Supervisors Plant Roots For Possible Museum

By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 25, 2007

Fairfax County might one day have a history museum of its own.

The Board of Supervisors moved Jan. 8 to set up a panel that would work closely with George Mason University to decide what such a museum might exhibit, where it would be located, how it would be funded and how it would operate. The county executive was directed by the board to identify an unspecified number of panel candidates, including local history aficionados and business people, by the board's Feb. 5 meeting.

"There's tremendous interest in local history here," said Jack Censer, dean of GMU's College of Humanities and Social Sciences, who was appointed to lead the panel. "It's a long way from talking about it to teaching in it. But the excitement about all the things we could do is just incredible."

Censer said he envisioned a jointly sponsored venture that would serve the public and the university's history program. Students might be able to conduct research and receive curatorial training at a museum on the university's property or elsewhere in the county, and the public would have a modern facility where they could sift through different periods of local history, he said.

"Fairfax County doesn't really have its own museum," Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock) said last week.

Fairfax City has a history museum, and several collections of documents and artifacts are scattered around the county, but creating a museum would showcase the county's history, Bulova said.

During the Jan. 8 meeting, board Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D-At Large) said that some of the nation's oldest artifacts -- some 14,000 years old -- were discovered in Fairfax, though he did not specify what they were.

In 1994 an archaeological team digging near Tysons Corner discovered dozens of spear points and stone knives from what the team believed were base camps of early inhabitants dating as far back as 5500 B.C.

Bulova said that a possible location for the museum might be on or near the 2,323-acre grounds of the former Lorton penitentiary in southern Fairfax, which is slated to be transformed into parkland, residential development and an arts center. Censer said the university might offer a spot for the museum on its grounds.

For Bulova, who has been a supervisor for 20 years, the interest in a county history museum arose from a previous project in which she compiled oral histories from people in her central Fairfax district. Bulova said she got the idea after hearing many longtime residents recount what the county was like before suburban and commercial development transformed its landscape.

The result was "A Look Back at Braddock," an effort of about 10 volunteers who gathered stories, maps and photos of the district that culminated in a 168-page publication issued in June. "I'm just fascinated by what was here," Bulova said.

Gilbert Donahue, 59, a volunteer for the "A Look Back At Braddock" project who lives in Annandale and works for a defense contractor, said that while collecting oral histories, the team met many residents who offered artifacts such as photographs, documents, Civil War swords, scythes and even an old tractor.

The objects were interesting, Donahue said, but unsuitable for an oral history project. But the team thought some might belong in a museum.

"It can really provide a sense of a bygone era that you really can't get in any other context," he said.

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