How McLean Day Made McLean

How McLean Day Made McLean

History of McLean Day: First in a series

McLean Day 1917.

McLean Day 1917. Photo contributed

About The Authors

Paul Kohlenberger serves as president of the McLean Historical Society and as vice president of the Historical Society of Fairfax County. He is a member of the McLean Community Center governing Board and serves as Board Liaison to Friends of the McLean Community Center.

Merrily Pierce is a former president of the McLean Citizens Association, writer and photographer. In 2014, she and Kohlenberger co-authored “The Voice of McLean – 100 Years of the McLean Citizens Association” as part of the organization’s Centennial Celebration.

Kim Todd attended Franklin Sherman Elementary School, her children currently attend the school, and she serves as the Franklin Sherman Elementary School Historian. She helped lead the school’s Centennial Celebration.

A School Organizes the Community

On Oct. 19, 1914, Martha Kadel watched as her older brother and sister walked to the new Franklin Sherman School.

One of the few families in the new community, the Kadels had watched the construction of the two-story, six-room brick building behind their home for the last year. The school, surrounded by farmland, rose above the small general store and a few homes at the intersection of the Great Falls and Old Dominion Railroad Line with Chain Bridge Road, recently named McLean for one of the trolley’s founders.

On that first day of school, the Kadels would be two of the 29 students attending. Some came from communities up and down the new trolley line, others had walked from nearby communities on the connecting dirt roads.

The moment was historic.

The Kadels were attending the county’s first consolidated school that had brought together the one-room schools at Langley, Lewinsville, Chesterbrook and Spring Hill, an idea advanced by the school board member for whom the school was later named.

In a letter dated Oct. 1, 1914, Captain Sherman wrote Charlotte Troughton, that building materials had been delayed but the desks had arrived and all would be ready for delivery for the opening of the school.

Troughton was the young woman teaching in a one-room school in Farmville, Va. who had accepted the job as principal and seventh-grade teacher at the new school,

When Charlotte arrived, aside from desks, she and Miss Lillian Skelton, who taught first through sixth grades, found nothing else in the school except a box of chalk and a broom. The school had no electricity or running water and the grounds were as the builders left them.

“One of the first things we had to do was organize this school and civic league,” Charlotte wrote, “because if you wanted anything, there was nobody to ask for it. You had to get out and get it.”

The school had an empty auditorium with just a stage, so the two teachers and parents put on plays every month to raise money. On Nov. 2, 1914, Charlotte co-founded the School and Civic League of McLean with local business and community residents and became its first secretary in addition to her duties as principal and teacher.


Martha Kadel

The League, With the School as its Base, Gets to Work

After raising enough money to furnish the school’s auditorium with lamps and some seats, members of the League organized a committee of residents from surrounding communities to plan a carnival as a fundraiser. On July 31, 1915, the first McLean Day was held on school grounds and an adjacent lot. A highlight was the equestrian tournament whose winner chose the fair’s “Queen of Beauty.”

Proceeds paid for drainage pipes, a driveway to the school, and sidewalks on the school grounds.

McLean Day was so successful that the League voted to make it an annual event.

The McLean Day Committee grew to involve many of the residents who lived in the surrounding area. In an era before the growth of the county government with a residential and commercial tax base, McLean Day would function for many years as the principal source of funding in this community for public infrastructure and school needs.

McLean Day Makes McLean

Charlotte Troughton married, became Charlotte Troughton Corner, and retired from teaching in 1918 to raise her family.

She remembers 1918 and 1919 as being a period of disorganization in the community and school because of World War I and the flu epidemic.

McLean Day went on as usual that August with 5,000 people reportedly in attendance.

The Kadel family left McLean in 1918 and moved out to a farm on Kirby Road.

Martha and her siblings now had to walk along a dirt road to go to school. Martha lost her shoes in the mud one day on the way home. She stood in the mud and cried until a neighbor came by on a horse, pulled her out of the mud, found her shoes, and took her home.

Trolley lines all over the country were spurring the growth of commuter suburbs and coincided with the arrival of the automobile.

