Great Falls Historical Society News
Dairy farming was the most prevalent economic activity in the Great Falls area from the 1880s, after the Civil War, through to 1989, when the very last functioning dairy farm was sold. From the 1980s to the present, there has been a lot of local activity around mega-mansions, cul-de-sacs, and mowed lawns. However, the mission of our local citizens association, formed in the late-1960s, has been “To preserve and protect the semi-rural character of Great Falls.” The Great Falls Historical Society’s January Program, Living on the Land: Semi-Rural Great Falls, featured five local residents who bring their land into abundant life in remarkable ways, establishing a deep and enduring connection with their land.
Dave Kondner grew up on a 350-acre cattle ranch in the Maryland countryside. Although there wasn’t much money in small farming, he always loved the natural environment. When he found his 5-acre property in Great Falls, so close to urban amenities but shielded from the urban hubbub, Kondner and his wife bought a five-acre former horse farm with a house and barn, completely fenced, with a pond and lots of untouched countryside.
Kondner loves the great wildlife around his home including the bald eagle, the red-shouldered hawk, the osprey, even a wild turkey, and lots of wild birds that hang out on his feeder. Kondner’s property is a Certified Wildlife Habitat. Domestic geese and lots of wild geese enjoy his pond. Kondner built a koi pond with a fountain in his front yard. Kondner’s deck overlooks his pasture, making it possible for him to throw food scrapes over the deck for his herd to enjoy.
Kondner has four goats and seven sheep and, ah yes, meat in the fall. Sheep are lean, but goats are even leaner. The pulse of life around him gives him great joy, delight and a sense of wellbeing.
Photo by Keyvan Moussavi
The goat herd of American and French Alpines are bred and kidded annually at the Amalthea Ridge Farm, a three-acre farm on Fringe Tree Road in Great Falls. Some are sold to other farmers and some are kept for milk production, and such artisan products as milk, cheese, lotions and soaps.
Growing ‘Kids’ on Fringe Tree
Keyvan Moussavi and his wife Sarah Wehri manage a herd of up to 30 goats on their three wooded acres next to a 100-year flood plain off of Leigh Mill Road. Their endeavors involve the year-round lifecycle of mating, birthing, weaning, selling or keeping a solid genetic mix of well-fed, well-bred, well-behaved and well-socialized animals who produce outstanding milk for those with milk and cheese shares or for use in luxury soaps and lotions. Sarah, a who holds a Ph.D. and is a biochemist, wrote her thesis on emollience and fashions remarkable soaps right here in Great Falls.
Photo by Barbara Smith
The Smith's Historic Raspberry Garden: This raspberry garden is filled with red, yellow, black and purple raspberries – both summer and everbearing – as well as a variety of herbs.
The Pleasures of a Semi-Rural Life
Barbara and Doug Smith live in the historic John Gunnell House on Arnon Meadow Road, built in 1851. An old garden still stands. Barbara has endeavored to locate heirloom bulbs and seeds from the earliest known dates that would have been in keeping with the time the house was built. Barbara noted the heritage trees found on her property as well as a fenced-in raspberry garden from the previous owner. Barbara is experimenting with different kinds of raspberries, both summer and ever-bearing berries.
New gardens have been built that include a fruit orchard and a deer-proof garden to grow organic vegetables, with a small garden nearby for asparagus.
Barbara started a wildlife habitat for all kinds of birds, butterflies and other wildlife, and has enjoyed watching the bluebirds building their nests. In the process, she has become particularly concerned about the monarch butterflies and now raises butterflies from the baby caterpillars found on milkweed in her garden, setting them free once they emerge from the chrysalis 10 to 14 days later. Her greatest pleasure is the enthusiasm of their grandchildren – weeding, mulching, planting seeds, picking raspberries, filling the bird feeder, and most of all, seeking and gathering monarch caterpillars and watching with fascination each life stage of these beautiful creatures.
Farming on Two Great Falls Acres
Chris and Sara Guerre rent two acres of fertile farmland just off of River Bend Road, where they plant, grow, harvest and prepare organic-equivalent produce for Maple Avenue Market, their boutique food store on Maple Avenue in Vienna, their various farmers markets, and of particular importance, their commitment to getting their organic produce into the public school cafeteria. Getting better food in the cafeteria helps kids eat better, enjoy healthy food, and hopefully change their attitude about food. Feeding school children is clearly Chris’s passion. He has helped kids build a garden at their schools, he has brought them on tours to his farm, he and Sara have brought prepared vegetables and salads to schools to share healthy eating and new tastes. Chris’ eyes sparkled when he reflected on the miracle of a handful of seeds, which cost next to nothing, and the wonderful miracle of the planted seed, and the abundance it gives forth. His amazement with the miracle of earth, seed and water inspires his year-round dedication and commitment.
