Commemorating Franconia Native

Commemorating Franconia Native

Franconia Museum pitches in to commission a Virginia Historical Marker dedicated to former Virginia Gov. Fitzhugh Lee.

For Don Hakenson, the love for his native Virginia started in a third-grade classroom.

Born and raised in Fairfax County, Hakenson heard the stories of famous Virginians like patriot George Mason, first president George Washington and others.

“Boy, did those stories make an imprint on me,” said Hakenson, who is on the board of directors of the Franconia Museum.

Hakenson and fellow board member Garry Dudding were the driving force behind a project to place a Virginia Historical Marker in Franconia to commemorate the life of former Gov. Fitzhugh Lee, who was born in Franconia.

“What it’s going to do, it’s going to show kids that they’re in an area which great people came from,” said Hakenson. “They’re going to see the Mason name, the Lee name, they’re going to gain something from the heritage of the area they live in.”

The marker, which has been on-site at the Mark Twain Middle School in Franconia for several weeks, was dedicated at a ceremony on Saturday at the middle school. The school, located on Franconia Road, is just a few hundred yards from where Lee was born, on a plantation named “Clermont.”

“The house would have been right at the middle of the Beltway. You have to say that it no longer exists,” said Dudding, who wrote the text that appears on the marker.

Fitzhugh Lee has many claims to fame. He is the only Virginia governor to date to hail from Fairfax County, and he came from impeccable blood lines. Lee was the great-grandson of George Mason and the nephew of Robert E. Lee, who himself was a descendant of George Washington. Like his uncle, Fitzhugh Lee was an accomplished military man. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point but resigned his post in the U.S. Army to fight with the Confederacy in the Civil War, in battles from Sharpsburg to Gettysburg. Following the war, Lee taught about the history of the South and wrote an authoritative biography of his uncle, Robert E. Lee. He returned to the military when President William McKinley made him a major general in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War in the late 1800s. He served in Cuba, where he was named military governor of the province of Havana.

“That’s pretty significant stuff, and that’s from a guy born in Franconia,” said Hakenson. “It’s cool stuff like this that people need to know about.”

In order to make the marker a reality, Hakenson and Dudding had to submit a proposal to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, which included the 100-word text for the marker, as well as resources used in compiling the text, and its future location.

"[The marker] gives information about people, places, events in the community that people might not really be aware of," said Scott Arnold, director of the Historical Marker Program with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Once the proposal was accepted by Arnold's department, it received approval in June from the Board of Historic Resources.

"Fitzhugh Lee was of state significance," said Arnold. "I was born in Fairfax County, and I didn't even know all that he had done."

OVER 2,000 such markers have been placed throughout Virginia, many of them on roadsides to commemorate important people or events in regional or national history. Highway markers cost $1,225 apiece, so in order to raise the money, Dudding and Hakenson turned to the Franconia Museum, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the history of the Franconia area.

“We’re trying to preserve the history and the heritage of the area, and this falls right in our realm. It’s just another way to document some of the history of the area,” said Dudding.