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Remembering Ivakota Farm

Historic marker to be unveiled in May tells story of Ivakota Farm in Clifton.

Behind homes in the Balmoral Greens neighborhood of Clifton, near the intersection of Compton Road and Balmoral Forest Road, lies a hidden cemetery, the legacy of a Progressive Era school and rehabilitation center for unwed mothers, their children and young women debilitated by venereal disease.

Thanks to two history buffs, the story of Ivakota, the Florence Crittenten Mission and Dr. Kate Waller Barrett soon will be as easy to learn as reading a historic marker sign.

Fairfax County History Commissioner Lynne Garvey-Wark and Balmoral resident Andy Morse have spent most of this year researching Ivakota, the Clifton chapter of the Florence Crittenten Mission that cared for unwed mothers and grew to house and to nurse women back to health.

“Dr. Kate Waller Barrett was instrumental in the purchase of the Ivakota Farm, which was a proper working dairy farm as late as the 1880s,” said Morse, who moved to Clifton from Alexandria last year. The main branch of the Alexandria Library on Queen Street, along with a dormitory at the College of William and Mary, is named in her memory.

Started in New York City by Dr. Charles Crittenten, a wealthy philanthropist, after the death of his young daughter Florence in 1883, the Florence Crittenten Mission soon created a nationwide network of houses for unwed mothers and abandoned or orphaned children.

THE HISTORY of the farm, the main structures of which have been demolished, was brought to Garvey-Wark’s attention a few years ago by another Clifton resident whose parents live in a house that used to be a school for the institution.

“This is one of those places that needs to be honored,” she said. “I think there should still be homes like this around the country.”

Garvey-Wark draws a parallel between the Reform Era rehabilitation of the women at Ivakota and the prisoners at the Lorton Prison, also a Reform Era endeavor.

“What I really found exciting is the success and reformation of these young women,” she said. “These were pregnant girls or girls that were terribly diseased, maybe some of whom had trouble with the law that were sent here. They were taught skills, like canning, gardening, sewing. …This gave them a ray of sunshine in a dark time in their lives.”

Residents at the house would stay between six months and three years, depending on the help and rehabilitation they needed, Garvey-Wark said.

The time following the Civil War was one of caring and nurturing, as people tried to restore their lives when men didn’t come home and those who did were scarred by battle, she said.

While Crittenten was starting his legacy in New York, Waller Barrett was taking on a similar challenge at her home in Atlanta. She soon contacted Crittenten, Garvey-Wark said, and the two began a working partnership that lasted until his death in 1908.

“He had decided to create a Crittenten Mission in Washington [D.C.] before he died, and shortly after they began corresponding, Waller Barrett’s husband was transferred to Northern Virginia with his job,” Morse said. When Crittenten died, Waller Barrett as named chair of the Florence Crittenten Mission.

ONE OF HER first tasks was to begin the Ivakota Farm, which had been owned by Ella Shaw.

“Shaw first let her use the farm for summer programs, but within two years, the program was up and running,” Garvey-Wark said.

The name Ivakota comes from three states where Waller Barrett lived, Iowa, Virginia and North Dakota.

During that time, the Clifton community was known as a hub for progressive thinking, Garvey-Wark said, with many residents donating money for Christmas gifts and visiting the farm for vacations.

“Even the agricultural side of the farm was innovative at the time,” Morse said. “The farm had grant funding for experiments and won awards for their irrigation practices.”

The farm functioned under the Florence Crittenten Mission until 1958, and the land itself was sold to another party in 1962, Garvey-Wark said.

“There’s a wonderful story here about something which is now a beautiful neighborhood,” Morse said.

Right now, a white metal historic marker with a brief history of the Ivakota Farm and the Florence Crittenten Mission is being made, Morse said, to be completed either late this year or early 2007.

Next spring, most likely in May to celebrate Mother’s Day and the anniversary of the Ivakota’s original opening, a ceremony will be scheduled to unveil the marker.

For now, Morse and Garvey-Wark are continuing their research, Morse for his community’s Web site and Garvey-Wark for inclusion in the Jamestown 2007 anniversary next year.

“Ivakota is one of the most robust historic stories out here,” Morse said. “It’s a ground with a robust history. There are two Civil War forts, some prehistoric substone and it’s the site of the old Union Mill town, which was the nexus of this area before Clifton was founded.”

Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield) said she has been notified of the research and progress made by Morse and Garvey-Wark and is pleased the site will be honored.

"I think it's interesting for people to know about it, it's another added attraction to the Town of Clifton which does have a number of historic sites," McConnell said. "We need to preserve things like this that have a story that will be important for future generations."