Conserving a 13-Acre Garden
Barbara and Doug Cobb own a 13-acre property on Crocked Crow just off of Georgetown Pike. In Doug’s oral history, he refers to his property as “paradise.” A mix of wild, wooded acres, manicured flower gardens, and vegetable gardens, the land conveys all the lush and wonderful aspects of nature. Barbara and Doug have decided to keep their garden in tact by enlisting their property with the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust. As such, it is permanently protected from being subdivided, and will remain as one single property for generations to come.
As we have learned and have recorded for future generations, in the year 2016 there were residents living upon our land called Great Falls who were still fully in touch with the full and essential meaning of “semi-rural” and one might say, quite simply, they their simple connection with the land created for them lives of great joy. The presentations have been filmed and may be viewed at our web site (www.gfhs.org).
The Great Falls Historical Society was organized in 1977 to promote community spirit by bringing the past into the present. Our next program, “Historic Preservation” presented by Susan Hellman will be on Wednesday, Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Great Falls Library Meeting Room.
Kathleen Murphy, President, Great Falls Historical Society, Great Falls Connection, January 19, 2016
At our annual holiday celebrations over the last few years, we have noted the increasingly diverse community that Great Falls has become, as families from cultures around the world have journeyed by plane to Great Falls - as compared with travel by foot or horse-and-carriage more than 100 years ago – to live and work nearby.
History is the study of past events – GFHS’s mission is “To feel the pulse of earth where man has trod, and for the future, keep the past.” This holiday season, we sought to acknowledge and record the coming together of residents from many countries around the world to share our place on earth, our home, Great Falls. We sought to reveal the faith traditions of neighbors at this special time of the year when local Christians “make room in the inn” - extending openness and welcoming hospitality as “men of goodwill.”
The planning committee included Charles Stevenson, Janet Hill Al-Hussaini, Marjaneh Adell, Eve Loudenback, and I. We met twice a week for six weeks to research and unfold the story of neighborliness in today’s context. We wanted the program to be local – representing the faith traditions of people who live in Great Falls today, inviting all local residents to take part in our holiday gathering.
The program began with a half-hour presentation by nine youths that compared the sacred scriptures of eight religions with regard to nine messages of “neighborliness” – we referred to these as “messages of light:” The Golden Rule; speaking truth; being generous; loving; being a peace-maker; “as you sow, so shall you reap;” living by “more than bread alone;” not judging; and living in unity. Each of nine youths who practiced one of the religious traditions read their religion’s scriptures on the topic. To everyone’s amazement, each faith tradition has language on the core “messages of light” that were just about identical in guidance and direction – and often in wording. We were able to find the appropriate scriptures for each religion, thanks to the power of the Internet. It is now possible to search a topic and a religion and find relevant quotes fairly quickly.
THE FAITH TRADITIONS and the youth who read were: Mateen Ghassemi, 17, Potomac School, senior, who introduced each theme; American Indian, read by Noora Haghighi, Langley High School junior; Baha’i, Jian Mostaghim, 12, Potomac School; Buddhist, James Tran, 12, son of Julie and Vu Tran of the Nail Salon in Great Falls; Christian, Delaney Ross, 10, Colvin Run Elementary (and granddaughter of Pauline Ross, one of the earliest members of the Society); Hindu, Arnav Ketineni, 8, Colvin Run Elementary; Muslim, Kareem Baig, 14, Cooper Middle School; Jewish, Issac Zaret, 10, Great Falls Elementary; and Zoroastrian, Aundia Mehr Rostami, 17, South Lakes High School senior.
The overriding message: It seemed as if there is one Great Spirit (as the American Indian would say), who has been revealing the same messages to prophets in each individual culture around the world – speaking the same messages to prophets in the local language. It is only now that the Internet allows us to understand the meanings across languages, that we can see the connections and realize the unity of values and principles inherent in all faith traditions.
From left -- musicians Stephanie Hanson, clarinet, and Kismet Al-Hussaini, violin.
A reflective atmosphere was enjoyed thanks to the classical violin and clarinet played by Kismet al-Hussaini and Stephanie Hanson, respectively. Jon Paul of Megawatt provided the sound engineering -- which was extremely important for this event – and Archie Brown filmed the event, while T.R. Cook took photos. The film and text will be available on our website later this month.
Everyone was invited to bring a traditional holiday dish to share. Thanks to all the wonderful cooks who took the time to bring something wonderful, the cuisine was delightful!
