover story of the latest volume is about the Burr Powell and Clara Rebecca Stout Dove Home Place (1898-1929) on Franconia Road. All three volumes were on sale during the celebration and can be purchased through the Museum atfranconiamuseum@yahoo.com.

"We're already starting to work on volume four. And when we do volume five, we are going to combine them all into a hard back anniversary edition," said Debbie Wilson, museum board member and editor of the museum's newsletter, Historic Franconia Legacies.

THIS YEAR'S CELEBRATION and displays honored a local group of Franconia natives or long-time residents known as the Franconia Lunch Bunch. They have provided the bulk of the stories in the "Franconia Remembers" series, according to Wilson.

The Lunch Bunch formed about 16 years ago when a small group of friends met for lunch at the Dixie Pig Restaurant in Groveton. The restaurant is gone, but the group still meets the first Monday of each month.

"Our meetings are filled with laughter where we share memories as well as our aging aches and pains," said Jacqueline "Jac" Walker, 83, a founder of the group, life long Franconia resident and a primary collector of the myriad stories that personify Franconia history.

"I've lived on the same street since 1929. We moved in there when I was six. But, we didn't move far — just from Newington," Walker said seated at a round table in one corner of the room with her friend Helen Peverill Wise, 85, of Rose Hill, and Wise's two sons, Ron of Stafford and Woody of Glendale, Calif.

"I came in from California to visit my mother but also to make sure I made this History Day. I missed the first four and didn't want to miss this one. It really brings back a lot of memories," said Woody Wise.

Having been the projectionist at the old Sylvia Theater at age 14, Woody became a real movie buff and had his own video store that specialized in only old movies — 1960 back, he acknowledged. "One of the things that took me to California was my love of movies," he said.

In assessing the growth of the Franconia Museum, now housed in a room at the Lee District Government Center, 6121 Franconia Road, Walker said, "I don't know of anything that has progressed so well. Everyone on the Board just loves what they are doing."

She also revealed, "We're finding that the community is hungry for this history. With Springfield and Kingstowne and all the other development going on we began to feel smothered. We're just not going to let that happen."

That fact is one of the prime movers behind both the museum and the History Day celebrations. "It's essential that we get the young people involved in the museum and preserving the area's history.

“That's our future and the way to keep this going. Many in the community are getting older and we need young blood," said Wilson.

Two other board members who are very much involved with keeping the history and traditions of the area alive are Don and Carol Hakenson. Don is also a member of the Fairfax County History Commission.

Born and raised in Franconia, Don is a historian and author with a specialized knowledge of Confederate cavalry officer John Singleton Mosby. His latest treatise titled "This Forgotten Land" is "the first history book of the Franconia area," he said. "It emphasizes the region's Civil War history."

Selling for $38, Hakenson has sold 1,100 copies from his home. Now in its second printing, it focuses on the areas of Franconia Road, Beulah Street, Telegraph Road and Lorton, according to Hakenson.

In addition to his book and other items at his exhibit area was probably the most unusual historical piece at the event. It was a portion of a Civil War "hanging tree."

The explanation on the wood spire about four feet in height noted that "three Yankees were hung in retaliation for three of Mosby's men who were hung by General George Custer at Front Royal." The Yankees were hung on Nov. 7, 1864, at 4 a.m. at Beeman's Woods on Grindstone Hill. The explanation for their hanging was attached to their bodies for Custer enlightenment.

"I also do bus tours of Civil War sites and other historical landmarks south of Alexandria. Everybody knows the history of Alexandria and Springfield. But, nobody seems to know the real history of the area between the two," Hakenson said.