History of McLean Day

History of McLean Day

McLean Day: Creating a Community

Original building being razed.

Original building being razed. 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 youngest child currently attends the school, and she serves as the Franklin Sherman Elementary School Historian. She helped lead the school’s Centennial Celebration.

The Civic League of McLean 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.

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.”