Newsletter

A volunteer group that describes itself as the “unofficial town council” for the McLean community is getting an encore for its 100-plus years of service.

The McLean Citizens Association celebrated the milestone during a meeting yesterday (Wednesday), highlighting ways the organization has helped make the area what it is today, such as by contributing to the founding of the McLean Community Center.

The organization’s first meeting was on Nov. 2, 1914 as the School and Civic League of McLean, and the group celebrated a century of work in 2014.

But MCA was incorporated on June 25, 1921, giving it another chance to recognize its past.

“It’s been over a 100 years since we’ve been incorporated, and there aren’t a lot of corporations…that last 100 years,” MCA President Rob Jackson said, crediting the organization’s historians, Merrily Pierce and Paul Kohlenberger, for bringing the date to the group’s attention.

MCA has sought to give residents a local voice and minimize the effects of rapid urbanization on the community’s identity, according to a 100-year anniversary booklet, “The Voice of McLean: One Hundred Years of the McLean Citizens Association,” available in the Fairfax County Public Library’s Virginia Room.

The group was reincorporated in 1953 as the McLean Citizens Association with the tagline “the Voice of McLean.” Today, it continues to advocate for various civil, educational, and social interests, from hosting forums with public officials to weighing in on development in the greater McLean area.

According to Kohlenberger, MCA’s founding was driven by school needs.

When the Franklin Sherman School, which consolidated one-room schools in the area, opened in 1914, it lacked basic supplies. The League rallied to raise money to furnish a school auditorium, buy library books, help pave local roads, and further aid the community.

“The school was delivered, but there were no chalkboards, no books, nothing else for the students’ use,” Kohlenberger said. “That led to a tradition that we continue to this day: McLean Day.”

In 1922, the group’s civic leaders also helped launch the McLean Volunteer Fire Department and negotiated with Alexandria Power Co. to bring electricity to McLean, the booklet notes.

The power company brought a line from Falls Church and created a distribution center around a decade later. The station has undergone upgrades since then and can be seen at Chain Bridge Road and Westmoreland Street.

Other notable work by MCA, as detailed in the booklet, include:

  • Opposing a 1957 interim Fairfax County plan eyeing McLean for a 60-acre shopping mall and apartment development, instead calling for such proposals to be located in Tysons
  • Helping launch the McLean Community Center as the founding benefactor. It provided funding and part of its land to create it, notably in the ’60s and prior to a 1970 bond referendum.
  • Helping steer county funds to create McLean Central Park and a former space there called the McLean Green at the apex of Route 123 and Old Dominion Drive
  • Advocating for the county to focus on creating a park — instead of facilitating a 1969 residential development — that became the Scotts Run Nature Preserve
  • Creating a committee in 1970 to preserve trees that later turned into the nonprofit McLean Trees Foundation in 2004
  • Forming the nonprofit McLean Community Foundation in 1978 to provide philanthropic grants for community projects
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Morning Notes

I-495 South Lane Closures Tonight — “Weather permitting, the three left lanes of the southbound I-495 (Capital Beltway Outer Loop) general purpose lanes will be closed over the Dulles Toll Road (Route 267) for bridge work…The three left lanes of the southbound I-495 general purpose lanes are scheduled to be closed between 11 p.m. Friday and 7 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 20.” [VDOT]

Falls Church Civil Rights Icon Gets Historical Marker — “An unveiling ceremony will convene this Saturday, Nov. 20, at 1 p.m. for a state historical marker that highlights the career of Dr. Edwin Bancroft Henderson, known as the ‘Father of Black Basketball’…The dedication will be held at the marker’s location alongside Henderson’s former residence at 307 South Maple Ave, Falls Church.” [Virginia Department of Historic Resources]

Fatal Drug Overdoses to Surpass Last Year — “Preliminary numbers show the number of overdose deaths in Fairfax County in 2021 are on pace to exceed 2020 numbers, according to data from the Office of the Medical Examiner. Data provided to Patch shows there were 56 overdose deaths reported to the county in the first two quarters of 2021. Of these, 52 (93 percent) were related to fentanyl.” [Patch]

