Reston, VA

Going to school at Terraset Elementary in the late 1970s was sort of like being in the movie Star Wars.

A steel latticework topped with 13,000 square feet of solar panels covered the main courtyard of the school, at times creating eerie-looking shadows.

Spiraling concrete staircases looked out of this world.

The building itself was built into a side of a hill with the roof covered with a five foot layer of dirt, giving an appearance of being remains of a lost civilization.

“My memories of the architecture was that it was very futuristic,” says Kristina Alcorn, who attended the sixth grade at Terrset in 1979. “This wasn’t very long after Star Wars had come out… so, I’m sure some of our games running around the playground involved Princess Leia.”

Terraset Elementary School at 11411 Ridge Heights Road was completed in 1977 with the intention of thematically matching Reston’s ahead-of-its-time aesthetic.

“In a lot of ways, Terraset fits in with Reston as a whole,” says Alex Campbell, executive director of the Reston Museum. “Taking a chance, trying something new, thinking ahead.”

Terraset was specifically designed with the 1970s energy crisis in mind. It was one of the first solar energy powered schools in the country. The school was also built into the hill in hopes that the dirt covering would provide natural insulation and cut fuel costs.

The name “Terraset” actually means “set in Earth.”

Then, there was the large array of solar panels, which were paid for by a Saudi Arabian prince.

When the school got turned down for a grant by the US government, Fairfax County school system turned to Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia. The prince provided a $650,000 grant to the school for the school’s solar and heating system.

Fahd would later become King and, in 1985, President Ronald Reagan toasted him at a state dinner for providing financial help to the Reston elementary school.

At the school’s dedication ceremony in May 1977, Fahd was joined by another Saudi prince, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in taking a tour of the school. It was acknowledged that it was odd that a prince from an oil-rich country would so publicly support an American solar-powered project.

“Why . . . would any Saudi do anything that could conceivably compete with oil?,” Saud said at the dedication, according to the Washington Post. “We are very much aware of the finite nature of many natural resources. Even though we continue to find additional oil deposits in our country, we know that there is an eventual limit to what we can produce. One of the sources of energy that we expect to utilize as our oil production declines, is solar energy.”

But the design had major flaws.

Most notably, the solar panels were constructed with Saudi Arabia’s climate in mind, which is far different from Reston’s climate.

“[The solar panels] didn’t deal very well with the change in seasons,” says Campbell. The panels kept having leaks and cracks.

Then, there were the icicles.

“There were these huge icicles that would form on them in the winter,” says Alcorn, who is also on the Reston Historic Trust and Museum’s Board of Directors. “You’d be waiting for your bus down below, watching these huge icicles, and wondering if they were going to hit you or the bus.”

In 1986, less than a decade after being completed and with maintenance becoming unmanageable, the solar panels were turned off. In 1991, the panels were taken down.

It wasn’t a complete disaster, however. The school ended up using about a quarter less energy than other comparable Fairfax County schools during the nine years the solar panels were in operation.

Today, Terraset Elementary remains the educational home to about 600 students.

While there are no longer solar panels (which makes it currently ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places), the school still very much remains buried under dirt.

While best-laid plans rarely work out, Terraset proves that it’s at least worth trying.

“It was an example of that spirit of ingenuity and hope for the future to solve problems,” says Alcorn. “And not be afraid of sometimes failing.”

Photos courtesy of Terraset Elementary

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A new Reston Historic Resources Survey names ten area locations as “potentially eligible” for the National Register of Historic Places.

They include the Ring Road subdivision in North Reston, two area golf courses (Reston National and Hidden Creek), a number of 1960s-and-1970s-era housing clusters, and the Ken Bonner-designed residence on Stirrup Road.

The survey’s goal was to determine significant historic districts and buildings that were constructed during Reston’s prime development years – between 1961 and 1978. It was commissioned by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and conducted by Mary Hanbury of Hanbury Preservation Consulting, a historic preservation consulting firm out of Raleigh, North Carolina.

The survey covered all of Reston, except for the land within Lake Anne Historic District. This district is already on the National Register of Historic Places.

In a community meeting held last night (Jan 5), Hanbury explained that the survey and field work reconnessicance first began in December 2019. It took the better part of a year to conduct. She reviewed eight potential historic districts and 51 individual properties in Reston.

The survey consisted of photos, locational mapping, creating or finding site plans, and a brief written history of the location.

