Susan Hellman presenting to the Great Falls Historical Society.
Photo by TR Cook
Many residents of Great Falls have asked on many occasions how to research the history of the Fairfax County home they are living in. Susan Hellman, Architectural Historian, is the author of the research guidelines for researching historic buildings in Fairfax County (http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dpz/historic/ihs/research.htm), and shared her guidance with on Wednesday, Feb. 10 at the Great Falls Library. Whether researching on the Department of Planning and Zoning website, at the local courthouses, using the land tax books, analyzing physical structures, referring to personal property tax records, consulting historic maps or gathering newspaper articles, Hellman mapped out all the steps to take to gather all the possible clues to uncover the truth about your house. (You may visit at www.gfhs.org to find a link to Hellman’s presentation.)
She gave very important tips: If your house was built before 1940, do not trust the date it may be listed because if the county had no idea of the date, they would just list the property as 1900. Structural features and research of family members provide better clues. When working with the Land Tax books, properties will be listed in alphabetical order, however the properties will not be in order within a letter – (For example, within A, Abbott and Abrams may be listed under A, however Abrams may come before Abbott – you need to examine the entire category.) Hellman warns that Oral Histories should only be considered as a starting point, as people’s memories are not factual -- rather they report impressions and memories that may not be accurate or precise.
Hellman used to be the Historian at the Virginia Room prior to conducting many historical research studies at the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning.
Currently, she is the Historic Site Manager for the Carlyle House Historic Site in Alexandria. The Carlyle House is featured prominently in the new PBS mini-series “Mercy Street.” Hellman is a past Acting Director of the Woodlawn and Pope-Leighey House. A graduate of Duke University, she has a master of Art degree in Architectural History from the University of Virginia.
The Great Falls Historical Society’s March Program, Living on the Land (Part 2): “Equestrian” Great Falls will take place on Wednesday, March 9 at the Great Falls Library at 7 p.m. The spacious pastoral setting, uniquely characteristic of Great Falls, provides a vital setting for a wide range of equestrian activities. Hear the stories of how local horse people experience the land. Hear how equestrian families, local barns and riding schools experience oneness with the land as they care for their animals and enjoy their sport. Presenters include Georgia Bay of Lift Me Up!, Sharon Molster of Black Hill Stables, Karen Washburn, equestrian homestead, Weslie Karber, Normandy Farm, and Pam Mc Dormen, Southdown and homestead.
The Great Falls Historical Society was organized in 1977 to promote community spirit by bringing the past into the present. The March program uncovers residents’ many experiences of a pastoral setting of Great Falls at a time when the community wrestles with such land preservation issues as Brooks Farm and Marmota Farm, some of the last vestiges of an agrarian past.