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Historic Collections Tell Fairfax's Stories


A tournament lance? Part of Fairfax County's history? Well, yes, it's one of the 6,000 items in the Park Authority's Historic Artifact Collection preserving the material culture that is representative of Fairfax County's heritage.

The lance, it turns out, is not from King Arthur's time, but from the early 20th century, when jousting was again a popular sport. In a combination of equestrian skill and athleticism, riders galloped their horses and attempted to thrust their lances through a small ring. These club-like tournaments were the inspiration for "catching the ring" on the later evolutions of carousels.

The Historic Artifact Collection encompasses the many objects from the 18th through 20th centuries associated with the early history of sites that are now parks and the families who lived and worked at these sites. It also preserves objects representing the general history, growth and development of Fairfax County and its individual communities. These items are exhibited at park sites and in special community outreach exhibits.

The Park Authority also maintains a collection of archival materials that are important in researching the history of the sites since acquisition by the Park Authority. Over 4,000 archival items document the site history and ownership and record the Authority's restoration of historic structures through photographs, maps, letters and other documents.

The two collections support the interpretative programs at the Park Authority's historic sites and in outreach exhibits. The goal is to promote visitors' enjoyment, understanding and appreciation of Fairfax County's material heritage and its historic resources. The Park Authority follows the highest professional museum standards of stewardship in protecting and maintaining this important legacy.

Some of the Historic Artifacts Collection objects are exhibited on site, such as 18th-century furniture owned by Richard Bland Lee, Northern Virginia's first congressman and original owner of Sully. They include a sofa, card, sewing and Pembroke tables and two American Hepplewhite heartback chairs.


At Colvin Run Mill, photographs of the Millard family, the miller's desk, mill receipts and grain sacks, a family bible and an apron belonging to Emma Millard represent objects associated with the mill. The collection contains early photographs of Green Spring and documents relating to prior owners; original photographs, documents, family letters and accounts pertain to other historic structures and sites.

Some collection objects relate less to a specific site and more to the history of the county. A sampling of objects includes a log cabin quilt, a biscuit block, blacksmith and milling tools, a mid-19th century coiled rye straw basket attributed to local African-Americans, and a broom machine used by a blind man from the early 20th century Colvin Run community.

The collection also cares for objects from community organizations, such as memorabilia from local Grange meetings and hymnals from Frying Pan Spring Meeting House. Civil War era maps, engravings and artifacts are reminders of wartime events that occurred across Fairfax County.

The Historic Artifact Collection has been fortunate in receiving some outstanding gifts in the past few years. They include a pair of side chairs that belonged to Jacob Haight, mid-19th century owner of Sully, a wood stove and a Hoosier cabinet from a 1935 Fairfax County farmhouse. Other notable additions are a marriage certificate and a Civil War-era sword from the Clark family; memorabilia from the Sherman family of Ash Grove; a collection of 18th and 19th folk art assembled by two Fairfax County artists; and two early 20th-century "Fairfax Farms Dairy" milk bottles.

The Park Authority is always interested in preserving materials associated with its park sites and with Fairfax County history. To initiate the acquisition process or to request research access to the collection, please contact the Collections Manager at 703-631-1429. Also, volunteers are needed to help with the annual inventory of the collection, install special exhibits and catalog, clean and store historic artifacts. Interested? Please call the collections office to learn more about training and participation.


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