So great was the need for better transportation infrastructure that by 1920 a large percentage of the proceeds from McLean Day was being spent on road improvements including “macadamizing” Elm Street, the road in front of the general store, buying cinders for Ingleside Road, building a shelter most likely for the Ingleside trolley stop, and for “cording” the road from the Spring Hill stop to Georgetown Pike.

The League decided to purchase the lot adjacent to the school beginning in 1916 with the idea of someday building a community center. The Farmville community, where Charlotte had taught earlier, thought their school should be a community center and she arrived in McLean with that idea firmly in her head.

By 1922, owning the property, the organization incorporated and in that same year helped sponsor a volunteer fire department. The annual McLean Day that would be held on “the League Lot” for the next 25 years grew to include keynote speakers, baseball games, baby contests and served as a grandstand for political candidates.

In 1923, under organization president Henry Ayers of Tysons Cross Roads, the League began sponsoring McLean Day with the McLean Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD). The proceeds continued to be administered by the League but were divided between the two groups. By 1925, a proper fire station and fire engines had been purchased for the county’s first incorporated fire department which the Fairfax Herald called “one of the best small town departments in the State.”

By the end of the decade, McLean Day had paid for installation of a school bell, a wire fence around the school, interior and exterior painting, playground equipment, installation of fire escapes, and a water cistern.

School supplies included books for the school library and maps for elementary school classrooms. The League also began raising money for an addition to the school in 1924 to accommodate the growing numbers of students attending, which was completed the following year.

The school, through the League, also “functioned” like a community center providing meeting space — the Masons met there on Monday nights — and with McLean Day proceeds, the seed money for emerging organizations such as the McLean Library Association, the McLean Baptist Church, a local chapter of the American Red Cross and the area’s first Boy Scout Troop 128.

By this time McLean Day had become McLean “Week,” including a horse show, tug of war between towns, automobile races, raffles and even a “husband-calling” contest.

Electricity was slowly being extended to the countryside along with the growing population, but service was not dependable.

Beginning in 1922, the League began negotiating with Alexandria Light and Power Company to have a more reliable supply of electricity for the school and McLean residents. By 1925, the company had installed a substation at Westmoreland Street and Chain Bridge Road, which remains today.

Two hundred seventy-five students attended the school in 1927. The League lobbied for a doubling of school bus service from the Tysons Cross Roads part of McLean and negotiated with a commercial bus company to provide reduced student fares on its route along Chain Bridge Road. While transportation was gradually improving, it would take another seven years from the time the League had begun negotiations with the power company for seven street lights to be installed in the small downtown.

The League paid the bill for an eventual 15 street lights until 1954 from McLean Day and organization monies.


Charlotte Troughton, left, about 1915.

McLean Almost Loses a Tradition

When Martha Kadel graduated from Franklin Sherman School in 1928, she spent two years at State Teachers College in Harrisonburg and then returned to her hometown to teach at the Jefferson School in Dranesville. She would teach in Fairfax County and enjoy McLean’s hometown traditions for the next 40 years. Her granddaughter Ryan Kadel Gilpin shared her memories of the early days at Franklin Sherman School for the school’s 95th anniversary.

The League had always administered McLean Day proceeds that were divided among the school and community organizations and the MVFD. In the early 1930s, a standing Finance Committee was established for appropriations greater than $10.

The fairs continued to be co-sponsored with the MVFD in this decade adding events like a ferris wheel and fireworks displays, contests and bigger prizes to attract attendees.

The high school stopped serving McLean in 1937 and those students dispersed to Fairfax, Falls Church, and District of Columbia high schools, but the event was still held on the League Lot adjacent to the elementary school.

By the early 1940s, the McLean Day carnival had expanded to 12 days, with a Chevrolet given away as a prize one year and a steer the next. While the League’s focus was broadening to include zoning and support for public infrastructure like water supply and sewers, McLean Day proceeds still underwrote Franklin Sherman Elementary School needs with $1,940 disbursed to the Franklin Sherman PTA in 1946 for books, mimeograph machines, even the salary for the school’s secretary.

The League joined others in the community in lobbying for a high school for McLean.

The McLean Horse Show, originally part of McLean Day, had grown into a separate increasingly popular event. In 1944, the League had agreed to co-sponsor the second annual Horse Show held at Ballantrae that drew over 5,000 attendees and to share in the proceeds.

