Sunday Evening Concert on the Green.
Photo by Walt Lawrence
I have lived in Great Falls for nearly forty years and feel very grateful that I can call this place home. Whenever my wife and I have house guests we always try to take them to see some of the local sights before we head off into the city with its endless museums or further out into the country with a myriad of historical locations to visit. We do have a few places where snapshots of our history can be seen. So if you are a newcomer to Great Falls looking for a place to explore or you have visitors that you would like to introduce to the area I would urge you to consider some of my favorites.
Great Falls Village Centre
The Village Centre was built just about the time I moved to Great Falls and was modeled after the Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. The original plan was to have artists and craftsmen occupy the different buildings where they would be able to create and sell their work while interacting with the public. Well, that plan never fully materialized and morphed into a mix of retail stores, restaurants and professional offices. However, the Village Centre has become the heart of our village and all manner of community activities take place on the site. Weekends bring a variety of events such as Cars and Coffee, the Farmers’ Market, outdoor movies on Saturday summer evenings and outdoor concerts on Sunday summer evenings. During the year special holiday events are held for Easter, Fourth of July and Christmas and I’m sure there are a few I have missed. And as for the artists, like the swallows, they are returning to the Village Centre as at least three different group studios have opened in the past few years. I maintain my photographic studio at the Artists’ Atelier located in the Centre just two doors down from the Old Brogue.
This park is probably the best-kept secret in all of Great Falls. The park is part of the Fairfax County Park Authority and offers a variety of activities that embrace the water and the woods. You can rent kayaks, canoes and boats, you can fish, you can hike, you can bird watch, you can nature watch, you can bring a picnic or you can just spread out a blanket and take a nap. I have found that this area of the Potomac has a special place in my heart because not only is it close to home but it gives me the opportunity to go out on the water and explore the islands in search of birds and wildlife with my camera. The park also hosts an annual Bluebell Festival in the spring and a Virginia Indian Festival in early September.
The Great Falls Grange and The Forestville Schoolhouse Area
According to the Great Falls Grange website the Grange, “is the last standing unaltered grange hall in Virginia and is listed on the Fairfax County Inventory of Historic Sites, with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and on the National Register of Historic Places.” Unfortunately neither the Grange nor The Old Schoolhouse, now called the Forestville Schoolhouse, are open to the public on any scheduled basis. The places are typically rented for special events such as art shows, weddings etc. So if you see activity in and around the buildings try to stop and see if you can get a peek inside. Both of these buildings represent another era when Great Falls was a rural predominately dairy farming community. The Old Schoolhouse building has served many purposes in the past to include a real estate office and when I moved here it was our Post Office. For families with young children there is a terrific playground right behind the Grange Hall.
Colvin Run Area
In the Colvin Run area you will find the iconic Colvin Run Mill at the intersection of Route 7 and Colvin Run Road and the Old Colvin Run Schoolhouse near the intersection of Colvin Run and Walker Roads. The tour guides do a wonderful job of explaining how the mill works and on certain days they even operate the mill so you can see the final product. I took a tour and learned that George Washington once owned the land and originally considered building a gristmill. He later changed his plans and built a mill much closer to his home at Mount Vernon. There is a gift store on the site where you will find books, pictures and actual mill-produced products for sale.
The Colvin Run Schoolhouse was converted many years ago into a dance hall where dances are held on Saturday evenings. Whether you dance or not I would urge you to try to take a look at the inside of the place as it contains a treasure trove of historical artifacts and newspaper clippings of the past. Great Falls Studios used to hold art shows in the place until it just outgrew the capacity of the building.
Great Falls Park
This is a must-see for every resident of Great Falls regardless of whether you are a newbie or an old timer like myself. I would urge anyone to go down to the park at dawn or dusk and just watch the scene unfold as the sun does its thing lighting up sections of the falls and casting shadows on other sections. It’s also really cool to see the falls under moon light although the Park Service Rangers clear the place out around sunset. Depending upon the time of year the birdlife may be teaming or nonexistent. Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of the falls is the roaring sound of the water as it passes over the falls and through this narrow cut in the river. After a major storm the sound can be deafening. When the fish are running in May and June the Great Blue Herons fight over the best fishing spots close to the water and the cormorants are ever present. Try to get to know the park by hiking the trails and reading the information boards. Mather Gorge is a terrific sight to behold as the river has cut through the rock formations as it flows to the east towards D.C. George Washington spent time in this area working to build the Patomack Canal as the locks of the canal parallel the falls. He was so taken by the beauty of the Potomac that he purchased paintings of the Potomac River and of Great Falls that are still hanging in his home at Mount Vernon.
The Turner Farm Park
This location on Springvale Road is the most unique of all our parks because it is so eclectic, it really is two parks in a single location. There are 40 plus acres for horseback riding where individual riders can trailer in their mounts and ride on their own and there are horse show competitions that are very exciting to watch. There is also the Observatory Park where every Friday evening you can bring your lawn chairs, blankets and telescopes and watch the sky to see what might be happening in our galaxy. The park also has a few telescopes that can be used to observe the sky. I have been to the park and seen the space station go over a couple of times and have even observed a meteor or two streak across the sky.