Park Authority

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Fairfax, Virginia 22035
Jai Cole
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A Light in Dark Places

A Light in Dark Places

Seeing your way through the long, dark nights of winter wasn’t always as easy as flipping on a light switch. Early residents of Fairfax County often depended on oil lamps to brighten their homes.

Two pieces of oil lamps were discovered at Fairfax County's Ash Grove Historic Site. Ash Grove is one of the oldest homes in Fairfax County, built by Bryan Fairfax around 1790, and oil or kerosene lamps would have been the primary indoor light source in the home prior to the invention and widespread use of electricity and the modern lightbulb.

These pieces come from a Victorian era Manhattan Student Oil Lamp. The Manhattan Student Lamps were manufactured by the Manhattan Brass Company, which was in operation from 1865 to 1926. The Manhattan Student Lamp discovered at Ash Grove was patented in 1877 and manufactured until the company’s closure.

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This section would have held the cylindrical wick in place inside the lamp.

The metal base would have served as the oil reservoir with a central tube for the wick. A spurred turn dial is visible on the side. It would have been used to adjust the height of the wick.

These finds help to pinpoint the time the home was occupied and provide a glimpse into the past.

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