By Kathleen Murphy, President, Great Falls Historical Society, Great Falls Connection,December 16, 2015
On Wednesday evening, Nov. 4, The Great Falls Historical Society program provided a panoramic view of the founding and early beginnings of historic churches throughout an area currently known as Great Falls. The march of people of faith toward Great Falls began well before the civil war in some faiths, but seemed to manifest its greatest expressions in the area in the decade just prior to the civil war (1861-1865), or just at the turn of the century that followed. The story of each local church shares the longing for a place of worship and the importance of building a specific place for the life of the community of faith to take root and grow. Here are some of the highlights:
A chapel is a church that bears a family name. Andrew Chapel, founded in 1854, was occupied by Yankees and damaged during the civil war. It was rebuilt in 1869 by its 51 members, which grew to 80 members by 1871 – including the Follin family, the Money family, and the Gunnell family, among others - and was later renovated in 1907. The church was served by a circuit of ministers and did not have a full-time minister until 1957.
At 76 years old, Reverend Jesse Brown and his wife Abigail came to the Leesburg Pike area with their 44-year old son, Augustus and 2 other ministers and purchased a 317-acre farm that spanned both sides of the Leesburg Pike, now known as Colvin Run Road, for $12 per acre. Both Jesse and Augustus had preaching licenses. The first worship service in Brown’s Chapel took place in 1879. They worshipped in the Liberty Church prior to that. Brown’s Chapel was moved to the entrance of Reston on May 3, 1968 to save the chapel, after 90 years of fine religious use.
The worshippers who would later establish this church on Georgetown Pike originally came from Germany in 1708, via Lancaster, Pa. in 1719, then Prince William County in 1904. The Church of the Brethren site was established in 1905. Prior to building the church, they prayed at home in fellowship, then met at the Liberty Meeting House, where they met one Sunday per month. They built their own church in one year on the site of the Battle of Dranesville, where union forces fought on Dec. 20, 1861 – at one of the opening skirmishes of the civil war. They conducted their first service on Oct. 27, 1912. Each year on Dec. 20 they conduct a peace service, recalling the men who lost their lives in the Civil War battle at that location.
The first chapel of the Dranesville Methodist Church, a small log cabin, was built at Sugarland Run in 1786. In 1790, the chapel was relocated to land granted to James and Eliza Coleman. Referred to as the Liberty Meeting House, the chapel was deeded for public use, free for all denominations and for the education of youth. The first class was held in 1852. In 1861, 161 men were killed during the civil war and the church was used as a hospital.
After the Civil War, Lettie Ford Ellis walked from Louisiana to Dranesville to her home near Seneca Road. In 1903, she dedicated a one-acre portion of the property given to her to build a church. Recently collapsed, there are plans to rebuild the church with the intention of sharing the new construction with the entire neighborhood, across all denominations.
Jesse Smith came from Mainstone, England, via New York and was a carpenter by trade. Starting in 1985, Jesse Smith attended the Liberty Meeting Hall. In 1861, Abraham Lincoln was elected President and one month later the Civil War began. There was a skirmish that took over the Dranesville Church, took crops and chickens. After the war the Smith Chapel was built. Beanie Lambert’s great-grandmothers worshiped at the church.
In 1854, Charles Whittier of the Methodist Protestant Conference conducted prayer meetings in homes. In 1876, they made plans for a permanent house of worship and in 1877 they dedicated the new church. The Follins, Hendersons, Cornwells, Sanders, Winstons and others worshipped at this church. Ann Stark Cornwell wrote about Christmas at Salem Church in her book, “Grandpa’s Shadow.”
Annie Johnson built Arnon Chapel. They cut trees from the property, and built the chapel. The bark of the oak trees can still be seen in the basement of the building. It was opened as Forestville, but in 1893, the name was changed to Arnon. Carolyn’s grandmother had a Sunday School class. When Carolyn’s grandfather heard that the name was Arnon, he left the new church and returned to Salem.
Great Falls Connection, November 10, 2015
Oktoberfest Potluck Celebrates Local History
The Great Falls Historical Society’s Oktoberfest pot- luck featured the autumn har vest.
By Kathleen Murphy
President/Great Falls Historical Society
The historic Great Falls Grange was abuzz with Oktoberfest Potluck guests bearing wonder ful warm dishes that filled 36 linear feet of
table space. The menu included Virginia honey baked ham, a classic German pork and sausage dish, made every year by the Follins, German meatballs by Maggie Mc Neil — lots of local regional dishes — and this year our “local” dishes embraced a Tepsi Lahana (cabbage cassorole), an Iraqi dish prepared by Janet Al Hussaini, and a Tunisia tajine prepared by Zokia Rabana. As the original settlers to Great Falls came from different countries, bringing the cui- sine local to their place of birth, the march of new- comers continues, and our community and our Soci- ety are enriched by the new traditions being shared among us. The Great Falls Historical Society welomes all residents of our community to join in sharing their traditions, becoming part of our shared “local” community.