D.C. Area Gets $19.3 Billion from Federal Infrastructure Bill — “So far, no jurisdiction has highlighted which major road projects they’d like to tackle, but bets could be on the replacement of the American Legion Bridge, the Maryland toll lane project if it gets approved, and improvements to I-81 in western Virginia.” [DCist]

Virginia Tribes Get Say in Development Projects — “Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Thursday signed an order requiring state agencies to consult with Virginia Indian tribes before making decisions that impact land, waterways and other natural sites important to Indigenous peoples.” [The Washington Post]

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Morning Notes

(Updated at 8:40 a.m.) Flood Watch in Effect — Fairfax County is under a Flood Watch into this afternoon, as “significant” rain is expected. Several roads have been closed due to flooding or downed trees, including Potomac River Road at Georgetown Pike, Lawyers Road at Hunter Mill, and Old Courthouse at Besley Road. [Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department, FCPD]

Suspect in Tysons Sexual Assault Charged in New Incident — Fairfax County police have filed new sexual assault charges against a Woodbridge man who was arrested on Sept. 3 in connection with a sexual assault reported at a Tysons hotel in July. Reported on Aug. 26, the second incident involved the man allegedly assaulting a woman he’d arranged to meet at a hotel in the Seven Corners area. [Patch]

FCPS Shares SAT Results — The Class of 2021 performed above the national average on the SAT with just a 4.4% drop in participation, compared to a 31.4% global decline, despite the challenges of conducting standardized testing during the pandemic, Fairfax County Public Schools reported yesterday (Wednesday). Results from the College Board showed that Asian and white students recorded higher average scores than their Black and Hispanic counterparts. [WTOP]

Area Officials Consider Prioritizing Equity in Planning — The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments board will vote on Oct. 13 on a regional transportation and land use plan that would prioritize low-income residents and communities of color when allocating funds for affordable housing, transportation, and other projects. Planners say the move would help address disparities in health outcomes and access to transit and other services. [The Washington Post]

Tysons Media Company Has Suitors — “Tegna Inc. (NYSE: TGNA), the Tysons-based operator of dozens of U.S. television stations, said Tuesday it has recently received multiple acquisition proposals — a new round of overtures after offers last year were pulled as the Covid-19 pandemic was taking hold. According to reports, media mogul Byron Allen is teaming with alternative investment firm Ares Management Corp. (NYSE: ARES) on a bid, while private equity giant Apollo Global Management Inc. (NYSE: APO) and Standard General LP are joining on another.” [Washington Business Journal]

Regional Park Authority Founders Celebrated — The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority recently lauded the achievements of its founders, including conservationist Ira Gabrielson, who gave land to Fairfax County that became Oakton’s Gabrielson Gardens Park. Started 62 years ago, NOVA Parks has preserved more than 12,000 acres of land and oversees attractions like the Washington & Old Dominion Regional Trail. [Sun Gazette]

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Lake Street Dive (via Wolf Trap)

The Weekly Planner is a roundup of interesting events coming up over the next week in the Tysons area.

We’ve searched the web for events of note in Tysons, Vienna, Merrifield, McLean, and Falls Church. Know of any we’ve missed? Tell us!

Tuesday (Sept. 7)

  • Weird History for Kids — 4:30-5:15 p.m. at Dolley Madison Library (1244 Oak Ridge Avenue) — Learn about mummies through art, games, stories, and skill-building exercises in this month’s entry in the McLean-based library’s history series. Space is limited for the in-person event, which is geared toward kids aged 6-12.

Thursday (Sept. 9)

Friday (Sept. 10)

  • “Aspirations” Opening Night — 5-7 p.m. at Pars Place (2236-C Gallows Road) — Meet the local artists in an opening reception for their new art exhibit hosted by the Iranian-American Community Center in Dunn Loring. Face coverings or masks are required, and advanced registration is recommended.

