Keeper of Our Local Story

Keeper of Our Local Story

The Great Falls Historical Society has carved as its mission, to keep the local story of life in Great Falls, Virginia over the centuries. This past May, we revived the story of The Great Falls Grange for Great Falls Day. On the main floor of the Grange, one could learn about the entire story of the local organization, the early meetings, the fundraising to build the building, the opening of the building, the centerpiece of community life experienced there over 60 years, its eventual sale to the Fairfax County Park Authority, and life under FCPA ownership. It took research, interpretation, planning, cooperation among many entities including the National Grange, the Virginia Grange, community members who were members of the Grange, the Fairfax County Park Authority, and more to prepare and deliver the content.

As we planned the day, we were challenged by the program design. Should the program have lots of music and outdoor activities like last year? Or should we minimize the entertainment to strengthen the importance of history in the overall program? We really struggled with the trade-offs.

By chance, I was given the full set up Chroniclers, our Society’s newsletters since its inception in 1977. I read every issue over two days. The story of Great Falls Day over decades unfolded before my eyes. All of the design elements - what day and time, how to present, the mix of music and history, etc., we had struggled with there and will certainly enrich our next effort with wisdom and imagination.

The power of an archive, and the current incomplete state of the GFHS archive came powerfully into view.

Spending the time to read through our organization’s chronicle of the last 37 years enlivened my respect for those who came before me, the leadership roles they played in keeping and conveying the local story to our community, the committees of members who worked on specific projects year after year to make their mark, contributing a yearly calendar, assembling a photo exhibit, preparing a house tour. There were certainly boom years and bust years of membership activity. However, my respect grew as I read about the robust efforts and accomplishments of those before me. Needless to say, building a sustainable and accessible archive will be a core initiative for the coming year.

Knowledge of the past enlivens our sentiments about the present. It hurts us that Turner Farm (for example) looks severely deteriorated right now, or the Great Falls Grange is commonly empty of community activity. We imagine in our mind’s eye how Turner Farm was a successful dairy farm where a remarkable leader of our community lived and farmed, and we begin to imagine ways that the property can be adaptively reused to once again become a centerpiece of community life.

To sustain a local culture, there must be an effective dialogue across the generations with older people sharing their wisdom, and younger people hearing and grasping the wisdom, carrying the memories forward in meaningful actions that resonate today.

We are proud to have honored two of our Board members this year. Carolyn Miller was awarded the Tibbetts Award for her historical research and Doris Carpenter won the GFHS Award for Excellence for her 17 years of dedicated service to the organization. They model for us the importance of leaving a legacy for future generations to enjoy and the many ways to make a contribution.

Continuing a vibrant local village culture depends on the active involvement of our members – old and new - today. There are historic stories and oral histories to be written and/or filmed; there are historical photos, documents and artifacts to be gathered and archived; there are historic properties to be preserved and curated; there is a place to be found for GFHS to display our historic collection. The continuing enthusiasm and curiosity of our membership is pivotal to the fulfillment of our mission – “To feel the pulse of earth where man has trod, and for the future keep the past.” Please consider joining our Society and volunteering to serve on a committee to actively participate in the work of the Great Falls Historical Society. Come experience the joy of discovering how things used to be, allowing the local journey of yesterday and the unfolding story of today – full of successes, struggles, wisdom, and foibles – to enlighten and fire our imaginations. Join us in creating a voice and a dialogue that communicates across generations, sustaining the story of our local culture in a way that nourishes and enriches all who come to live in our place on earth, our very special village, Great Falls, Virginia – regardless of their place of birth or family of origin.