Remembering a 'House of Another Chance'

Remembering a 'House of Another Chance'

Historic marker unveiled on former site of Ivakota Farm.

One reason for the timing of Saturday morning's gathering at the corner of Compton and Balmoral Forest roads in the Clifton area was that it was on the Jamestown 2007 Anniversary Weekend, Fairfax County History Commissioner Lynn Garvey-Wark told the assembled crowd.

"This is a big part of this area's history," she said, shortly before the county's 24th historic marker was unveiled on the site. "But we're also here because tomorrow is Mother's Day, and many moms passed through the gates here."

That corner and about 400 acres of the surrounding properties were once Ivakota Farm, a "house of another chance" for destitute, homeless and deprived women, and often, their children.

Garvey-Wark briefly recounted the farm's history. In the late 1800s, she said, a New York pharmacist and millionaire, Charles Crittenton, founded the Florence Crittenton Mission, named for the 4-year-old daughter he had recently lost to scarlet fever. The mission was dedicated to helping women in dire circumstances.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, Ga., a minister's wife named Kate Waller Barrett was earning her doctorate degree, determined to provide assistance to "fallen women" and their children, following a life-changing experience when a homeless, unwed mother showed up at her door in the 1870s.

Barrett soon learned of Crittenton’s work and contacted him, said Garvey-Wark. By 1893, the two philanthropists headed the National Florence Crittenton Mission, chartered by an act of Congress. At its peak, the mission included 98 homes across the United States. "And one of the most important was this one," said Garvey-Wark.

MUCH OF THE LAND for the Clifton branch of the Florence Crittenton Mission was given to Barrett in 1913, after her husband had died and she had moved to the Washington, D.C. area. It was donated by a woman named Ellen Shaw, who had named her farm after the three states in which she had lived — Iowa, Virginia and North Dakota. By 1917, the farm was a fully functioning home for unwed mothers and their children and for women ravaged by venereal disease and homelessness. Often, women were sent to Ivakota by the Virginia Court System.

On the farm, they were taught how to start a new life — how to care for a home and child and also various trades, by which they earned their keep during their stay.

By 1923, said Garvey-Wark, Ivakota hosted 137 guests, a hospital, a school, a nursery, a cemetery and a commercial farm. Each year, the residents turned out 52,000 pieces of clothing, 15,000 cans of vegetables, 3,000 cans of pickles and 580 quarts of berries, said Garvey-Wark, adding that the motto Barrett taught the girls in her keep was, "I am an American girl, and I'm going to show the world that I'm worth something." The girls' output paid about a third of the cost of running the farm.

Barrett's home in Alexandria became the national headquarters for the Florence Crittenton Mission, and her son, John, lived on the property at Ivakota. The farm there endured until 1958.

Garvey-Wark also noted some of Barrett's other varied accomplishments: She was, over the course of her life, president of the American Legion Auxiliary, state president of the Daughters of the American Revolution, president of the National Council of Women, vice president of the Conference of Charities and Corrections of Virginia, special representative of the U.S. government in 1914 to investigate conditions in Europe surrounding alien women after World War I, chair of the Committee on National Defense, delegate to the National Peace Conference at Zurich in 1919, member of the Board of Visitors at William & Mary College and a member of its Phi-Beta-Kappa chapter, and active in the National and State's Suffrage Association.

"You have much to be proud of in this dear lady," said Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield), to the many relatives of Barrett attending Saturday's ceremony. Some had traveled from Georgia, Tennessee and as far as California.

"As a William & Mary grad, I remember seeing Barrett Hall on campus," said Del. Tim Hugo (R-40), adding that he now knew who the building was named for and why. The marker would not only serve as a reminder of what took place on the site in the past, but "also reminds us to look forward," said Hugo. "We have people in our midst who still have problems and still have needs."

Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Gerry Connolly (D-At-large) noted that it was proper to honor "somebody who cared about our community, who wanted to make a difference, who wanted to help people."

"We have learned so much from you that we didn't know about Kate Waller Barrett," Phyllis Kelley, state regent for the Daughters of the American Revolution and member of the Kate Waller Barrett chapter, told Garvey-Wark and historian Andy Morse, the two who did most of the research for the marker. "This just makes our namesake that much more precious to us."

"When you look at this marker, there is not one word or one punctuation mark that is there by accident," said Morse.

Garvey-Wark noted that, in addition to the hall at William & Mary, an elementary school in Arlington and a library in Alexandria were named after Barrett.

Garvey-Wark’s own connection to Barrett, however, was more personal than having passed Barrett Hall on the way to class: She was born in a Florence Crittenton home in Ohio. "So this was important to me, because I really believe that every child should be born with a good chance."

VAL SMITH III grew up in Clifton and is part of Barrett's extended family. Her son was both Smith's great uncle and step-grandfather, after he married Smith's grandmother. Smith and his two brothers were among the crowd Saturday morning. He remembered working on the farm on weekends, picking potato bugs off the crops, pitching hay and working in the cannery.

"It doesn't look at all familiar," said Smith, noting that the entrance to Balmoral Road, then a one-lane dirt road, had been flanked by two eight-foot-high flint columns. Across Balmoral, there had been an apple orchard, and the corner where the marker now stands was then part of a large pasture.

Ivakota had been a well-maintained, attractive property, with matching buildings and careful upkeep, said Smith's brother, Jack. "It was a great working farm. They raised everything," he said. "They actually have changed the topography, so it's hard to recognize."

Lifetime Clifton resident Harry Crouch attended school on the farm at a time when county students occupied the school in the morning and the farm residents used it in the afternoon. He recalled that girls had come to the farm from far and wide, including some who came from the mountains and had never seen running water.

"My daddy was a guard here during the old days," said Crouch. "The girls were not allowed to go in and out by themselves until, ah, until they were known to take care of themselves, I should say."