From this, she determined that ten locations were “potentially eligible” for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Potentially eligible” refers to the places that meet the requirements for eligibility for inclusion – meaning they are at least fifty years old (unless in exceptional circumstances), looks much like it did in the past, and has significant historical or architectural value.

However, it’s not up to Hanbury if it will be included on the National Register.

“I can not say that something is eligible for the National Register. That is something that the state department of historic resources also the national park service determines,” Hanbury explains. “But part of this as a professional is to say ‘this is something that I think is potentially eligible.’ Technically, I’m not in power to say that it is [eligible].”

The ten locations are:

  • The Hickory Cluster, a modernist group of densely-grouped townhouses designed by Charles Goodman who was hired by Robert Simon.
  • Waterview Cluster, one of the earliest subdivisions constructed as part of Simon’s plan for Reston. It was designed by Chloethiel Woodard Smith, who owned at one point the largest architecture firm run by a woman in the U.S.
  • Coleson Cluster, built in 1966 and also designed by Smith. The cluster is designed to be walkable and oriented towards public spaces, as opposed to private courtyards.
  • Mediterranean Villa Cluster, a rare example of residences designed by Robert W. Davis. He was much more known for hospitals and office buildings.
  • Golf Course Island Cluster, designed by Louis Sauer who worked and studied with famed architect Louis Kahn and notable urban planner Edmund Bacon (who happens to be Kevin Bacon’s father).
  • Ring Road subdivision, a mix of architecture and building styles focused on a single-family aesthetic that became popular throughout the area in the 1960s and 1970s.
  • Wainwright Cluster, a grouping of dense townhouses oriented towards a common space acted as a model for Reston’s master plan.
  • Hidden Creek Golf Course and Reston National Golf Course, both designed by a golf-loving engineer Ed Ault. He became a prolific golf course architect who built over 200 golf courses across the east coast over his career.
  • 12146 Stirrup Road, designed by Ken Bonner and thought to be the first single-family residence built in Reston.

The survey also namechecks several locations that could be eligible once they hit the fifty year benchmark. They include the Atrium condominiums on Roger Bacon Drive, Sheraton Reston Hotel, and the Fairway Cluster. They all will hit their fiftieth birthday over the next few years.

Additionally, there are few places that the study determined merited “further study” ( including Lake Anne Gulf gas station, Fairway Apartments, and Cameron Crescent Apartments) as well as those that are “likely not eligible” due to significant changes that rendered them too different from when they were initially constructed.

Hanbury cautions that the National Register has very particular rules and regulations and is only one measure of historic importance.

“It is one that is commonly used and a good frame of reference,” said Hanbury. “But they are places that aren’t eligible… that are important and can be locally designated.”

After the presentation, a few members of the community spoke mostly commenting on other historical locations in Reston.

One community member asked why a number of golf courses were included considering that, in his understanding, are “environmental deserts” and were mostly used by “super affluent, white people.”

This comment received several retorts, notably that the golf courses were used by Reston’s diverse population and that local wildlife thrived there.

“The reason the falcons over at Reston Town Center have a place to hunt and eat is because of the open fairways that the Reston golf courses offer them,” said a citizen.

The survey will be used to determine what properties have historical value and should be nominated for historical designation.

It could also inform any future changes to Reston’s comprehensive plan, noted Fairfax County Board Supervisor Walter Alcorn of the Hunter Mill District.

“The report includes recommendations for future documentation and preservation efforts,” wrote Blake McDonald of Virginia’s Department of Historic Resources in an email to Reston Now. “[The department] hopes that Fairfax County will pursue some of these recommendations and we look forward to partnering with them on those efforts.

The public can continue to comment on the survey through January 10.

Photo courtesy of Virginia Department of Historic Resources

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Session on Reston Association Election Set for This Week — Reston Association’s elections committee will hold an election information session on Thursday, Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. The session will take place will Zoom. [RA]

Reston Company Taps New Vice Presidents — Reston-based federal contractor Amyx Inc. announced last week it has hired Christopher Ziniti as vice president of defense and promoted Roman Dzialo to vice president of strategic programs. [Virginia Business]

Community Meeting on Reston Historic Resources Survey — ‘draft of an Historic Resources Survey of Reston has been completed and is available for community review and input. Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn is hosting a virtual community meeting Jan. 5, 2021 at 7 p.m. to provide residents with the opportunity to ask questions and provide comments on the draft survey, following a presentation by the consultant hired by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.[Fairfax County Government]

Photo by Marjorie Copson

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For Reston to move forward, it first has to look back.

