Collection Inventory and the Stories behind the Parks

By Alexandra Parker – Archaeological Collections Assistant

“We were not allowed to have lights. The windows were covered with quilts and blankets to prevent our signaling to the Confederate troops…my mother was warned that if a single ray of light was seen the house would be burned…”[i]

My name is Alexandra, and I am a museum collections technician with Fairfax County Park Authority’s Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch and the above quote is from one of the many exciting stories I learned about since I started here in February. My work has focused on inventorying the archaeology collection, files, and reference library to assist with our pursuit of the American Alliance of Museum (AAM) accreditation. This work included compiling a record of what we have, checking that information was correct if we had already recorded the inventory, and rearranging the resources so that it was organized and could be easily located. While it is extremely important to have an accurate inventory of our collection and resources it has also been fun to discover the history of many of the Park Authority’s sites.

One of the more interesting stories I learned about concerned the Civil War history of Mount Air. This story springs from the records like a gripping novel. The Landstreet family, owners of Mount Air during the Civil War, was suspected of aiding Confederate troops. For some time Mary Landstreet was under arrest, and when brought home she and her children were watched closely, as mentioned in the opening quote. In an act of rebellion one of the daughters cut up the flag the union troops had there into ribbons. Although she was not found out, it was a much discussed act that angered the soldiers. Eventually the family would go to Baltimore during the army’s occupancy of the house, but their life and the house was forever altered by the experience.[ii] As late as the 1910s, there was still talk of the disrepair of the house which had been incurred in large part to the Civil War and the struggle to restore it in the years after the war ended.[iii] Devastatingly, and somewhat ironically considering its Civil War history, the house was consumed by a fire in May 1992.[iv] In 1997, Mount Air Historic site was conveyed to the FCPA.

The front of the house at Mount Air in Fairfax County, VA

Mount Air

When inventorying the records and files housed here I not only learned about the history of the historic sites but also get a behind the scenes look at all the hard work Fairfax County Park Authority has done over the years! My work involved reorganizing our files kept here relating to Sully Historic Site so that information about different aspects of the site are kept together and easily identifiable. For instance, all the documents we have concerning the slave quarters on the property are now in one file. “How was the decision made to put the representative slave quarters where it is?” and “what interpretation was planned for the site?” are just a couple questions answered in the files I reorganized. It was very interesting to see the ins and outs of such a project. Our parks are always progressing and these documents not only show the work done in the past but these records also pave the wave for the future.

The park file cabinets at Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch in Fairfax, Virginia.

Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch’s Park File Cabinets

A long term project, the inventory of the collections, files, and records will continue until completed. I am looking forward to learning more about our parks, collection, and history of the Fairfax County Park Authority. Bibliography: [i] Edith Moore Sprouce, Mount Air (Fairfax County: Fairfax County Office of Comprehensive Planning, 1972), 40. [ii] Sprouce, Mount Air, 43. [iii]Sprouce, Mount Air, 40 -41. [iv] General Management Plan for Mount Air Historic Site, Fairfax County. Accessed May 18, 2015, http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/plandev/downloads/mountairmp1998.pdf, 1998.

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About cartarchaeology

We are the County Archaeological Research Team, part of the Archaeology and Collections Branch, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority. We are tasked with understanding and managing the cultural resources on Park land throughout Fairfax County.
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