Great Falls Historical Society News

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  • Thursday, November 08, 2018 8:46 PM | Katie Whitman (Administrator)

    Please join us for this once in a lifetime opportunity to experience, in person, a one of a kind theatre organ played by Tedde Gibson, renowned theatre organist. 

    WhenMonday, November 26, at 7 P.M.

    WhereThe Hardman residence in Great Falls, VA.The event is free to GFHS members.

    What: Organist Tedde Gibson will present a special workshop for Potomac AGO and GFHS members. He will showcase a few short silent cartoons to demonstrate the creative thinking process to compose and arrange an appropriate orchestral accompaniment for a cartoon.The workshop will be focused on organists registering their favorite pieces of literature on a theater organ. You are welcome to bring music you are comfortable with to register on the Hardman Wurlitzer. 

    Jack Hardman will start this session with a brief explanation of the computer and software technology needed to link the organist's constantly changing demands at the console, to make all the keys, stops, pedals, swell shoes, pistons, ranks, pipes, swell shades and tremolos perform as desired. Bring your technical questions for this workshop.

    Watch this quick, two minute and nine second video from NBC Nightly News to introduce you to Tedde Gibson and the Theatre Organ. Click here to watch the video.

    How to Register: To register, please email Mildred Hardman at

    Details: Driving and parking instructions will be provided to you via email when you register to attend this program. Sandwiches, snacks, coffee, soft drinks , etc. will be available as early as 6 pm. The program will begin promptly at 7 P.M. Details and further information about the Hardman WurlitzerHere.

    We look forward to seeing you at this interesting activity. 

  • Friday, November 02, 2018 1:11 PM | Katie Whitman (Administrator)

    Please join us for "A Little History of Matildaville and the Patowmack Canal" presented by Elaine McRey. Immediately following the presentation, Ms. McRey will offer information on how to convert your “old fashioned” slides, tapes, photos, and movies for free at the Virginia Room in Fairfax. 

    When: Tuesday, November 13th 

    What time: Dessert, coffee, and slideshow at 7:00pm. The presentation begins at 7:30pm

    Where: The Great Falls Library

    Description: Learn about George Washington’s grand plans for the Great Falls area, which ultimately proved unsuccessful. There will also be a brief description of the library’s Memory Depot, a DIY digitization station to allow you to preserve your own memories on VHS tapes, photos, slides, and more. 

    Elaine McRey has been interested in genealogy since her grandmother told her that when the Mayflower landed, her ancestors were waiting on shore to welcome them.  But now she knows the first rule of genealogy--don't believe everything you hear about your own family history, even if your grandmother tells you it's true!  Elaine's been working in public libraries since 1990 and earned her library degree in 1999.  After a short stint working near Colonial Williamsburg and watching Thomas Jefferson come in every day to use the Internet, she joined the staff at the City of Fairfax Regional Library.  She's been a librarian in the Virginia Room since 2008.  She spends more time helping others with their genealogy than working on her own, but luckily, she's not the only genealogist in the family.  It must be hereditary.

  • Thursday, November 01, 2018 1:06 PM | Katie Whitman (Administrator)

    From the Fairfax County History Commission Chairperson, Lynne Garvey-Hodge:

    The Fairfax County History Commission’s Awards Committee has chosen Carolyn Miller for a Prestigious Award this year for her valiant efforts in collecting and preserving photographs and information on the History of schools in the Great Falls, Virginia section of Fairfax County. Presentation of this award will be at the Annual History Conference on Saturday, November 10, 2018 at the Stacey C. Sherwood Community Center in Fairfax, VA. The Conference begins at 8:30 am. 

    For more information email

    As you know, Carolyn Miller is a longtime member of our Great Falls Historical Society, and we also want to recognize her devotion, time, and all the energy she has given to chronicling Great Falls History. 



  • Wednesday, October 24, 2018 1:09 PM | Katie Whitman (Administrator)

    The Turner Farm Farmhouse is officially a Resident Curatorship. The Curator is Sarah Kirk, a Great Falls resident. The Great Falls Historical Society is invited to attend the signing of the lease by Curator Sarah Kirk.

    Where: The front porch of the Turner Farm Farmhouse

    When: November 1, 2018, 3 pm

    This is the culmination of hard work, time spent, research, and the strong determination of many Great Falls citizens! Our former GFHS President, Jacque Olin deserves much credit.

    I hope you will attend,

    Jan Schar, President, Great Falls Historical Society

  • Monday, February 26, 2018 2:11 PM | Rebekah Johnson (Administrator)

    Please join us on March 14 at 7 PM at the Great Falls Library to hear Karen Washburn speak on the longer aspects of history of Great Falls. Her talk is titled ”Evolution of Upper Seneca Road Neighborhood from Wilderness to Commercial Hub to Quiet Backwater.”  The Great Falls Library is at 9830 Georgetown Pike in Great Falls.

    Karen is a noted local historian who has spoken before us many times, has done original research, received several awards and written a series of historical articles in the Elan periodical. She is a past President of the Great Falls Historical Society and a charter member from 40 years ago. She has surveyed numerous historical houses and successfully worked to place several structures on the National Register of Historical Places, including the Great Falls Grange, the original Forestville School, and most recently, the entire Georgetown Pike roadbed.

    Admission is free and we invite members of the public to attend, as well as to join our society. You may do so on our internet site, Membership is $35 a family for 12 months, and you may safely pay for this easily on-line. Please bring your friends and neighbors. This is the fifth historical talk we have had this year, and there are two more yet to come, including on the escapades of Private John Mosby during the Civil War, and the Burning of Washington by the British during the War of 1812.

  • Tuesday, December 12, 2017 4:46 PM | Rebekah Johnson (Administrator)

    Who are we? Who were our parents and grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. and which “Old Country” were they from? How, When and Why did they come to America? In this time of year, we also yearn for those historic ethnic foods and activities of our past. Our genealogy is a large part of our heritage, and we need to know who we came from to have a more complete sense of self.

    Today, everything seems to move so fast. In this age of computers we can research our family heritage by use of scientific tools and the internet. I had my DNA tested by, and received a report that said I had a 97 per cent correlation with ancestors from Norway and Sweden. I already knew that but what is really remarkable is that my report also named a possible second cousin I was not aware of, whose grandmother was from the same town in Norway as my grandmother. I have also recently discovered my grandfather’s ancestors back to 1590, nine generations ago, who all lived in a small farming area near Gjovik, Norway. For a kid who grew up in northern Minnesota to finally be able to connect the dots to my past is truly amazing. You can probably do the same.

    The Great Falls Historical Society has invited Elaine McRey, the Senior Genealogy Librarian at the Virginia Room of the Fairfax Regional Library for our next public meeting. Elaine McRey has been interested in genealogy since her grandmother told her that when the Mayflower landed, her ancestors were waiting on shore to welcome them.  But now she knows the first rule of genealogy--don't believe everything you hear about your own family history, even if your grandmother tells you it's true!  She's been working in public libraries since 1990 and earned her library degree in 1999.  After a short stint working near Colonial Williamsburg and watching a certain Thomas Jefferson come in every day to use the Internet, she joined the staff at the City of Fairfax Regional Library.  She's been a librarian in the Virginia Room since 2008.  She spends more time helping others with their genealogy than working on her own, but luckily, she's not the only genealogist in the family.  It must be hereditary.

    Elaine will be at the Great Falls Library meeting room from 7-9 PM on January 10, 2018 to teach us how to use the tools available on the internet to research our family trees. This is open to the public and all are welcome. We suggest you come early because of the interest, so you can be assured of a seat.

    Glen Sjoblom, President

    Great Falls Historical Society

  • Saturday, November 18, 2017 9:08 AM | Rebekah Johnson (Administrator)

    On November 8, 2017, Douglas Cobb, Vice President of the Great Falls Historical Society, introduced a panel of four speakers at the Wednesday night meeting at the Great Falls Grange. They are Joan Wehner, Bob Mobley, Joan Bliss, and Phil Stone, and are pictured below.

    Watch a video of the presentation here

    They spoke about the 1983 community-wide effort 34 years ago to buy and then to renovate the Olde Forestville School House. They were instrumental in these efforts that allow the continued use of the schoolhouse by Great Falls residents for many years to come. Many other “old timers” also helped raise the $50,000 toward the purchase and another $50,000 for the restoration. The Fairfax County Park Authority put up another $150,000 in bond money to complete the purchase from United Virginia Bank. Initially our Supervisor Nancy Falck, and the Park Authority were not in favor of the purchase, but when they saw how committed the community was, they came to see it in another light.

    Joan Wehner also showed a few pictures of the long and earlier history of the little school. The past uses of the building had been a one-roomed school, then a two-roomed school, then a residence, long before conversion to a bank and our Post Office. Additional earlier history was spontaneously recounted by Caroline Miller, who lived there as a child, and was in the last graduating school class in what was then called Forestville School, prior to the 1959 relocation to the next Great Falls school where two fire stations have since been built. Perhaps we can devote another whole program to this some day.

    Joan Wehner led the presentations and displayed the many news paper accounts including the local papers and the Washington Post, which had been diligently researched by Alex Brudno of the Historical Society staff. Joan also described the historical evolution of Great Falls before the two shopping areas came, when there was only the Grange, the school, Buck Werner’s general store, the 7-11, two gas stations and the old fire station along Georgetown Pike.

