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A Historic Family Rediscovered

Gooding Tavern marker dedicated on Little River Turnpike.

Kathie Gunther, a researcher with the Fairfax County Public Library’s Virginia Room, often receives inquiries about Civil War history.

But when she received a call in 2008 from a descendant of the man who shot Confederate Major John S. Mosby, she had no idea it would unearth a treasure trove of history about another historic Virginia family: the Goodings.

Nearly four years, and 244 pounds of documents later, Gunther could write a book about the family. During the Antebellum South, when a quarter of the Commonwealth’s population were slaves who worked on tobacco plantations, the Gooding family owned almost 2,100 acres, a famous tavern, a blacksmith shop, a stable and a drover’s pen.

“The Gooding family was so enmeshed with the County’s history,” Gunther said, “they were a great family with important historic ties, but they were under-the-radar.”

No more. On Sunday, July 10, elected officials, historic-preservation groups and descendants of the Gooding family gathered on Little River Turnpike to dedicate the Gooding Tavern Historical Marker. Located near the Little River United Church of Christ, and just outside the boundary of the Pleasant Valley Memorial Park, the sign commemorates the location of the tavern.

Benjamin Martell, a descendant, uncovered the sign, which is engraved with this inscription:

“The Gooding Tavern served Little River Turnpike travelers and stagecoach passengers from 1807 to 1879, and was famous for the ‘best fried chicken,’ and ‘peaches and honey.’ The Goodings also operated a blacksmith shop and stable. Several Civil War skirmishes occurred around the tavern on 24 August 1863, Confederate Partisan Ranger Major John S. Mosby was severely wounded by the Union 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry. Two of his officers were killed and three men wounded. Union losses included: two killed, three wounded and nine prisoners taken. The tavern burned down in 1879.”

Before the dedication ceremony, the group met at the Little River United Church of Christ for a short history program on the Gooding family and the Gooding Tavern.

THE GOODING TAVERN, owned by William Gooding, served as an important social and commercial gathering place. Also known as “ordinaries,” these taverns provided food and lodging for travelers and their horses or other animals. Prices were established by court order.

Fairfax County Supervisor Penny Gross (D-Mason) said the Gooding Tavern was also known as the “10-mile-house” because it was 10 miles from D.C. William Gooding’s brother owned another tavern in Alexandria, called the “5-mile-house,” because it was five miles from the district.

Gross and John Cook (R-Braddock) good-naturedly disputed the exact political district where the Gooding Tavern was located. “The new marker is squarely in the Mason District, where the Gooding Tavern was located,” Gross said. But she conceded the stables and blacksmith shop were located across Little River Turnpike in the Braddock District.

“I didn’t think I’d need my international passport today to cross the borders,” Cook said, smiling. “It’s important to know our history, and this family was clearly a relevant part of Fairfax County history. And I’m looking forward to going out in the 92-degree heat among the poison ivy to dedicate the marker,” Cook said, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Mary Lipsey, Fairfax County’s History Commissioner, gave the most salient information about “Uncle Billy” Gooding (1768-1861), who was “a well-known and well-liked man.” He began his tavern career on Little River Turnpike with an “ordinary” license.

“He was a slave owner, but we know from documents that he was someone who treated his slaves well,” she said. His son left land to slaves and sold land to freedmen.

In an 1857 newspaper article, Lipsey said, the tavern was described as “old-fashioned, clean, well-kept, famous for its fried chicken and entertainment for man and beast.” Apparently, the tavern and its stables were the last stop before sheep and cattle were taken to the slaughterhouse, Lipsey said.

When “Uncle Billy” died in 1861, Lipsey said there were “glowing obituaries. They called him ‘kindly, cheerful, a remarkable man who retained his full vigor at 93.’ The newspaper said he never traveled more than four miles in his life, and he never saw a train but heard its whistle even though he lived within five miles of a train.” The Gooding family sold the tavern property when the tavern burned down in 1879.

MARTHA COLAVITA, a Gooding family descendant, attended the dedication and said she remembered visiting her grandmother’s farm — where the Gooding Family Tavern once stood — when Colavita was a little girl.

The Goodings are buried in a family cemetery known as Gooding-Seaton adjacent to the Pleasant Valley Memorial Park Cemetery. She said her grandmother was concerned about cemetery preservation, and she and her family would visit many of the gravestones on Easter Sunday. “This means a great deal to us, to have the marker here, near the cemetery, and recognized as part of our history,” Colavita said.

“The history of Fairfax County fascinates me, “said Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova (D-At-large), who spoke at the ceremony and walked with visitors through the cemetery. “What I love about history is learning about the families and the stories behind the markers,” she said.

The historic marker, one of eight in a three-mile area, was made possible by donations from the Bull Run Civil War Round Table, the Fairfax County History Commission and Christopher and Mary Lipsey. Lipsey is also a member of the Fairfax County Cemetery Preservation Association, a non-profit local organization. “We are small in number, but very dedicated,” Lipsey said.

For more information on the FCCPA, go to honorfairfaxcemeteries.org. For more information on Fairfax County’s historic markers, go to hmdb.org.