If You Build It, They Will Eventually Come

This morning, after slogging through the  hilly CASA 8K (41 minutes), I attended the ribbon cutting of the new Old Town Square in downtown Fairfax City.

The Square is an acre parcel at the corner of University and North Street, the former home of the stylistically tragic “Weight Watchers” building.  A former bomb shelter, the WWB single-handedly destroyed the architectural flow of Old Town for generations, by hiding the classic lines and Doric columns of Old Town Hall.

Anyway, the City Council bought the WWB in 2004 and took it down.  After a brief hiatus as a parking lot, the Council finally funded the square with park benches, stone work and an interactive water fountain.   After six months of construction, it opened this a.m.

The Plaza was a vision for many people, including multiple mayors and Council members.  It also had a peculiar connection with my mother’s family.

My great-grandmother Mary Legrand (Donohoe) McCandlish was born and lived her whole life (1888-1986) within a stone’s throw of the Plaza.  Her father, Rozsel Donohoe, was the youngest son from a Loudoun County family which sent four older boys to ride with JEB Stuart.  He was the editor of the Fairfax Herald and, later, the State Senator for Fairfax and Loudoun Couny.

Mary Legrand’s mother, Susan Lindsay Moore, was the daughter of Thomas Moore, a prominent Fairfax citizen.  Her older brother Walton also practiced law, served in the State Senate and, years later, served in the U.S. Congress.  Unfortunately, she died soon after her daughter’s death.  Mary LeGrand then moved in with her Uncle Walton and his three sisters, Margaret, Helen and Jenny, at 3950 Chain Bridge Road.  They became her de facto parents for the balance of her life.

Mary Legrand lived at the Moore House all her life, except for a thirty-year period, when she and her husband, Fairfax Sheild McCandlish, built their own house at 3820 Chain Bridge Road.  He died of cancer in 1934, leaving her as a widow with three children, including my grandmother Mary Walton.

Mary Legrand, nicknamed “Bam” by her grandchildren, moved back to the Moore House in 1950.  She lived there for nearly the balance of her life, including during my youth next door at 3936 Chain Bridge Road.  During her life, she was the consummate Southern lady — never driving a car or working outside the house.  She kept a growing family intact.  As of her death, she had nine grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.  (My sister is Mary Legrand is #1).  Most of us still live locally.

Why am I mentioning this?  Because our family chipped in to donate a “Mary McCandlish” garden at the Old Town Plaza.   It’s memorialized by a large stone (we call it the “Bam Rock”) which  notes her long life in Old Town.

Today represented a final step in the makeover of Old Town Fairfax.  From a collection of empty lots and gas stations in the Eighties, it’s developed into handsome brick buildings, including the best public library in Virginia, restaurants, and retail shops.   There’s still some leasing work to do but the architectural pieces are finally in place.

It’s fun to see that the Town has come back to where it was in 1901, when the Old Town Hall opened.  Fairfax City proud!

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