Saturday (Sept. 11)

  • Sept. 11 Remembrance Ceremony — 9 a.m. at the Freeman Store and Museum (131 Church St. NE) — The American Legion Dyer-Gunnell Post 180 in Vienna is hosting a 9/11 Remembrance Ceremony, marking 20 years since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
  • 45th Annual Falls Church Festival — 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at City Hall (300 Park Ave.) — From children’s entertainment to a beer garden and booths for local crafters and others, the free admission festival will feature food, amusement rides, and entertainment. Visitors are encouraged to wear a mask while not eating or drinking and must wear one when entering the Falls Church Community Center (223 Little Falls St.).
  • Truck and Toss — 4 p.m. at Grace Christian Academy (3233 Annandale Road) — The food truck, craft beer, and cornhole festival benefits a tuition assistance program for the West Falls Church-based private school, which serves students up to eighth grade. General admission is $40.

Sunday (Sept. 12)

  • Congenital Heart Walk — 9:45 a.m. at Wolf Trap (1551 Trap Road) — The walk supports The Children’s Heart Foundation mission to fund congenital heart defect  research. In-person activities are being held throughout the day, before and after the walk, and there’s also a virtual option. Register online.
  • Tysons 5K — 9 a.m. race start at Tysons Corner Center (1961 Chain Bridge Road) — Through a partnership with Tysons Corner Center and Food for Others, the 3.1-mile race and fun run will raise money to provide rice and beans for dozens of families in need. Pre-registration is $35 for running in person or virtually, and walking is encouraged, too.
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The Eden Center in Falls Church (via Google Maps)

Local students are responsible for two new state historical highway markers that Virginia will install in recognition of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) history.

Earlier this summer, students from across the Commonwealth submitted ideas for new historical markers as part of a contest celebrating AAPI Heritage month. Gov. Ralph Northam announced five winners on Aug. 3, including two that were submitted by students from the Fairfax County area.

Students from Hunters Woods Elementary in Reston nominated W.W. Yen for a marker. He was the first international student to earn a bachelor’s degree at the University of Virginia and went on to become an important leader in Chinese government. The school now has a dorm and scholarship named after him.

Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School students in Falls Church proposed highlighting their city’s Vietnamese immigrant community, which grew after the Fall of Saigon in 1975. During the subsequent surge in immigration to the U.S., many of the people who came to the D.C. area settled in Arlington’s Clarendon neighborhood and, later, Falls Church.

Today, the D.C. area is home to the third-largest Vietnamese community in the country, and the Eden Center is among the largest Vietnamese shopping centers.

The other new historical highway markers highlight Japanese American football player Arthur Azo Matsu, former Korean foreign minister Kim Kyusik, and Filipinos who served in the U.S. Navy.

“Throughout history, Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have made significant contributions to our Commonwealth and our country, but too often their stories remain untold,” Northam wrote in the press release. “As we continue working to tell a more comprehensive and inclusive Virginia story, I am grateful for the efforts of Virginia students and educators in helping elevate the voices of prominent AAPI Virginians with these five new historical markers.”

Now a rising fifth-grader at Hunters Woods Elementary, Benjamin Roxbury was in fourth grade when he and a few other students nominated Yen for the historical marker contest.

He hopes when people read it, they discover that learning is universal.

“Families may come from different parts of the world, but school brings us together,” Benjamin said. “I like that we get to learn from different people.”

Makayla Puzio, who taught him last year, says school officials told her about the contest and she thought it would be a good hands-on, project-based assignment to help students learn about state history and how to conduct research.

Other figures suggested by students in Puzio’s fourth-grade class included local author Helen Wan and peace activist Marii Kyogoku Hasegawa. But the nomination from Benjamin’s group ultimately stood out to the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, which chose the new markers.

“They were really excited,” Puzio said of the students’ reaction to their selection. “It makes them feel proud of the work that they did. I don’t know if they really thought that was going to happen.”

