P.O. Box 56
Great Falls, VA 22066
Great Falls Historical Society News
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, gfhs.org. 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.
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 Ancestry.com, 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
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 www.gfhs.org.
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.
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 www.suffragistmemorial.org. Pat Wirth can can be reached at email@example.com or 703-201-3171 to answer questions.
Ansley Bryan and Brian Love discuss their research. Photo contributed
By Kathleen Murphy, Past President of the Great Falls Historical Society
The Great Falls Historical Society invited young people throughout our community and beyond to step up to the research challenge: “Who are the ten players on the local 1890s baseball team?” as presented in a historic photo.
Caroline Ralston, a former GFHS Intern and current member of the GFHS Board of Directors, prepared an introductory presentation to identify the scope of the assignment, suggest research sources, and provide software suggestions that would assist with preparing footnotes and bibliography. Her presentation was filmed and her slides were shared on the Society’s website as an orientation for participants who might join in later.
BRIAN LOVE, a senior from Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md., was the first person to sign up. Ansley Bryan, an eighth grader from Flint Hill School in Oakton, was the only other person to complete the challenge all the way to the end. Brian lives in Bethesda, and Ansley, in Great Falls. Seven other young people agreed to participate in the challenge but dropped out along the way, some notifying of their conflict with sports or homework, others just silently becoming incommunicado.
Here is Brian’s interest in the project, in his own words:
“I have several interests in addition to genealogy, these include baseball, politics, and music. I developed an interest in following professional baseball from my Grandma Love who lived in St. Louis. She was a massive Cardinals fan and would buy my brother and I baseball hats when we were much younger. She made me into the massive Cardinals fan I am today, listening to almost every game. I became interested in genealogy when I was in sixth grade when I would ask the questions: ‘Who were my grandparents and great-grandparents?’ This occurred in about 2011, but I did not actively research until a year or two later. Each summer I would purchase an Ancestry membership that would last about a month. In those short periods, I devoted all my time to research and added about 2,000 names each time. To this day, I have used Ancestry to trace my family to Medieval kings in England and France such as Charlemagne and Alfred the Great.
“I became interested in the project because it seemed right up my alley so I decided to attend the information session. The experience was quite powerful in allowing me to focus on the stories of individuals rather than simply dates and locations. The project also allowed me to learn how to use paper-based genealogy sources rather than online sources. In the past, I had stuck strictly to FamilySearch, Ancestry, and Find a Grave. Through this experience, I have learned how to use microfilm and use old newspapers in the Virginia Room. This experience has really helped me to broaden my research ability and use the skills I learned to get beyond my own dead-ends.”
Brian selected Howard Lester Cunningham to research. Virginia Rita is the manager of the Browns Chapel Methodist Cemetery where Howard is buried. She reported that she had no idea about the connections among the people at the Cemetery until she heard Brian’s presentation, which documents all the family relationships and interconnections. Brian located and interviewed descendants of the Howard and heard family stories about the role of baseball in their family over several generations.
ANSLEY approached this project as a community service volunteer. Flint Hill requires community service hours each semester, but accepts volunteering on a research project in service to a non-profit organization an acceptable initiative. Ansley completed the genealogical research on one player and said it was so much fun, she wondered if she could take on a second player. She researched both Cornelius Taylor “Neal” Johnson, and Page Sanders. A descendant of the Page Sanders family was present, and was enlightened by Ansley’s excellent research.
Brian will be attending the University of Pittsburgh in the fall and will major in Biology on a pre-medical track. Ansley will continue at Flint Hill School. Both presentations may be viewed at www.gfhs.org in the Gallery section.
Great Falls Connection, May 31, 2017
By Glen Sjoblom
Great Falls Historical Society
On May 24 the Historical Society elected its Officers and Board of Directors for next year. Outgoing President Kathleen Murphy received two rounds of applause and some nice flowers thanking her for her leadership the past six years. Incoming President Glen Sjoblom is pictured between Kathleen Murphy and Jackie Olin, also a past President of the Society.
The newly elected also include Doug Cobb, Vice President and Treasurer; Betty Swartz, Corresponding Secretary and past Tibbetts Award Winner; Susan Kawmy, Recording Secretary, and Directors John Marciano, Hariett Destler, Karin Grasso, Janice Schar, Sondra Taylor and Katie Whitman.
Around the table are Alex Brudno, Spencer Brudno, Caroline Ralston, Kathleen Murphy and her daughter, Mariaka Tsombikos. Karin Grasso, pictured separately, is the owner of the historic Jesse Smith house on Seneca Road.
The Historical Society began 40 years ago; Programs begin in September, and the new Board plans to continue its tradition of inviting excellent history speakers, historical research, preservation and historic tours. Please join us! You can do so on line at gfhs.org.
Pictures courtesy of TR Cook
Friends gathered at the Great Falls Historical Society 40th anniversary, enjoying fine dining as each recalled their interest in history. Photo by TR Cook.
The 40th Anniversary of GFHS was a delightful gathering of members old and new who shared memories and hopes for the future as they enjoyed an exquisite cuisine, served impeccably in a classically decorated dining room at L’Auberge Chez Francois.
The Past Presidents who attended the celebration spanned the decades and included Genevieve Chadwick, wife of Bill Chadwick (1984-1986), Susan Cochran (1996-1998), Jacque Olin (2000-2002) and (2008-2011), and Calvin Follin (2003-2005). We received a thoughtful donation from Chris Osbourne (1994-1996) in honor of his mentor, Burt Brittin (1982-1984).
The guest list included members from the distant past, and newly joined members. The dinner provided the occasion to get to know each other more fully. Photo by T.R. Cook.