Betty Swartz was the Hospitality Chair who orchestrated this wonderful event. She is not one to take the credit, however. She is continually impressed with how people arrive early and pitch in to help to deliver this event in such a gracious and lovely manner. Sue Kawmy served as co-chair and worked closely with Betty to learn the cus- toms and traditions so that they may be carried forth into the future.
The Follin family has a multi-generational heritage here in Great Falls. Calvin and his wife Jennifer have a long tradition of bring- ing a centerpiece German meat dish to the Oktoberfest. This year, the Oktoberfest fell on their 25th wedding anniversary and Betty very graciously recognized the occa- sion with a lovely bouquet of flowers.
Homer Johns, the longest serving active member of the Great Falls Volunteer Fire Department, shared the history of the de- partment as it experienced an early fire in their own station, moved to several loca- tions, etc. He described how fires are fought in Great Falls, where we are all on septic and the water supply coming by well may not be sufficient to put out a fire — requir- ing a large number of trucks carrying wa- ter. He also emphasized the importance of
Kathleen Murphy gives Homer Johns a Great Falls Historical Society’s t-shirt.
having a visible house number so that emer- gency response teams can find you. Carolyn Miller prepared a display board showing the various fire department locations.
The Split String Band played bluegrass and Americana music.
The Great Falls Historical Society was organized in 1977 to promote community spirit by bringing the past into the present. To learn more about our Society, please visit www.gfhs.org.
Our next event is “The Legacy of Faith: Great Falls Churches, 1850s to 1940s,” to be presented on Nov. 4 at the Great Falls Library Meeting Room at 7 p.m. Admission is free and everyone is invited to attend.
Kathleen Murphy, President, Great Falls Historical Society, Great Falls Connection, October 21-27, 2015, page 6 & 7
Locating the Historic Water-Powered Mills of Fairfax County
Debbie Robison’s presentation to the Great Falls Historical Society.
There was a time in the mid- to late-1700s to mid-1800s when mills dotted the landscape along stream valleys throughout Fairfax County. Since there was no electric- ity, electric motors or mechanical engines, local residents harnessed the power of wa- ter flow to mobilize their mills. Their chal- lenge was to find a site along a stream val- ley with water flow powerful enough to operate a mill. The contours of the earth mattered.
Most recently, the Fairfax County Environmental Protection Agency has chartered the county with cleaning up stream valleys and repairing riparian buffers, posing a danger to longstanding archeological ruins of old mills. Debbie Robison and her team of historians, archeologists and geographers have taken on the mission of locating his- torical mill ruins so as to designate them as historic resources and to secure their long- standing future protection.
Robison reviews the literature in search of references to local mills. For example, thereisreferencetoa“JacksonMill”located on Leigh Mill Road. It is also referred to under other names at the same location – pointing to the series of owners’ names over the last few centuries. Deeds of title may refer to land features, providing clues to the latitude and longitude coordinates that identify a precise location.
SOME THINGS TO KNOW: There are different kinds of mill wheels, some where water turns the wheel from the top of the wheel; some rotating the wheel through water contact at the bottom of the wheel.
The pitch of the water can influence level of power. There is usually some overflow mechanism to deflect water from most mills, a protection in case the water begins to flood.
Some mills have dams made entirely of stone, while others are a combination of stone and wood. It is important to note that when wood is kept completely under wa- ter, it never decays – remaining intact for centuries. So remnants of old mills found underwater are in the exact condition to- day as they were more than two centuries ago. Thus, it is very possible that as you take a walk along a stream valley park, you may come upon the ruins of historic mills, situated in the same place they were more than 200 years ago.
It is interesting to note that milling was a major industry in the 1700-1800s. Local farmers grew grain and milled it for local consumption, or more likely, to export flour to Europe in exchange for European cur- rency. It is easy for us to imagine the late- 1800s through the 1980s when Great Falls was dotted with dairy farms, as many barns still stand today. It is more difficult to imag- ine finding mills peppering the land a cen- tury earlier.