For Griffin and Oliver Hardi, the Henderson Middle School students behind the Eden Center marker, the opportunity to honor the local Vietnamese community and tell their stories resonated on a personal level.

“Our mom is an immigrant too, so it’s great to see Asian-American history recognized,” Griffin said by email. “And the food at the Eden Center is great!”

Puzio says this experience could become a point of pride for these students for the rest of their lives.

“One of these students could be touring UVA and remember this person and historical marker,” said Puzio. “And be like ‘hey, in fourth grade, I did this. I’m the reason that this marker is here!”

Photo via Google Maps

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As long as the COVID-19 pandemic persists, so too will Historic Vienna, Inc. in its efforts to document the experiences of Vienna residents and businesses.

Operator of the town’s Freeman Store and Museum, Historic Vienna has been collecting stories of local history since 1976, but the nonprofit corporation launched its COVID-19 oral history project back in the fall of 2020.

Some of the collected stories are already available on the organization’s website, but with the virus’ recent resurgence, new stories emerge every day that could be worth preserving for posterity.

“This pandemic has been, and continues to be, a historic and important time in our history,” said Patti Bentley, project manager for Historic Vienna’s Oral History Committee. “The goal of this particular project is to capture how Vienna residents, businesses and organizations have been affected by, reacted to, and coped with the COVID pandemic.”

Bentley says the stories they have received have ranged from heartbreaking to heartwarming. People have shared how they have struggled to keep businesses afloat, dealt with isolation, learned new skills, and taken advantage of unexpected family time.

There are also stories from local organizations and businesses, such as Vienna Foodies, Rustic Love, Clarity’s, Vienna Inn, Caboose Brewery, Bards Alley, and the Vienna Business Association. Town of Vienna Mayor Linda Colbert and former Mayer Laurie DiRocco have made contributions to the archives as well.

Historic Vienna has no end date in mind for the project right now, especially with COVID-19 cases rising again, so the oral history committee plans to continue creating questionnaires and collecting stories as long as it’s relevant.

Interested Vienna residents and businesses can still submit new stories.

“There continues to be an opportunity for people to fill out the second questionnaire and/or to submit their personal story in written or video form, poems, pictures, etc,” Bentley said by email. “We encourage anyone with a pandemic story to tell to please share your story with us.”

Whenever the pandemic does end, the Freeman Store and Museum will display an exhibit of the printed submissions, photos, video interviews, and questionnaire results for the public to reflect on.

“We want this record on our website and in our archives, for current and future residents and historians to access,” Bentley wrote. “In 5 years, 10 years, 100 years those interested will be able to see what this time looked like and felt like in Vienna. It is part of today’s experiences and tomorrow’s history.”

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New sign at Freedom Hill Park (via Fairfax County)

An upcoming dedication ceremony for new signs at Freedom Hill Park (8531 Old Courthouse Road) outside of Tysons represents more than just recognition of the struggles of local families during the Civil War era.

For the Fairfax County Park Authority, it’s the beginning of a shift in how local history is presented.

The Freedom Hill Park dedication is the first part of the Untold Stories project, which aims to shift historical presentation from a focus on big events and local celebrities to the more personal stories of Fairfax County’s past residents.

“It’s a relatively new initiative,” said Judy Pedersen, public information officer for the Park Authority. “We’ve been doing interpretations of properties and history for many years, but this is linked to the One Fairfax initiative. We’re looking for the more personal stories about families and their contributions.”

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted One Fairfax in November 2017, committing the county government to considering issues of equity in its policies and decision-making.

Originally dedicated in November 2012, Freedom Hill Park derived its name from the sizable community of free Black people that resided in the area during the 19th century, according to the park authority’s website.

Some of the stories told in the new signs at the site include that of Lucy Carter, a free woman of color who may have worked as a Union spy, and stories of intermarriages between the local Black community and the native Tauxenent and Pamunkey tribes.

