As King George County embarks on a yearlong celebration of its 300th anniversary, residents and county officials who are planning events have found typical examples of separate communities within one locality.

Over the centuries, there were plantation owners and slaves, those who tilled the soil and those who pulled their harvest from the water, even those who migrated to King George to work at the Navy base in Dahlgren, which opened in 1919 as the Naval Proving Ground, and those who never lived anywhere else.

Through World War II, county natives who watched the growing number of “Dahlgrenites” arrive often had an “us versus them” mentality, said Bob Baird, president of the King George Historical Society.

While a lot of those separations disappeared over time, the tricentennial celebration seemingly has caused even more to fall by the wayside. Earlier this year, County Administrator Neiman Young called together several meetings of stakeholders to encourage anyone interested in being part of tricentennial events to share ideas.

That led to the county’s two American Legion posts coming together for the first time. Post 89 and Post 329 formed in the days of segregation — one was for white veterans, the other for African American service members — and have co-existed separately all these years.

“Because of that initial stakeholder meeting, both posts had their first joint parade ever in county history at the Fall Festival, and both are working together on the Memorial Day event,” Young said. “That would not have happened if it wasn’t for the tricentennial.”

Baird and others on the planning committee see the same kind of coming-together across the board as those associated with schools and historic homes, farming ventures and hiking trails, churches and clubs gather to discuss fireworks and parades, solemn services and a first-ever communitywide Easter celebration.

Organizers said there’s never been anything coordinated on this scale in the county.

“It’s our tricentennial,” Young said. “If something’s worth everybody coming together, this is it.”

A storied history

As Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, submitted to the Congressional Record last month, King George’s long and storied history “stretches back over 10,000 years with its settlement by Native Americans, through Capt. John Smith’s explorations in the early 1600s, through the French and Indian Wars, Bacon’s Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, the American Revolution, the Civil War, World War I, the Great Depression, World War II and into the modern era.”

Wittman was the guest speaker Nov. 15 at a Founders’ Day event that kicked off the yearlong celebration. He talked about the county being the birthplace and childhood home of presidents as well as the site of one of the nation’s premier military research and development centers.

“Words cannot express how grateful we are to have a place with such history in the founding of our great nation,” Wittman read into the Congressional Record.

Elizabeth Lee, a King George historian, would add that it’s about time the county got its due.

“The history in this county has been almost hidden,” she said. “Our soldiers during the Revolution were literally with Washington. He was very fond of the King George guys. We keep hearing there were no major battles here, but our guys went out and fought major battles elsewhere.

“These kinds of history things need to be told,” Lee continued. “This is a good time to tell it.”

‘Raising the bar’

King George called in a professional event planner, Wil Gravatt, to help volunteers coordinate the celebration.

“We basically are raising the production value, raising the bar on all the events, whether they have some legacy or are brand-new,” Gravatt said.

Details are still being worked out on some of the monthly celebrations, but one that’s already generated a lot of buzz is the July 4th event featuring fireworks at the Dahlgren base, in partnership with Naval Support Activity South Potomac.

Through 2008, the base regularly opened its gates for an annual fireworks show, but changes in security measures and the economy brought an end to the display. The Fourth of July will be one of the rare times when nonmilitary people are allowed inside the gate.

“I’ve gotten lots of positive input already, and folks are really excited to have one more opportunity for us to celebrate the Fourth of July together,” said Jeron Hayes, a public affairs specialist at the base.

‘Slice of heaven’

King George officials have asked their regional partners to join in the celebration, Young said, and organizers expect many residents with county connections to attend functions.

Some of those connections go back centuries.

“There are so many people here who can state that their family was here in the 1600s,” Lee said.

That’s one aspect of county life, and celebrating 300 years of it, that’s appealed to David Zabelsky, general manager of the Holiday Inn Express in Dahlgren. He’s also vice chairman of the Tourism Advisory Committee.

“It’s been really fun to learn about the history of the county and how many people have so many generations tied to the county,” said Zabelsky, who grew up in Northern Virginia and had never heard of King George until he came to work in Dahlgren.

“I didn’t know this little slice of heaven existed,” he said. “I’m enjoying living in a small town where everyone is kind of tied into things.”

More information about King George’s 300th anniversary events is available online at visitkinggeorge.com or on Facebook under King George 300.

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Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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