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Celebrating 400 Years of History

Third history conference sheds light on progress being made to understand the past.

Fairfax County played host to its Third Annual History Conference, Saturday, Oct. 27, at the Annandale campus of the Northern Virginia Community College. "The Fairfax Four Hundred — 400 Years of Fairfax County History" was the theme of the event, referencing the Jamestown 400 celebration in May that marked 400 years of the Commonwealth of Virginia History.

Dr. Doug Owsley, who provided much of the Jamestown 2007 anthropological/archaeological work, was the keynote speaker. Owsley spoke passionately for an hour and a half on the work and research he has done in exhuming bodies from numerous sites in Jamestown. His work has provided historians with a rich data source in terms of living conditions, disease causes, correlation with recorded diaries and social status of those who founded the earliest known European/English inhabited sites representing what is now considered the beginnings of the United States of America.

Owsley explained how body placement, implements placed with the body, examinations of bone and remaining artifacts reveal a story much deeper and more intricate than previously thought. Through extensive visuals, he explained how diseases could be determined, what diets consisted of and even what occupation the person followed while alive. A cobbler, for instance, would have extra bone growth on the thigh bone, indicating repeated poundings on the thigh, as shoes were cut to size and formed. Or a seamstress would have scratches on her teeth indicating where she had held a pin.

GEORGE MASON re-enactor Don McAndrews kicked off the morning with a statement of Mason’s hesitancy to sign the Declaration of Independence, an act that reflected a statesmen who wished only the good for this new land and not a repetition of a dogmatic government.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chair Gerry Connolly (D-At-large) presented Two Lifetime Achievement Awards: one posthumously to Malcolm Richardson and the other to Carol Drake Friedman.

Richardson had conducted extensive archaeological research with Owsley and, among his many other accomplishments, had indexed the Fairfax Herald newspaper from 1886-1936 and indexed seven other newspapers from 1785 to 1943. His work represents the single largest resource for research in Fairfax County for the time period that newsprint exists. This work comprised some 9,000 volunteer hours. Richardson’s wife Margaret, son Jonathon and daughter Amy accepted the award on his behalf.

Lewis Leigh of Leesburg accepted the award on behalf of Friedman, who founded the Historic Centreville Society, Ltd., in 1987. The society located and conducted interviews with life-time inhabitants of the Centreville area, researching both public and private records and published her findings in "Millrace," which she continues to publish quarterly. She also organized the Centreville Bicentennial Celebration in 1992 and preserved the Lane’s Mill Ruins, an original mill run by freed slaves.

The conference began at 8:30 a.m. with a breakfast sponsored by the Fairfax Museum and Visitor Center, which also provided a presentation later on in the day by center historian, Dr. Chris Martin, on the growth of Suburbs in Fairfax County after World War II.

The crowd cheered long-time Fairfax County Historian Mayo Stuntz on his recent 92nd birthday — Connolly noted that it was, indeed a historic event. Local politicians in attendance included Del. Jim Scott (D-53), Supervisors Penny Gross (D-Mason), Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) and Catherine Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill).

OTHER WORKSHOPS throughout the day included: Marion Dobbins, who provided a 19th century re-enactment, reflecting the seven generations of her family and ancestry to the Lees and Collins of Fairfax; Mike Johnson from the Fairfax County Park Authority who spoke on the presence of the Native American Indian, reflecting a presence of over 16,000 years, and Fairfax County History Commissioner Sallie Lyons, who spoke on the founding of Colchester. Lyons’ archaeological work revealed a community nearly identical to one she had discovered in Winchester, England.

John McAnaw, a local Civil War expert, provided an overview of the Bull Run to Occoquan area during the Civil War era, and Edwin Henderson discussed his grandfather’s founding of the first NAACP chapter in Falls Church. Anne Barnes, a member of the Historic Laurel Grove School in Franconia, and Page Johnson of the City of Fairfax provided an overview of African American schools in the county.

Dr. David Sa’adah spoke of the Quaker Influence in the county and finally, with a sense of humor and passion, Joe Marinucci’s presentation on "Streets, Streams and Settlements — What’s in a Name" was also well-attended.

The Traditional Trivia Contest, catered lunch, free parking and an afternoon snack provided by the Northern Virginia Association of History were also part of the day.

Authors and books for sale included Don Hakenson’s writings on John S. Mosby, "Braddock’s True Gold," the Clifton Betterment Association’s "Brigadoon," Ross Netherton’s "Fairfax Station — All Aboard!" and "Yesterday" by Carole Herrick of the Fairfax County History Commission. Herrick’s book is a compilation of oral histories from Great Falls and McLean.

The Fairfax County History Commission, Architectural Review Board, Fairfax Museum and Visitor Center and the Northern Virginia Association of History sponsored the conference. Registration fee was $30. The conference will be repeated in 2008.

Lynne Garvey Wark served as conference chairperson, supported by a team representing the Fairfax County History Commission, Park Authority and Department of Planning and Zoning which is enthusiastic about continuing this excellent Fairfax County tradition.