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Bringing History to Life

County’s Virginia Room adds 574 photos to Library of Virginia’s online database.

A new partnership between the Virginia Room at the City of Fairfax Regional Library and the Library of Virginia will let residents all over the Commonwealth get a glimpse into the county’s past.

A total of 574 photos were recently added to the Library of Virginia’s online photo database, allowing residents from Reston and Herndon to Norfolk and Hampton Road to pore over photos showing the county’s agrarian past, the important role it played during the Civil War and the rapid changes over the past few decades.

“This is a new way to show off digital pictures we have in the Virginia Room’s collection,” said Elaine McHale, a librarian in the Virginia Room, housed in the upper part of the library in the City of Fairfax.

Each county in Virginia has a Virginia Room, archiving documents, photos and maps, McHale said, but Fairfax County’s is among the first in the region to have this kind of partnership.

PHOTOS can be searched by region, by date or by topic, McHale said. But the 574 photos available online are only a small fraction of the photos in the library’s collection.

The photos might also be of interest to people who grew up in Fairfax County, who remember that Braddock Road used to be one lane in each direction, or who remember a time when Tysons Corner was populated by more cows than people.

The City of Fairfax Regional Library did have some photos available online before, McHale said, but the collection was taken down when the library’s website was renovated.

“We had been looking for a place to display these photos and our administration contracted the Library of Virginia to see if they were interested,” she said.

It took several months to select the photos to be included on the website, she said, but the time was well spent.

“Historians can use these photos for their books — we had one customer come in looking for a photo of Top’s Drive-In when he was younger and we had it ready within minutes,” McHale said.

Students wanting to research the Civil War can find a photo of a battlefield in Centreville on a cold winter day, steam rising from the nostrils of horses.

Or, if families have photos from Fairfax County’s past, anything from farm records and family photos to homeroom pictures to subdivisions, the library would be happy to add to their collection, McHale added.

“We have over 12,000 photos catalogued here, but there are thousands more and we’re always looking to add,” she said.

Prints of any photo can be purchased from the library for $8, she said.

Overall, McHale said the library is “very proud,” both of their in-house collection and their online offerings.

Suzanne Levy, another librarian at the Virginia Room, shares her sentiments.

“It gives us a new doorway to our collection by making this subset (of photos) available at a website not sponsored by Fairfax County,” Levy said. “These photos are a window into the county’s past.”

While many residents aren’t familiar with the county’s more pastoral history, Fairfax County “used to be a major dairy producer in the state and our photo archive helps document that past with photos of small homes in wide open spaces, barns, county churches and schools, trolleys and train stations and aerial photos.”

Those who don’t live in Fairfax County might even be surprised to find out that “we are so much more than Mount Vernon, Dulles Airport and Tysons Corner.”

Clifton resident Lynne Garvey Hodge said she used the Virginia Room’s archival photos when working on her book chronicling Clifton’s history. Opening up this resource to residents across Virginia is a great opportunity for the commonwealth, one she also hopes to utilize in the future.

“I think it’s really awesome,” said Garvey Hodge, a member of the county’s history commission. “The number of photos in the library is just amazing. It’s going to help everybody. Considering the county’s budget cuts, this will be a real advantage to the library as well.”

Being able to search the photos in a number of ways is also helpful, she said. “You can look up a photo online and order prints when you need them. This will be highly helpful if anyone wants to do their own book on family or county research.”