    Names of prominent Great Falls citizens from the past were remembered, including Jack and Mary Bird, Harrison Wehner, Frances Davila, George and Elke Summers, Milburn Sanders, Mack (Jack) Crippen, The list goes on, and does, on the plaques still on the school-house wall, naming the dozens of benefactors and contributors to the effort. Just looking at this list is a history lesson.

    Phil Stone told that he and Don Zeigler had created Great Falls Heritage as a 501c3 organization to accept tax-exempt donations and negotiate with the First Virginia Bank and the Fairfax County Park Authority for the transaction. Many people of the Great Falls Citizens Association had devoted time to “preserving the semi-rural character of the area” since it was created in 1967, and joined this effort as well.

    Joan Bliss told of the fundraising efforts that she managed with help from Mary Bird, Dorothy Horvath and Francis Davila and others, including mailings, two fundraising Galas, with cars given for auction by the Ford and Toyota dealerships.

    Bob Mobley, our local decorated architect, described the efforts on the restoration of the school, including replacing the roof with the traditional standing seam roofing, some floor joists and interior wall coverings, and installing the ground level handicapped entrance, the electrical service and the heating.

    A handicapped bathroom was also added. Joan and Bob organized and oversaw the restoration work, which was done by many local artisans working pro-bono to help preserve a piece of our beloved little community.

    After the meeting, the people moved from the Grange for a tour of our little school, where all enjoyed home made cookies, apple cider, coffee and much good company with good and friendly people. Indeed!

    Who knows what the future of our Best Little School House will be? It has not been utilized very often in recent years, ever since the Fairfax County Park Authority began charging an hourly fee for each use of the Grange and Olde School, particularly since the Library allows free use of the meeting rooms in the Great Falls Library. George Adeler has led a group the past few years to form a local organization which would assume management control from the Park Authority and possibly allow more beneficial community uses. Some of the uses discussed are a Great Falls Visitors Center, a location for businesses to meet and a home and museum for the Great Falls Historical Society. At the present time, our beloved Olde Foresteville School just sits there, waiting for someone to love and take care of her. If our readers wish to provide input to the Historical Society on these future uses, send in your suggestions at

    Glen Sjoblom, President

    Great Falls Historical Society

  • Wednesday, October 25, 2017 9:28 AM | Rebekah Johnson (Administrator)
    The Great Falls Historical Society held its Octoberfest event on the 11th of October at the Grange Hall. There was also a very interesting talk by Jim Lewis on the process of deciding the border between Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. The food was excellent and the talk was equal to the food!

    Jim amused and educated us on the history of the formation of Loudoun County. in 1757. It was originally split off from Fairfax County along a line near Difficult Run. When the Federal Government acquired Arlington and Alexandria from Fairfax County to make the District of Columbia, this reduced Fairfax too much, and so the boundary was moved again 42 years later to its present location near the end of Seneca Road and Sugarland Run. The area we know as Great Falls was thus part of Loudoun for 42 years. The development patterns of Great Falls in particular and generally of Northern Virginia that are still ongoing were clearly affected by the border location.  You can watch the complete presentation online now at Vimeo.

    Next Event

    The next Historical Society event will be at the Grange and the Old Forestville Schoolhouse on November 8. Joan Wehner will speak about the purchase, restoration and transfer of the Schoolhouse to the Fairfax County Park Authority. Joan lived in and was active in Great Falls for many years and led much of the community-wide effort to raise funds to purchase and preserve the Forestville School. She will give a personal story as well as discuss the fundraising effort. Many of the "old timers" will be there with their part of the story, and will share many pictures, and recall many memories. This event is free to the public. Wednesday 8 November, 7:00 P.M.

    Next year we will have four events open to the public: $5.00 per person, A $35.00 membership will enable the entire family to attend our events for an entire year. You may join at our website,
    • 10 January, 7:00 P.M. at the Library. Elaine McRey, the expert on genealogy at the Virginia Room will demonstrate how to start YOUR SEARCH
    • 14 March, 7:00 P.M. at the Library. Historian Karen Washburn will delve into real Great Falls history including the evolution of the upper Seneca Road area from wilderness to farming and commercial hub.
    • 8 April, 4:00 P.M., at the Library. Greg Wilson will talk about his new book about Jon Mosby and his escapades in Fairfax County. Young adults will enjoy!
    • 9 May, 7:00 P.M. at the Library. Local Author, Carole Herrick will speak about the burning of Washington and the flight of President and Dolly Madison through Great Falls and McLean during the War of 1812.
  • Sunday, October 01, 2017 5:51 PM | Rebekah Johnson (Administrator)

    The well-liked and well-known local historian Jim Lewis will come before the Great Falls Historical Society and speak on How Fairfax and Loudoun Counties Finally Agreed on a Border” - the fascinating story of when and how the border between Fairfax County and Loudoun County came about.

    This presentation will coincide with the Society’s traditional Oktoberfest pot luck dinner celebration at the Great Falls Grange, beginning at 630 PM, on October 11. Doug Cobb will introduce our speaker who will speak after dinner. No reservations are required for the event. However we are hoping that all members will come and bring their favorite dishes and deserts to share with other history lovers. See Jan Sharr and Betty Swartz. Paper plates, napkins and drinks will be provided. Please also bring your neighbors and join us for a nice fall get together.

  • Monday, September 18, 2017 2:33 PM | Rebekah Johnson (Administrator)

    On September 13, Pat Wirth, the invited speaker at the Great Falls Historical Society at the Grange, told the history of the Women’s suffragist movement to about 45 members who attended.  It became readily apparent that the title of her lecture – The Best Kept Secret in American History! was aptly named.  It was a sad and poignant story of how millions of very courageous and determined women led a 72-year, nationwide struggle to win the right for women to vote that culminated in passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920 when Woodrow Wilson was President.

    In 1848 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York.  In 1872, Susan B. Anthony was arrested and physically abused when she attempted to vote and was convicted of the crime of “voting;” She dedicated her entire life to suffrage, but did not live to see it become a reality.  The National Woman’s Party was led by Alice Paul, who believed that an Amendment to the Constitution was required.  The National American Woman's Suffrage Association was led by Carrie Chapman Catt, who also founded the League of Women Voters.  Catt’s initial plan was to win suffrage state-by-state.  Catt’s approach evolved in agreement with Alice Paul.

    Paul met with President Wilson in early January 1917 pressing for his support for a Constitutional Amendment; she was rebuffed and told that he could do nothing and that it was a state issue.  Immediately Paul began scheduling her members to picket the White House from dawn to dusk Monday through Saturday regardless of the weather.  In June President Wilson began having these “Silent Sentinels” arrested.  Every woman refused to pay the fine levied against them, saying they had not broken the law.  As a result, hundreds were convicted and jailed.

    Scores were imprisoned right here in Fairfax County, at the Occoquan Workhouse in Lorton where they were kept in inhumane conditions, fed rotting food and physically and mentally brutalized.  When they went on hunger strikes, they were force-fed.  Lucy Burns, who co-founded the National Woman’s Party with Alice Paul, was frequently kept in solitary confinement for months to keep her away from the others lest she cause an uprising.  On November 14, 1917, what is now known as the Night of Terror, Superintendent Whittaker instructed his guards to physically abuse and intimidate a group of 30 women aged 19 to 73 being transferred into his facility to show them “who was in charge.”  When word of this egregious abuse was leaked to Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, all of the women were released.  Media pressure together with the D.C. Court of Appeals ruling in January that the arrests, convictions and imprisonment of all these women were illegal, forced President Wilson to go to Congress on January 9, 1018 in support of a Constitutional Amendment.  This was the Turning Point.

    The House immediately approved the amendment on January 10, 1918, but it took until June 4, 1919 for the Senate to approve the amendment and send it to the states for ratification. The ratification process was arduous and involved hundreds of thousands of suffragists pounding the pavement and knocking on doors until finally it passed by a single vote in the Tennessee state legislature, the thirty-sixth State.  Although it became the law of the land on August 26, 1920 there were years of controversy and many states took decades to ratify the Amendment.  The final eight states to ratify were all southern states beginning with Virginia in 1952 and ending with Mississippi in 1984.

    Glen Sjoblom               Patricia Wirth                 Doug Cobb

    Pat Wirth is the Executive Director of the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Association.  She is pictured with Glen Sjoblom and Doug Cobb of the Great Falls Historical Society.  She is raising $2 million needed to build a national memorial to honor and tell the history, or should I say herstory, of those many courageous women who led the fight for their freedom to vote.  Their goal is to have the memorial dedicated in August 2020, the centennial anniversary of ratification of the 19th Amendment.  The planned memorial has been designed by Mr. Robert E. Beach a member of the Fairfax County History Commission, and will be built on land donated by NOVA Parks that is part of the historic prison grounds where suffragists were jailed in 1917.  Pat stated that additional information about the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial and how to make a donation is available at  Pat Wirth can can be reached at or 703-201-3171 to answer questions.

    This talk was the first of seven excellent speakers on history that are planned for the year.  Please ask your neighbors to join the Society at and bring them to hear the remaining six speakers.
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Great Falls, VA  22066

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