Storytime for Grownups

Storytime for Grownups

Area seniors recall a time before rush hour.

Remember when land in Franconia was cheap and open? Such a time did exist, and some of those who still remember it will be telling their stories at the Franconia Museum's Story Swap on Saturday, Sept. 30.

The event, taking place from 1-3 p.m., at John Marshall Library, will also feature the unveiling of the third volume of the museum's "Franconia Remembers" series. The latest book is the largest yet, and its authors will constitute the event's story-telling panel. Each of the 12 authors has been invited, and some will be coming from far out-of-state.

"I'm hoping for all of them, but I'll be happy to get eight or 10," said Jacqueline Walker, who has compiled the books. She noted that one author, who has lived in the area since the early 1930s, will be dressing up in vintage clothing.

Two or three story swaps take place each year, and this one coincides not only with the unveiling of the new book but also the readying of the museum's new permanent location.

"Several of our friends have asked us to have the museum open after the Story Swap, so that's what we're trying to do," said Sue Patterson, who is the museum's treasurer and also handles public relations. Patterson is the Lee District history commissioner and was the museum's original president.

A grand opening took place in March for the museum's new room in the Lee District Government Center, but the displays have not yet been assembled.

MANY OF WALKER'S story sources are her own acquaintances. "I've lived here all my life, and I know a lot of old people, so they happen to be my contacts," she said.

Walker remembers when Franconia was mainly farmland. Valley View Drive, where she now lives, was one of the area's earliest developments, built in the 1920s, she said.

Diversions consisted largely of the fire department and the school. Dances took place at the school, said Walker, and "when the fire alarm rang, we all ran to the fire. It was entertainment." A theater, bar and shopping center were located in an area called Wards Corner, where the Crown service station now stands. "But it burned down, and that was the end of that," she said. Wards Corner burned in the 1950s.

Javins Farm, a dairy farm located just east of where Mark Twain Middle School now sits, is the subject of one of the stories in the upcoming book.

People who share these memories are beginning to become harder to find. "The family resource is fast fading away because of the ages of the people," said Walker. One consistent source of stories has been a group of 15 to 20 friends of the museum, known as "The Lunch Bunch." Their average age, said Walker, is close to 80. She said harvesting the stories is an ongoing process.

While the new volume is about double the size of the last and features more old pictures, a couple of stories — including Walker's own — area already "in the mill" for the next book, she said. Stories include both histories of events and tales of local families.

"It's like going down memory lane for me," said Walker, "because I've renewed old friendships and made new ones."

Patterson noted that some other Fairfax County districts have begun having their own Story Swap-style events, "but we were the first."

THE FRANCONIA MUSEUM was established in 2001 and was officially incorporated the next year. It had already begun conducting Story Swaps, said Patterson. However, she said, "we were kind of a mobile museum." Items and files were stored at the Lee District Government Center and at the homes of museum board members. "People would call us up, and we would come in and do a talk and maybe a display," she said.

The project began as an effort by about six people, and Patterson said the museum now has 13 board members and some 600 to 1,000 friends and supporters. In 2004, the county budgeted $50,000 to be spent last year on the creation of a permanent home for the artifacts that have been collected.

Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) said it was not difficult to obtain the funds. "I think all of us on the board recognize the importance of not only preserving memories but making them visible and real," he said. He hoped that the public display space would encourage residents to donate items to be shared with the public.

In all of the museum's endeavors, he said, "the biggest thing is trying to preserve memories of how this place came to be, and doing it in a way that isn't drab and distant."