Whether it was sign of changing times or a possible change in state statute, McLean Day temporarily disappeared and the McLean Horse Show became McLean’s principal fundraising event, again with the League and the MVFD dividing the proceeds.

Moved several years later to Madeira School, the show attracted hundreds of entries from all over the East Coast and was named the nation’s best one-day show by the American Horse Show Association. Bayard Evans, founder of Evans Farm Inn, and chairman of the event, characterized it as the “Big Day for McLean, the Red Letter event, which provides the finances for the many worthwhile civic functions in McLean.”

By 1953, the School and Civic League of McLean reorganized as the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) devoted to civic issues, and the PTA managed fundraising responsibilities for the school.

While the McLean Horse Show continued for decades, between 1954 and 1958, the MVFD hosted an annual Fireman’s Carnival at its station on Chain Bridge Road.

In June 1966, the McLean Business and Professional Association (forerunner of the Greater McLean Chamber of Commerce) revived McLean Day.

In 1967 “McLean Days” were held for four days, culminating in a downtown parade and the dedication of the new Dolley Madison Library, for the construction of which the MCA had donated $5,000.

A new Franklin Sherman Elementary School was constructed on 6633 Brawner St. in 1953 in back of the old school outgrown by an expanding student body. The once-solid two-story brick building was adapted for other uses, including a teen center and interim community center, but it gradually fell into disrepair. The landmark building sadly was demolished in 1971.

McLean High School opened in 1955.

The League had bought and sold land over the years, including the Civic League Lot, in hopes of someday building a community center. While as early as 1953 the MCA had a standing community center committee, it bore little fruit until 1961, when its chairman, Bob Alden, convinced the MCA to establish the McLean Development Committee, with the goal of establishing a civic and cultural campus in central McLean. In succeeding years, the committee, under Alden's leadership, worked with the Fairfax County Park Authority to purchase land along Dead Run at Old Dominion Drive, and then convinced the library board to purchase an adjacent parcel for a new Dolley Madison Library.

In 1964, the MCA helped form the McLean Community Center, Inc. (now, Friends of MCC), to advocate for a community center. The first lot was purchased by the MCA from accumulated proceeds of previous McLean Days. The McLean Green opened in 1965, the Library in 1967, and McLean Central Park was dedicated in 1969.

The McLean Community Center (MCC), originally envisioned by Charlotte Troughton Corner and early League leaders, came to fruition following a 1970 bond referendum that provided money for the building’s construction and operation.

Alden, newly-elected to the MCC Governing Board, led McLean Day’s final rebirth. Sponsored by the MCC and SHARE, a consortium of local faith communities, “Celebrate McLean Day,” was held on Nov. 10, 1973 on the McLean Green with five hours of festivities, a parade, and the MCC groundbreaking.

The Community Center was dedicated in 1975 with Charlotte Troughton Corner present. Bob Alden and his wife Diane are frequently seen today attending events in the theater at the MCC named in his honor and at other McLean festivities.

For the next 15 years, the McLean Community Center sponsored McLean Day, no longer a community fundraising event, at its facility and at McLean Central Park. The event featured, as now, local artists, community organizations, rides, concerts and games.

It was moved to Lewinsville Park in 1989 and has expanded to include carnival rides, athletic demonstrations, a petting zoo, and, new this year, laser tag. Over a dozen food vendors and scores of businesses, crafters, and community organizations now participate in this event which regularly draws 10,000 people.

The event also serves as Election Day for the MCC’s Governing Board.

Martha Kadel and Charlotte Troughton Corner might not recognize McLean Day in its current location or format. The old school is gone and the League Lot is now the Sunoco Gas Station. Community organizations are no longer a major source of funding for public facilities.

But Franklin Sherman School and the School and Civic League (MCA), both of which celebrated their Centennials in 2014, will be forever linked in the establishment of our community and the annual McLean Day tradition as we celebrate its 100th anniversary.

As the editors of the Fairfax Herald noted at the 1925 opening of McLean Day, “it shows what community spirit can do and McLean has this spirit well developed.”