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Braddock Looks Back

Event to unveil new historic Web site features speakers and family activities.

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Springfield’s historic 18th-century Oak Hill Mansion will be the site of ‘Finding Braddock’s True Gold,’ a free family festival honoring local history on Oct. 6.

Braddock District residents can catch a glimpse into their community’s past and one of its oldest homes at an event Oct. 6 hosted by the Look Back at Braddock Project as "Finding Braddock’s True Gold," at the Oak Hill Mansion in Annandale, will present a cornucopia of historic resources for residents and history buffs alike.

The event, part of a broader county-sponsored push to document the history of the region in cooperation with George Mason University, also looks to increase access of local history by unveiling a new Web site that provides a catalog of historic information about the Braddock District. Other parts of the project, organized with the help of Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock), including documentary, book and map chronicling Braddock’s history, were released as part of the project in 2006.

"The whole Northern Virginia region is just a very history-rich area," said Tawny Hammond, a Fairfax County Parks Authority manager and co-organizer of the event. "This is a way for us to help describe to the residents parts of that history … and what makes Braddock in particular, such an interesting place to live."

That history will be presented to Braddock’s families through a number of activities, including historic recreations, storytellers and speeches by archaeologists and writers. Taking place at Oak Hill Mansion, the festival will also allow for a viewing of the home, one of the oldest in Fairfax County.

OAK HILL MANSION, an 18th-century home once owned by early Fairfax County resident Richard Fitzhugh, is fitting for the festival in that it is the focal point and single most important site of the local history of Braddock District, according to Liz Crowell, a community archaeologist with Fairfax County Parks Authority who will speak at the event.

"You have a little piece of what was once a large property here, but the amazing thing is that the architecture remains," Crowell said. "It’s having a little piece of the cultural history of the area right in the community."

Crowell will work to tell the history of the property and the mansion, as well as describe its functions in two speeches at the event. To help illustrate the presentation, the interior of the home as well as archaeological remains, such as a former pathway and the foundations to several original buildings, will be available for viewing to the public, Crowell said.

Also on hand will be demonstrations of Braddock’s historic heritage Web site [www.braddockheritage.org], which compiles most of the information used in producing the Look Back at Braddock Project’s material, according to Mary Lipsey, co-organizer of the event.

"It takes all of the information that we have found and puts it together so you’re able to research from it," she said. "Given the significance of the event and the fact that we are only able to [host an open house at Oak Hill Mansion] a few times a year, we wanted to use this opportunity to unveil it."

AND IT’S not just the Web site history of the mansion and its surrounding area that will be presented, Lipsey added. Other tales from the region and their historic roots will be discussed, including ghost stories, a buried canon filled with treasure and the tale of "the bunny man" of Braddock, according to Lipsey.

One of the most recent and illustrious of the presentations will feature the story of Dulles Airport’s potential establishment in Burke, and the community’s fight against it, she added.

"The local history to me, it’s so important to capture, and I think that the people who come will be able to share that excitement," she said. "It’s the opportunity to walk where the people from the 1700s were and beyond, and hear what life was like for them, and that is very exciting."

To increase recognition of the historical resource of Oak Hill Mansion and the Look Back at Braddock Project, formed in the heart of the community, is one of the most important things that visitors to the festival will take away, according to Hammond.

"There’s a lot of places around here like Mount Vernon that everyone knows right away when they think of history," she said. "But [Oak Hill Mansion] is right here, and just about every one passes it every day … and not everyone knows of its significance."