Fairfax County recently published a draft of a Historic Resources Survey of Reston for the community to review.

The study is a step toward documenting the historic value of sites in the area for architectural or historic significance. It does not predetermine the future use of any of properties. The survey can be used to identify sites that, if significant, can be nominated to Fairfax County’s Inventory of Historic Sites, the Virginia Landmarks Register or the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

Hunter Mills District Supervisor Walter Alcorn is hosting a virtual community meeting on Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. for residents to ask questions and discuss the draft. Questions and discussion will follow a presentation by a consultant hired by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.

State-hired firm Hanbury Preservation Consulting conducted the survey after Fairfax County was chosen to participate in Virginia’s Survey and Planning Cost Share Program in 2019.

The project provides data on “several residential clusters, a subdivision, two golf courses, two churches, two schools, and a handful of commercial buildings” to be reviewed before consideration for future National Register nomination.

The survey includes a look at 51 individual properties and eight potential historic districts that were built between 1961 and 1978. The eight districts include:

  • Hickory Cluster townhouses
  • Waterview Cluster townhouses
  • Coleson Cluster townhouses
  • Mediterranean Villa Cluster townhouses
  • Fairway Apartments
  • Golf Course Island townhouses
  • Ring Road subdivision single-family dwellings
  • Cameron Crescent apartments

The eight districts were surveyed to identify boundaries, research historical significance, provide a preliminary count of properties in each district and record each district’s physical characteristics.

The draft shows recommendations for nine resources or sites to be “potentially eligible” for NRHP eligibility. The draft also includes three resources with an “undecided” designation that require further study. It also recommends that any property listed as “potentially eligible or meriting further study should undergo intensive survey in the event of planned demolition or modifications.”

It also includes other recommendations for providing greater reconnaissance-level documentation of buildings that are scheduled for demolition. It also offers recommendations for the county to pursue guidance for the preservation of sites that utilize modern materials such as concrete.

“The Reston community is very proud of our history and our landmarks and we appreciate this opportunity to document our historic resources within an established standard,” Alcorn said in a press release.

“This inventory is an important step toward identifying buildings and places in Reston that should be noted in the Fairfax County comprehensive plan as worthy for their historic value.”

To participate in the Jan. 5 virtual meeting, you can sign in from the county’s website or listen in on the phone by calling 1-844-621-3956 and using the access code: 179 469 1739. The meeting will also be livestreamed on Alcorn’s YouTube channel.

Photo courtesy Reston Historic Trust and Museum

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Reston Association Courts Close for the Season — The clay tennis courts at Glade have closed for the season and will reopen in early April. The clay courts at North Hills will close next Monday and will also reopen in early April. [RA]

County Now Offers Contact Tracing Data — The county’s COVID-19 dashboard now includes data on contact tracing. Data show that the county has been able to reach roughly 82 percent of confirmed cases. [Fairfax County Government]

The Early Days of Reston — “At one time, Reston was just a short five to six-minute train ride away from Herndon on the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad,” writes Barbara Glakas. [Reston Patch]

Photo by Marjorie Copson

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Friday Morning Notes

Former Land Planner in Reston Dies — John Veatch worked in Reston’s. Land planning office in the 1960s and helped execute Bob Simon’s vision for Reston. He passed at the age of 80 in Ashburn. [Reston Patch]

Fairfax County Historic Sites Resume Programming — “The Fairfax County Park Authority’s historic sites will begin programming once again, bringing the magic of local history outside, inside and virtually with a focus on family tours, safety and limited indoor access.” [Fairfax County Government]

Community Assessment on Substance Abuse Underway — The Fairfax Prevention Coalition is conducting a community assessment on substance abuse and hosting a series of virtual community focus groups to seek input. [Fairfax County Government]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Virginia and the southern states of the Confederacy lost the Civil War with the surrender of Robert E. Lee to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, but for more than another hundred and fifty years it appeared that the South may have won the peace. There was the Emancipation Proclamation, three amendments to the Constitution, and a period of Reconstruction to guarantee the new social order without slavery, but Southerners who favored the old order found ways around the new laws to perpetuate a society of racial segregation and inequalities. Jim Crow laws replaced slave codes, oppressive laws limited the freedoms of Blacks, unequal schools limited their opportunities, and various voting limitations kept Blacks from registering and voting. There were thousands of lynchings to remind Blacks of their status in society and a Lost Cause movement that erected thousands of monuments in celebration of the old order of white supremacy.