Pedersen describes these as the stories that “wouldn’t necessarily make a history book” but help paint a better picture of what life was like in Fairfax County’s past.

Pedersen says the Freedom Hill Park signs are the county’s first time putting the project into practice, but there are a few other irons in the fire, and she hopes more residents come forward and share stories from their families’ past.

Scheduled for noon tomorrow (Saturday), the dedication will include a land recognition ceremony performed by Rose Powhatan, director of the Powhatan Museum of Indigenous Arts and Culture.

“It’s a custom dating back centuries to recognize that indigenous peoples were the original stewards of these lands,” Pedersen said. “It’s an acknowledgement of the roots of the origins of the land.”

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Morning Notes

Metro Extends Service Hours This Weekend — Starting Sunday (July 18), Metro will provide rail service until midnight for the first time since operating hours were reduced at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The transit agency approved a package of fare reductions and service improvements in June aimed at attracting riders as more offices are set to reopen in the fall. [The Washington Post]

Freedom Hill Park to Recognize Historic Carter Family — As part of an interpretive history project, the Fairfax County Park Authority is inviting the public to a traditional land ceremony and sign dedication at Freedom Hill Park in Vienna on July 31. The new signs will tell the story of the multiracial Carter family, whose accomplishments include establishing the First Baptist Church of Vienna and possibly spying for the Union during the Civil War. [FCPA]

Fairfax County School Board Elects New Chair — The school board unanimously approved Sully District representative Stella Pekarsky as its new chair for the 2021-2022 school year. Board members thanked Mason District representative Ricardy Anderson for her time as chair amid the pandemic and noted she will get some much-deserved time with her family. [FCPS]

Food Trucks Stop by Providence Community Center — “Come by the Providence Community Center tomorrow [July 16] from 11am to 1:30pm for some freshly made empanadas by @empanadasdemza! This will make for a great snack over the weekend so make sure you grab some extra to share with your friends and families!” [Supervisor Dalia Palchik/Twitter]

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Stanley Stewart wasn’t the only one wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt among the crowd of people at the Juneteenth event outside the First Baptist Church of Vienna on Saturday (June 19).

But this gathering was more celebration than protest, serving as a kick-off for the Town of Vienna’s inaugural Liberty Amendments Month.

Officially recognized by Congress as a federal holiday for the first time this year,  Juneteenth — a portmanteau of June 19 — serves as a symbolic commemoration of the U.S.’s abolition of slavery. It comes on the anniversary of the day in 1865 when a major general for the Union informed Texas that all enslaved people were now free.

“This wasn’t in no history book I read,” Stewart said.

The Juneteenth recognition represents the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983 to celebrate the civil rights leader’s birthday, following his assassination in 1968.

The Lone Star State became the first state to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday, starting in 1980, and other states followed. More informal commemorations, though, began as early as 1866.

Wrapping around the church parking lot, Vienna’s Juneteenth Celebration featured informational booths, vendors, music, and more in addition to providing a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in the church.

Signs at the event looked at past historical figures and events, with one noting that slave labor helped build the White House and U.S. Capitol. Others highlighted U.S. senators who stood up for abolition.

An outdoor stage set up by the church hosted a variety of musical performances, including a gospel singer who sprinkled in references to Juneteenth and invited listeners to clap their hands if they’re free.

“It’s a start,” said Wes Cherry, a field underwriter with Foresters Financial operating with the group Focus on Community. The company is a fraternal benefit society that gives money back to communities.

For Cherry, the federal holiday recognition is much appreciated, but he also noted the move came at the same time that many state legislatures, including in Texas, are working to limit teachers’ ability to discuss racism in their classrooms.

The additional federal holiday also comes a year after last summer’s widespread protests for racial justice in the wake of several killings, including George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville at the hands of police as well as jogger Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed by three white men in Georgia.

“America, while we love it, [has] to acknowledge our past and history,” said Vernon Walton, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Vienna.