Robison is a preservation consultant who manages the historic preservation and res- toration program for an architectural and engineering firm located in Herndon. She serves on the Fairfax County History Com- mission and is a member of the Board of the Historic Centreville Society. She has written numerous articles about general aspects of Northern Virginia’s past and the history of specific sites. To promote preservation and facilitate local history education, Robison hosts a history website called Northern Virginia History Notes. You may explore her site at www.novahistory.org.
THE GREAT FALLS HISTORICAL SO- CIETY was organized in 1977 to promote community spirit by bringing the past into the present. We do this through monthly programs on local history and people, pres- ervation efforts, publication of historical essays, collection of artifacts and photo- graphs, oral history interviews, genealogi- cal research, and tours and dinners at his- toric sites. We hope you will join in our ac- tivities and support these efforts through your membership. You are welcome to visit our website at www.gfhs.org. Join in on celebrating the harvest at the upcoming Oktoberfest Potluck Dinner at the historic Great Falls Grange on Wednesday, Oct. 14 at 6 p.m.
Kathleen Murphy, GFHS President, Great Falls Connection, September 16-22,2015, page 6
Great Falls, Virginia – Inspiring Greatness
By Kathleen J. Murphy
President, Great Falls Historical Society
We move to Great Falls, Virginia with a sense of urgency: We are so busy with work. We hope to provide our children with a great education. We search for a home of beauty. We seek a sig- nificant community. We find a safe habitat in which to raise our young...and possibly grow old ourselves.
It is only after we settle in to village life that the history of our village begins to sink in. There is history all around us – historic buildings and houses, historic landmarks of earlier economic life – milling, farming, dairy farming, transporting goods along the Potomac... It is only after you sit with things a bit that the cultural message comes forth. Here are just a few examples...
The Colvin Run Community Hall on Colvin Run Road – the white schoolhouse turned dance hall – served as an anchor and glue of vibrant community life during the late 1800s to early 1900s. All the local fami- lies who lived nearby had a part in the nu- merous community fairs, events, perfor- mances, celebrations and game nights. Whether the Millard’s, the Cockrill’s, the Oliver’s, the Money’s, the Brown’s, the Wynkoop’s and others, everyone had a part to play in coordinating local events to cre- ate a context of belonging for their children. What was a platform of creative commu- nity “play” – and all the drama that sug- gests – has evolved into a vibrant dance hall that is still being enjoyed today.
As new residents become accustomed to Great Falls, they are frequently amazed that George Washington had a connection to this area. George’s early teenage years were marked by his surveying of Lord Fairfax’s thousands of acres of land that included Great Falls. The vast perspective set in his mind during his teen years served him well throughout his life. As a general in the Revo- lutionary army, he knew the lay of the land, how it rolled and twisted, allowing him to defeat the British with a very small army. He envisioned a path from the Shenandoah to Georgetown and formed the Patowmach Company after his tenure as first President of our nation, to build a canal and lock sys- tem to enable navigation of a river with an 80’ drop. Although this entrepreneurial en- deavor ultimately failed, the negotiations among the various states ultimately led to the forming of the constitutional conven- tion and the formation of our nation of many states.
It also takes a while to get to know the Great Falls Grange – a cooperative of adult farmers who decided to join together dur- ing economically hard times in the early 1920s to negotiate prices jointly, and to share good farming practices. From the cul- tural lore regarding membership in the Grange, we come to realize that becoming a good citizen and a leader is a task that we grow into through our entire adult life. Grange members were admitted into the group through initiations tied to the sea- sons. The first initiation honors spring – having faith that the unseen will manifest at its appointed time. The second initiation honors summer – keeping a spirit of hope, regardless of challenges that may arise, marks a person of character. The third ini- tiation honors autumn – working from a spirit of love and acceptance, not judging, will result in the most full and complete harvest. The fourth initiation honors win- ter. When things look empty and dark, it does not mean that all is lost, but things are happening out of sight. Being loyal as the field rests and things look barren shows character. The fifth and sixth initiations connect the granger with the state and na- tional level. The virtue of faith, connected with the seventh initiation, is symbolized by a bunch of wheat, which does not bend but grows straight up to the heavens. This is the message of stewardship – growing straight as the wheat, not being swayed by fads or contaminated by flashy promises, the farmer, uniquely deserving of being stewart of the earth, is called to participate in creating a connection with the earth that is sustainable.
From childhood in the Colvin Run community, to adolescence as shines forth from George Washington’s vision, to adulthood as manifest in the growing initiation of mature character as found among the Grangers, Great Falls is a place sure to in- spire greatness!
The historic Great Falls Grange re-opened March 7 with a ribbon- cutting ceremony.
Great Falls Connection, Newcomers & Community Guide 2015-2016, page 10.
The Great Falls Historical Society is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization