Burke author seeks historical marker for Coffer home


Corazon Sandoval Foley and husband Michael Foley stand in front of the Coffer house in Burke. (Shamus Ian Fatzinger/Fairfax County Times)
November 20, 2012

A Burke author is petitioning for a historical marker to be put up at the former home of a family whose local roots date to 1728 and who she says was instrumental in the formation of the area.

Corazon Sandoval Foley is a Burke historian and researcher who in 2007 retired from the U.S. State Department after a 30-year career.

Foley lives in the Edgewater community and has written two books on the area’s history, “Burke Vignettes 1728-2012” and “Little Zion Baptist Church and the Case of Loving,” about a black church.

“Our Burke community has many remarkable historic sites,” she said. “And the most historical site of all — sadly, still unrecognized by the Fairfax County government — is the Coffer home.”

Foley said local Coffer family history began in 1728 when Lord Fairfax granted 378 acres to Francis Coffer. His son, Francis II, then inherited the property. The property was obtained by his brother, Thomas Withers Coffer, who moved his family to the Burke area from an earlier Coffer residence somewhere on the Potomac River.

“Thomas Withers Coffer was a prominent landowner in Stafford County, from which Fairfax County was spliced and created in 1742,” Foley said. “He served as vestryman of Truro Parish along with George Washington and George Mason from 1765 until his death around 1781.”

In 1803, Thomas Coffer’s son, Francis Coffer III, purchased a second family home that still sits at 10100 Wards Grove Cir. in Burke, Foley said. That second home is used as a community center and is owned by the Burke Centre Conservancy, a homeowners association that manages the 1,700-acre Burke Centre community, which consists of more than 5,000 houses.

Foley said that in 1976, the Burke Centre Conservancy purchased the Coffer home and residents of Burke Centre then developed a history forum that sought to obtain from Fairfax County an official historical marker denoting its primary importance in Burke history, but was refused.

“The 1976 historical marker project was ignored ignominiously by Fairfax County for some unknown or undisclosed reason,” Foley said. “So, in 2012, I initiated anew a grass-roots citizens project to get Fairfax County to install a historical marker to honor the most important historical structure in Burke, the Coffer home.”

“I don’t know anything about an effort in 1976 because I was not yet involved with the conservancy and I have not seen any documentation of that,” said Patrick Gloyd, the Burke Centre Conservancy’s executive director. “We are supportive of Mrs. Foley’s current push to have the county authorize a historical marker, as long as it is accurate. We have already authorized $1,000 toward a marker. We just want it to be accurate.”

Gloyd said there is some question as to whether the original facade, which has been kept intact and has not been renovated, dates back to 1803.

“It looks more like a late 19th-century or early 20th-century farmhouse facade to me,” Gloyd said. “We support a historical marker that would say the Coffer home sat ‘on or near this site’ since we are not completely sure. You only get one shot at a historical marker, and once the information is cast in metal, it’s a little tough to go back and change.”

Foley is moving forward with her petition.

“I agree that it may not date back to 1803, and I am fine with a marker that says so, but I still plan to collect signatures to present to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to obtain the historical marker for the Coffer home,” she said.

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