After World War II, historian C. Vann Woodward wrote that America went through a Second Reconstruction as Blacks started to win significant victories against racist policies and laws with the various civil rights laws that passed including the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and Supreme Court decisions like Brown v. Board of Education ending school desegregation. Even those advances were short-lived and limited; the Voting Rights Act was repealed, and inequities suffered by Blacks in educational programs and employment persisted. The mistreatment of Blacks by policing authorities became more tolerable than society could stand.

A series of events over many years culminating with a police officer murdering George Floyd from his knee on Floyd’s neck signified that, like the original Reconstruction, the Second Reconstruction left many inequalities and much work to be done. The Black Lives Matter message seems finally to have been heard and finally for many understood. There is no postponing change.

Much of what has been happening to date in what Rev. William Barber II has termed a Third Reconstruction has been symbolic but important. No longer do visitors to the original House of Delegates chamber in the Capitol in Richmond have to walk around a bigger-than-life and impossible-to-miss statue of Robert E. Lee. While his statue on Monument Avenue remains at present, it too will be taken down as soon as the court case about it is resolved. Throughout Virginia and the South more statues have been removed along with other symbols of the old South. Even the state of Mississippi gave up the Confederate flag as part of its flag.

More meaningful changes are coming. As a member of the House Public Safety Committee I am pleased with the public testimony we received last week. Other hearings are scheduled for this week and next to determine the changes we need to make in our policing policies and criminal justice system to remove the racial biases. We will enact important changes at a special legislative session in August. We have had two chances at getting reconstruction right for all our citizens; we must commit ourselves to making this third effort a charm!

File photo

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

A tradition in the House of Delegates that has come about in recent years is to have a speech at the beginning of each daily session during February about a Black person. Some speeches are about well-known historic figures; most are about lesser-known Black persons who have made contributions to their communities and to the state. After all, the point of Black History Month is to have all of us gain a greater knowledge and appreciation of Black persons’ contributions to our history. The Legislative Black Caucus organizes the event, and I am pleased to have been invited to speak each year at one of the daily sessions. This year I spoke about the late Gwen Ifill of PBS NewsHour and Washington Week in Review who was the first Black woman to become a national news commentator. I always appreciated receiving the daily news from her in her calm and professional manner. Not all speeches are about historic figures; one delegate spoke this year about his experiences of growing up Black.

I predict that in future years a speech will be made on the floor of the House of Delegates about the 2020 Virginia General Assembly being a transformative event in Black history. Black experience accounts for a major portion of the story in a state that unfortunately has been known for centuries for its racist policies. The first enslaved Africans were brought to Virginia in 1619, and the slave codes that were enacted to keep them subjected as slaves were inhumane.

When the tobacco fields were no longer productive, Virginia’s chief source of income became the selling of slaves into the deep South. Even the freeing of the slaves with the Civil War did not bring equal rights to Virginia’s Black population. Slave codes were replaced by Jim Crow laws. Voting by Blacks was restricted. Their separate schools and other accommodations were not equal.

Supreme Court decisions and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 brought about changes that started Black people on the way to greater freedom. A successful lawsuit against gerrymandering in the state along with greater voter participation brought about a record number of Black candidates being elected to the General Assembly. Black legislators took on greater roles of responsibility in the 2020 session of the legislature.

The first Black woman was elected Majority Leader of the House of Delegates, and the first Black woman was elected President of the State Senate. While there had been a few Black committee chairs over the years in the House of Delegates, half of the fourteen committee chairs are now Black. Vestiges of Jim Crow laws that remained in the Code even though they had been over-turned by the courts are being stripped away. Localities are being given permission to deal with Confederate monuments that were the symbols of Jim Crowism.

Laws that were unevenly applied to Black persons are being amended or repealed. Black cemeteries are being cared for as the Confederate cemeteries were for many years. A commission is going to look at the teaching of Black history in our schools to ensure that it tells the whole story. Major strides are being made in this month of Black history!

 

File photo

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Local history lovers can learn more about their community with an upcoming event at the Reston Museum.

“The Reston Story — Case Exhibit” (1639 Washington Plaza) invites people to check out an illustrated history of Reston from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., according to the Facebook page.

Illustrated pages offer guests the chance to see how people used to “live, work and play” in Reston, the website said.

This is exhibit is available for a limited time through the end of the month (Feb. 29), according to the website.

Tomorrow (Saturday)

  • Pebble to Pearl Party at Crafthouse Reston (10 p.m.) — This live musical event at 1888 Explorer Street invites people to come and enjoy live music, which brings together a variety of groups for a comprehensive musical experience — including local artists, according to the Facebook page. Drink and food will be served on-premises.
  • Candy Making Party (3-4:15 p.m.) — A candy making party at Frying Pan Farm Park (2709 W. Ox Road) welcomes people to enjoy a sweet day of historical candy making. This event includes a history demonstration lesson on a wood-burning stove. Admission is $10 and people over the age of 10 are welcome.
  • Romantic Roost (7-10 p.m.) — This event at 12976 Highland Crossing Drive allows people to come and drink wine while painting. Tickets are $55 per person.

Sunday (Feb. 9)

  • Carolina Blue (7 p.m.) — Frying Pan Farm Park (2739 W. Ox Road) is hosting a bluegrass concert from an award-winning group. This event is free and open to the public.

Image via The Reston Museum/Facebook

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Thursday Morning Notes

Meeting on Local Department of Historic Resources Survey Set for Next Week — A pubic information session on state preservationists’ efforts to study Reston this fall and wanter is set for Dec.  17 at 7 p.m. The project is being managed by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. [Fairfax County Government]

Metro Cancels Summer 2020 Shutdown — “Metro is canceling a planned Green and Yellow Line shutdown next summer that the agency had announced in 2018, WTOP has learned. Internal Metro documents suggest that when Metro announced the shutdown plans, Metro did not fully understand the scope and cost of additional work at Greenbelt, College Park, Prince George’s Plaza and West Hyattsville stations, so any significant repairs to crumbling platforms could be delayed several years.” [WTOP]

Staff photo by Jay Westcot

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Reston will participate in an upcoming statewide survey to identify the community’s cultural and historic resources.

The program — which is called the Virginia Department of Historic Resources’ Survey —  is intended to identify the cultural and historical traits of local buildings built from 1961 to 1978 in order to add them to the National Register of Historic Places and Inventory of Historic Sites, according to Fairfax County.

The process will begin with a meeting on Dec. 17 at the Reston Community Center Lake Anne (1609-N Washington Plaza) around 7 p.m. Anyone is welcome to attend this public meeting.

The survey will exclude the Lake Anne Village Center since it was already listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register in 2017.

When the project is completed, findings are expected to include a map and photos of all the buildings surveyed.

Photo via Fairfax County

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The author of “Hidden History of Herndon” will speak in Reston next month.

Barbara Glakas will be at the Jo Ann Rose Gallery (1609-A Washington Plaza N.) to discuss her book and answer questions from the audience on Nov. 13 from 7-9 p.m.

The event will be hosted by the Reston Historic Trust and Museum, which aims to foster community engagement and knowledge of local history.

This event is free and will cover a range of Herndon and Reston history from her book that features “firsthand accounts to tell little-known stories of the people, places and events that shaped the history of the Town of Herndon,” according to a press release.

Photo courtesy Reston Historic Trust and Museum

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A former landfill used by the CIA and the Russian embassy near Great Falls is looking to push past its complicated history and become protected agricultural land.

The current owners of Lockmoor farm (802 Utterback Store Road) went before the Fairfax County Planning Commission on Thursday (Oct. 2) to request that the county label the farm as an agricultural district — ultimately giving the owners a tax break as long as they do not develop the land. They plan to add goats, sheep, bees and possibly a vineyard to the property.

The landfill was in use from 1970 until 1989 and served as a place to dump old tree stumps, earning it the nickname “Stump Dump,” as well as a dumping ground for waste from the CIA and certain foreign embassies, according to a Fairfax County report.

Both the CIA and the Russian embassy used to dump garbage there.

“The Russians arrived every few months, paying the dump fee in cash or bottles of vodka,” according to the Washington Post. “A landfill employee would then call the FBI, whose agents would soon arrive to paw through the discards, usually restaurant receipts and parking tickets but once a stripped-down, brand-new Russian car.”

The almost 69 acres of land was also once a zoo with giraffes, zebras, kangaroos, gazelles, buffalos and other non-carnivorous creatures, according to Fairfax planners. The previous owner also wanted to bring lions and bears to the property, but Fairfax County wouldn’t allow it, Peter Murphy, the chairman of the Planning Commission, said. 

Evidence of the zoo can still be seen from underground enclosures at the base of the hill on the property.

Despite previous uses, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality determined that the land is fit for agricultural use because the soil and water meet safety and health requirements. VDEQ stopped monitoring the area in 2016 and now requests that the current owners maintain the landfill cap, which sits on the top of the hill. 

Partners John Nguyen and Hanna Chakarji bought the land two years ago in pursuit of their lifelong dream of farm ownership, Chakarji told the Planning Commission. 

“When the opportunity presented itself to purchase this property, we jumped, we grabbed it and have no intention of developing it,” Chakarji said. “We want to keep it in its present state, which is beautiful.”

The land is now divided into five parcels. Onlookers can spot the growing Tysons skyline in the background of the property, as the farm sits on one of the highest points in Fairfax County.

Currently, the men own several cows and ducks, 20 chickens and 49 goats. They sell the goats to local restaurants in D.C. and produce more than 1,000 pounds of tomatoes, which they donate to local churches, according to county documents.

Chakarji said their top priority is to integrate the sheep and bees, saying they understand that a vineyard and winery would take time.

“The winery is an afterthought, I’m sure it will take a lot of zoning,” he said, adding that his top priority is to preserve the farmland for his family. 

After an extensive discussion about goats, the Planning Commission recommended approval of the agricultural district proposal, which now heads to the Board of Supervisors next week.

“This was probably the most interesting agriculture and foresting districting we’ve had in a long time,” Murphy said.  

Images via Fairfax County

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State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd) and her daughter-in-law are set to celebrate the release of their new book about women leaders this weekend in Reston.

Howell and Theresa Howell, the authors of “Leading the Way: Women in Power!,” will be at Scrawl Books (11911 Freedom Drive) from 2-3:30 p.m. on Sunday (Oct. 13) where they will discuss the 50 women profiled in the book and host a discussion with the audience.

The book examines the ways outstanding women throughout history have contributed to American society, according to Scrawl Books.

“This engaging and wide-ranging collection of biographies highlights the actions, struggles, and accomplishments of more than 50 of the most influential leaders in American political history — leaders who have stood up, blazed trails and led the way,” according to Scrawl Books.

Howell is a record-breaking woman herself — she is the longest-serving female legislator in Virginia, according to Scrawl’s website. She has been a senator since 1992 and a civil rights advocate since her college years.

Howell, who lives in Colorado, is an author and previously published “Maybe Something Beautiful.”

This free event is open to all ages. People can pre-order a hardcover copy for $24.

Image via Scrawl Books

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Four hundred years ago yesterday, July 30, 1619, a group of 22 colonists met in the wooden and mud church on Jamestowne Island as instructed by the investors of the colony “to establish one equal and uniform government over all Virginia” and to provide “just laws for the happy guiding and governing of the people there inhabiting.” They adjourned on August 4. That event is variously described as the beginning of representative government in America and as the beginning of the oldest continuous law-making body in the western hemisphere. It merits the commemoration it is receiving.

In order to fully understand the importance of a signature event as this one, I believe it is important to put it into perspective as our knowledge of what happened afterwards allows us to do. While termed the beginning of representative government, the first legislative meeting was anything but representative. Only white males could vote or serve in the Assembly. The indigenous people — called Indians because one of the purposes of sailing to this new world was to find a shorter route to India — were not able to participate even though they had inhabited the land for at least 15,000 years. Not only were they kept out of the Assembly, they were forced off their lands where they had their homes, governance, religion, and farms. In less than a half century the immigrants had taken over the land and displaced the indigenous people.

Nor could women take part in that first Assembly because they did not arrive in Virginia until 1619 and did not secure the vote until three centuries later! Enslaved people from Africa did not arrive in the colony until 1619 and not only were they not in the First Assembly but they were the subject of laws in subsequent sessions of oppressive slave codes that denied them basic human rights. It was necessary in the beginnings of the Assembly to belong to and pay taxes to the established church.

The history of Virginia and of America has been to move from this humble beginning and through decades and centuries of events to evolve into what is more closely a representative government. The planners of the events surrounding 1619 have correctly I believe termed it “evolution.” Contrary to what some may have us believe, our state and our country did not start out meeting the ideals and vision that we have. We have built on a humble beginning to evolve into the country we are today.

I trust that this important celebration will not be allowed to be taken over by an ignorance of what happened at Jamestowne and turned into a biased partisan view to justify the terrible actions of government today against people of color, people from other lands, and people in the LGBTQ communities. We do not need to try to return to a past that was much more imperfect than we sometimes care to admit. I am attending the Commemorative Session of the General Assembly to learn more about the past and how we can learn from our experiences and evolve further into a more perfect union. I will not be attending the session with POTUS.

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