Last year, the church held a rally for Juneteenth following the “lynching of George Floyd,” Walton said.  This year, he said he’s overjoyed that people can celebrate the federal government recognizing the holiday.

Despite the somber and painful legacy of the past that continues to shape the present, Walton and other attendees this year noted how the event drew diverse members of the community.

“People are here from all walks of life,” he said. “We really are blessed.”

The event’s kickoff ceremony remains to watch on social media. It launched the Town of Vienna’s weeklong celebration of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, which will be followed by events commemorating the 14th, 15th, and 19th Amendments.

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Fairfax County’s logo on the government center (via Machvee/Flickr)

(Updated at 12:25 p.m.) The Fairfax County Government Center, where county policy is created and official functions take place, is an imposing, modern-looking building. Above the main doors is the county seal: a royal-looking crest with lions, a horse, and the date “1742.”

Unlike the building, the seal is of a different time. Adopted seven decades ago, it bears a version of the coat of arms belonging to Thomas Fairfax, the sixth Lord Fairfax and a slaveholding British loyalist who once owned much of the land that makes up Fairfax County today.

As neighboring counties and cities reexamine their logos and symbols, it seems like only a matter of time before Fairfax County faces its own questions.

When asked if there’s been discussion about further research into the county logo, representatives of the Fairfax County History Commission said it’s not on the agenda or a priority right now. The commission is currently undertaking an inventory of local African American history after completing one about Confederate names on public places.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay says, unlike with the use of Confederate names and symbols, officials have not heard any objections to the county seal from the community:

America was unfortunately built in part through the oppression of people of color. We cannot separate this history from Fairfax County, but we can listen to the community on what symbols are continuing to create divisiveness and inequity. Symbols of the Confederacy, for example, do not speak to the County’s values today, so we are working to remove these through the proper processes. Currently, there are ongoing efforts to change road names as well as other Confederate symbols and the Board previously took action to remove the monument of John Quincy Marr from the courthouse. We have not heard from our community members that these same messages are felt from the County seal. We continue to invest significant resources into our historically underserved communities to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to thrive in Fairfax County.

The county selected the seal as its logo in 1949 ahead of an impending visit from the then-Lord Fairfax. It won over a dozen other seals belonging to the Fairfax family due to “its clarity when reproduced,” according to historical documents from Fairfax County Public Library’s Virginia Room.

A county flag with the seal was unveiled on June 13, 1968, the day before Flag Day, in response to repeated requests for a flag from county schools.

“We probably ought to have a Betsy Ross here to get the flag ready for Flag Day,” said Gil Shaw, the flag’s creator and the county’s director of information services at the time. “But the coat of arms of Thomas Lord Fairfax will soon fly over the lands he once owned and which became Fairfax County in 1742.”

Early colonial Virginia land history is admittingly a bit confusing due to the limited availability of written records and a lack of variety in names.

“The famous one, for our purposes, was the sixth Lord Fairfax,” explains Steve Harris-Scott, an assistant professor in George Mason University’s history department and an expert on colonial Virginia history.

“The nobles generally passed on their names to their first-born son, so when they took over the title, they were all the same names,” he said. “There was a Thomas Fairfax, first Lord Fairfax, then there was Thomas Fairfax, the second Lord Fairfax, etcetera.”

The sixth Lord Fairfax was born in England in 1693 to the fifth Lord Fairfax and Catherine Culpepper.

Through his mother’s side, he inherited about 5 million acres of land in 1710 known as the “Northern Neck,” which encompassed today’s Fairfax County. Taken from the indigenous people who had lived there for centuries, the land was a gift to Catherine’s father, Thomas Culpepper, from the restored King Charles II for his support during the English Civil War.

“[This land] is essentially bordered by the Rappahannock [River] on the south and the Potomac on the north,” Harris-Scott said.

However, Fairfax spent most of his life in England and didn’t move to Virginia until 1742, the date on the county’s logo. He also may never have resided in what is now Fairfax County, according to Harris-Scott. Read More

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