Members of the 2016-2017 Board present included Greg Haymans, Vice President; Betty Swartz, Corresponding Secretary; Doug Cobb, Treasurer; Sondra Taylor, 2013-2016 Director; and Jan Schar, 2016-2018 Director.
Tibbetts Award Honorees present included Lucie Garrett, wife of Bill Garrett (2010), and Betty Swartz (2016).
It was touching to see Calvin and Jennifer Follin exchange memories with Peter and Jennifer Falcone, both of whom had young children when they were initially involved with GFHS. At their table was Paul Jimenez and Elizabeth Wiley, parents of four young children, whose interest in history has just awoken. Our Society’s future depends on engaging young families in a love of local history. These lovely social occasions invigorate connections across the decades and inspire renewed participation.
We are grateful to Doug Cobb, who chaired the Anniversary Celebration Committee and made all the arrangements.
Alex Brudno did a remarkable job reaching out to local businesses to invite them to become supporters of our anniversary event. Twenty-five local businesses responded and showered our Society with thoughtful gift certificates and/or products and services they offer and/or even cash donations. As each gift was raffled off, the donor was mentioned and their products and services were highlighted.
Doug Cobb describes the gifts included in each raffle pot, while Alex Brudno pulls and call the winning number. Photo by T.R. Cook.
We celebrate the story of our village and its continuing spirit of cooperation and caring. We are touched by the generosity of our local business community and sincerely appreciate their spontaneous giving to our society on the occasion of our 40th anniversary.
Great Falls Connection, May 8, 2017
Forty years ago, just about this time of year, a handful of people expressed their interest in joining together to create a historical society for Great Falls. There was no handbook to advise on what to do, how to launch a society, what to research, or ways to inspire and unfold a passion for history in a certain direction. The organization blossomed through the willingness and enthusiasm of its members. It has been large, it has been small, it has focused on the 17th century, but also the 18th and 19th centuries. Those committing to doing history might have lived here for generations, or might have just arrived. Each person who has stepped forward to volunteer has offered their own personal gifts, abilities, and experiences, and have often been nourished and enriched through the process of cooperation and collaboration. The Society has also faced its limits and has confronted the limits of its members. Often in moments of deepest need, someone comes forward with the talent needed to advance once again.
Naomi Whetzel made the photo exhibits. Dave Bettwy built the web site. Karen Washburn and Pat MacVeach told the story of historic houses through pictures, taking local residents on an armchair tour of historic houses throughout Great Falls. Burt Brittin and Bill Chadwick, being both former naval officers, recognized the extraordinary achievement of George Washington’s Pawtomack Canal and urged its preservation and protection. Bill Garrett and his son Ken were touched by their appreciation of the Pawtomack Canal history and visually presented a milestone article on the feat accomplished that has excited readers, and our members and neighbors ever since.
Our members joined together to assemble a cookbook of 19th century recipes, before the time when there was a stove, filled with ingredients found in one’s backyard and garden. Jean Tibbetts was a wonder over more than a decade as she worked on the Publication Committee to bring writing projects to fruition. The award, in her honor, encourages members and others to continue the hard work of completing historic work.
Our members loved to participate in potlucks which took place at the Colvin Run Mill, and The Dranesville Tavern, with a harvest picnic in October and a spring picnic in May, and an annual banquet each February at the River Bend Country Club. Beginning in the 1980s the longing for a place for our collection of photographs, maps, oral history interview tapes and documents of properties of Great Falls homes began. Many members have been engaged in sharing local history with local elementary school classes to “promote an understanding and appreciation of historic values and events among our students.” An exciting part of the year was conducting a speech contest for young people.
Members joined together each year to prepare a historic calendar containing historic photos on a certain topic per year. A lot of research went into each theme. As the internet took shape and the promise of digitization arose, the idea of digitizing our photo collection was proposed at the time of our 20th anniversary – only to be accomplished close to 15 years later.
Old school days, heritage days, grange and old school days, later to be called Great Falls Day, came into favor, as one-room schoolhouse reenactments were presented and historical exhibits were shared.
Historic preservation has been supported and encouraged throughout our 40 years, most recently in support of the Resident Curatorship Program, being launched throughout Fairfax County.
Just this past week, we received a note from Chris Osborne, our 10th President, who served from 1994 through 1996. He is currently living in Reno, Nev. He sent a donation in honor of the Society’s 40th Anniversary and sent a note that his donation was in honor of Burt Brittin, President from 1982-1984, as Burt was his mentor in his early days in our society. Having regard for the past, and a willingness to join with others in building a legacy requires respect for those who have come before us and an appreciation of their guidance.
We have been blessed by Naomi Whetzel’s commitment to gather photos, TR Cook’s continuing commitment to capture images of our events, and the beautiful gifts showered on us by Archie Brown who added to our image collection with photos and video.
As we move forward, we are sure to encounter other limitations on our combined talents and needs for expertise that does not lie within our midst. We appreciate those who lend a helping hand, as Carlos Berrios did last year, organizing our digital files for more efficient searching.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Great Falls Historical Society with an accurate picture of what has gone on, Alex Brudno and I have gone back over 40 years worth of our newsletter, the Chronicler, to understand the genesis of this organization. We have found an amazing gift that only Milburn Sanders’ words as he described the Great Falls Grange seem appropriate: The Great Falls Historical Society is “a monument to volunteerism, old-fashioned country neighborliness and community improvement.”
Our work continues to build community spirit by bringing the past into the present – hoping that we will leave a legacy for future generations.
The Great Falls Historical Society is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization