Learning, Telling Neighborhood’s History

Learning, Telling Neighborhood’s History

Production describes role of Hunter Mill Road corridor during the Civil War.

Four men met at a house off Hunter Mill Road in Oakton, each of them retired from different professions, and each with an individual story to tell. However, the men met not to tell individual stories, but rather to review three years of work in telling a story of something they all shared.

One of the men, Bob Eldridge of Reston, spent 32 years as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. Tom Evans was an engineer with the Department of Army for 42 years. Charlie Balch of Oakton worked in Accenture’s banking department for 30 years, while Jim Lewis of Reston made a sales career with Xerox. A fifth man, Steve Hull of Reston, is a working independent technical consultant who was on vacation and unable to join the other four on the hot summer afternoon.

"The interesting thing is, five amateurs came together, connected on a common theme and each contributed from a different viewpoint," said Balch.

The story they told is a detailed historic account of Hunter Mill Road, and its surroundings, during the Civil War. "Danger Between the Lines," a DVD produced by local residents and sponsored by Hunter Mill Defense League, tells a story of people who lived in the road’s corridor during the war. Union and Confederate armies switched control of the area 10 times. The production also tells the story of how the neighborhood was divided, some residents supporting the union and others secession.

"THE QUALITY is very impressive, no doubt about that," said John McAnaw, president of the Bull Run Civil War Round Table. McAnaw said he knew some of the people involved with the production and expected the documentary to be of high quality, but not as good as the final product was. "It exceeded my high expectations," he said.

The 78-minute presentation of the corridor’s Civil War history is enhanced with period-appropriate music — performed by the Second South Carolina String Band — photographs, drawings and writings of personal accounts. It premiered at the Bull Run Civil War Round Table’s June meeting. McAnaw said the production received a genuine, loud, applause from the audience at its premiere. He said "Danger Between the Lines" is a first rate production that covers a very important area of Fairfax County in a way it had never been covered before.

Evans, a relic hunter in the Hunter Mill corridor and a local Civil War historian, said the corridor is abundant with Civil War artifacts. His relic collection features in the film on multiple occasions. "I always had an interest in the Civil War, and a tremendous amount of interest in Hunters Mill," said Evans, co-author of "Mosby’s Confederacy: A Guide to the Roads and Sites of Colonel John Singleton Mosby."

Balch said the production is a successful attempt of bringing together people who had an interest to document the history of their own neighborhoods while tying in Evans’s relic collection. He said it took about two years to do the research, and another year or so to complete the technical aspects of creating a DVD.

Lewis said he and Eldridge have Confederate trenches in their backyards. Eldridge said he learned a tremendous amount about the history of the area where he lives. During the research he often asked himself, "Is that really on Hunter Mill Road?"

Hull, the executive producer, drove the research process. He only allowed original source documents to be included in the film. "Steve Hull drove that authenticity," said Lewis. The researchers used information from numerous local libraries and visited other libraries and museums in the Mid-Atlantic region. One of the hardest parts of the research was finding high quality photographs that were representative of the Civil War era in the area, and also in the public domain. They hoped to release the DVD by Christmas time last year, but are glad to have taken more time with it, because the end product reflects what they set out to do. "If you have a perfectionist driving you it’s not slapdash," said Balch referring to Hull.

FAMILIES AND NEIGHBORS of the five men became involved in the production. Lewis said the women involved played a critical part in the process. "It was terribly important that several women got involved in the review" before the completion of the production, he said. Eldridge said they offered a different viewpoint. While the men were interested in the movement of the armies, the maps and the relics, the women were more interested in the personal stories. The input they provided helped create an anecdotal production with a personal touch.

The motivation behind three years of labor is to preserve Hunter Mill Road as a scenic and historic route. Some residents in the corridor — including those who produced the DVD — feel that too much development in the area would destroy much of its historic significance. McAnaw applauds their efforts to preserve the corridor’s heritage. "You cannot put a value on our heritage," he said. "I hope citizenry in other areas of the county will do the same thing."

Funds raised from sales of the DVD will be used to place historic markers in the corridor connecting Oakton to Reston through Vienna. Balch said education is necessary to preserve the road’s historic feel. "One, educate the [Fairfax County] supervisors, but more importantly educate the citizens," said Balch. Education encompasses the hope that in the future local schools would consider showing the DVD in their classrooms. Balch said another goal is to place Hunter Mill Road on the county’s registry of historic places.

As for now, the group is in marketing mode, spreading the word about the production. First reviews were encouraging. "People are wanting tours now," said Lewis. "Danger Between the Lines" is available for purchase on the Hunter Mill Defense League Web site, http://hmdl.org, at a cost of $16.