Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News of Greater Falls Church

prenny-fcnpMuch of the history of Fairfax County relates to national events during the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Family names of Washington, Mason, and Lee are known far and wide. Lesser known, but important to the history of Mason District, are the Bell and Summers families, who settled in the Bailey’s Crossroads area after the end of the Civil War. The patriarch, John Bell, was born into slavery, but left the plantation and later purchased a large tract of land from the Munson family. The Bailey’s Community Center and Higher Horizons Head Start are built on part of that original tract and, not coincidentally, are located on Summers Lane.

Fairfax County Stories: 1607 – 2007 contains an interesting chapter about the families. The author of that chapter, and John Bell’s great-grandson, Houston M. Summers Jr., died last week, just a month shy of his 70th birthday. Houston grew up in a segregated Fairfax County, attended Hampton University, and became a high school vocational teacher in the same schools that once had been closed to him. Houston never failed to educate neighbors, friends, and elected officials about the history of his community, and how he and his neighbors persevered to succeed. Houston appeared on my county television program, “Mason Matters!,” in 2003, and talked about obstacles – a poor but proud neighborhood without running water, without sewer, without gas. He talked about the lack of places to play, how far people had to walk to access services and stores, and about “shade tree mechanics” who kept the few old cars there in working order. He also reminisced about little kids, black and white together, going through the woods to swim in Holmes Run.

As long-time president of the Springdale Civic Association, Houston was instrumental in getting federal block grant funds to establish the Bailey’s Conservation Area, and pay for road improvements and the construction of the community center. Finally, kids in the neighborhood had a safe place to play. Former Mason District Supervisor Tom Davis selected Houston as a Lord Fairfax honoree in 1985, only the second Mason District resident chosen at that time. Houston continued his community volunteer activities as a member of the Mason District Land Use committee for many years, ceasing only when his health made it too difficult to attend meetings. He was a member of Warner Baptist Church for more than 60 years, and managed their addition and elevator installation in 2005.

Houston was very proud of the links to the land and the links to each other that were nurtured by his parents and grandparents, and that he made sure to pass along to new generations of family and kinfolk. In Fairfax County Stories, he wrote that he “let his life do the singing,” a reference to a line from Hampton University’s alma mater. To the packed congregation who attended his funeral at Warner Baptist last week, Houston was probably still “doing the singing,” albeit in eternal life. Houston is survived by his wife, Joyce, daughter Ashley, and many, many friends and neighbors.


Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov.