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Delving into Local History

Seniors research history of Spring Bank Farm.

This semester, five high school seniors at West Potomac High School have delved into an in-depth oral history project regarding the heritage of Spring Bank Farm. The high school rests on part of the historic land.

Bill Rhatican, advisor for the project, is a former AP government teacher at West Potomac High School. When he taught the class, he required his students to write a 20 page essay on a subject of their choice. Impressed by their writings, Rhatican decided to publish some of the best essays in several books.

Rhatican retired in June of last year, but his idea of a history project has since continued. During the second semester of the political science class, now taught by Sal Olivo, the students have a choice between doing an internship on Capitol Hill or participating in a history project. "[For the history project] I think it's a great opportunity for students to learn about their local culture and also get a real-world experience in history," said Olivo.

"It's really interesting research and it's not something that we [normally] do in school. It's a new experience going through these records and to piece together history," said Chris Derose, who is one of the seniors participating in this project. "This project is acknowledging a time period in Virginia history that has not been thoroughly researched. That's why I'm taking the time and effort to do it," remarked Yasmeen Telsem, another senior.

Ed Hines is the "driving force" behind this history project and is helping students as well. He is a descendant of a former owner of the land. According to Hines, Spring Bank Farm was carved from the Roger West plantation in 1805 when Robert Patton bought 128 acres. Later, the land was owned by George Mason VI, who was the grandson of George Mason, the father of the Bill of Rights. Eventually, the land was sold to Charles Henry Quander, a freed slave who had been held in slavery a few years beyond the Emancipation Proclamation.

"I am related to the Quander family and I am proud of this project to show the position of this community and the importance of African American and American history," Hines said.

The students have already performed extensive research on the history of Spring Bank Farm. Ultimately, they are working to put together a book on this project with the guidance of Rhatican, who will edit the book. "One of the elements of Virginia history was slavery and how that relates to people alive today. Some of those descendants are part of the history because they are descendants of slave families," said Rhatican.

The students have had unique opportunities to interview descendants of slaves. "For them, slavery now becomes alive. It's part of their local history and it's not a dead subject in a history book," said Rhatican.

They are trying to find censuses from as far back in time as possible and have researched into the first census of Fairfax County which dates back to 1790, and another from 1800.

Property deeds dating as far back as 1875 have been discovered by students, and Hines located one from 1805. Now, they will attempt to fill in the historical gap between 1805 and 1875. "By looking at the census and property deeds, we are able to take a very good snapshot of what Fairfax County would look like at any point in its history," said Rhatican.

The students meet with Ed Hines and Bill Rhatican every two weeks to receive more guidance and a new assignment for the history project. "It seems to me that they're having great fun," said Rhatican.

"I feel like I'm filling in the missing pieces of America's history," said Patrick Trimble.