HISTORY 2 Show Shines Light on Little-Known Stafford Site
A scenic part of our nation’s early past, smack dab in Stafford County, stars Saturday in the Season 2 première of the History II channel’s “10 Things You Don’t Know About.”
Punk rock icon Henry Rollins, whom H2 says is “on a mission to discover 10 things that the casual history fan needs to know,” visits Government Island in Aquia Creek with the local historian who saved it from development.
Jane Hollenbeck Conner guides Rollins, sporting black T–shirt and tattoos, around the woodsy, watery place where hundreds of workmen quarried the stone for the White House, U.S. Capitol, Patent Building and other landmarks of the nation’s capital.
The island’s rock cliffs still bear those stonecutters’ tool marks from the late 1700s. Their Herculean labors and mighty accomplishments are hard to grasp until you have seen the island, which Stafford preserves as a public park for all to enjoy.
“Ten Things You Don’t Know About the White House” will air at 9 p.m. Saturday on History 2, said Conner, author of the book “Birthstone of the White House and Capitol.”
When she got a phone call this spring that the A&E Networks show wanted to film her and the show’s host on the island, “I had absolutely no idea who he was,” Conner confessed.
“I happened to mention his name to our five kids, and they all knew who he was,” she recalled. “They were not excited that Mom was going to be on the History channel, but that I was going to meet Henry.”
Despite his punk-rock persona on YouTube, Rollins proved to be “very friendly and very nice,” she said.
Conner, who has devoted 30-plus years to the island and its heritage, escorted Rollins and his TV crew around the site.
The retired schoolteacher showed him where free and enslaved workers quarried Aquia freestone and the pick marks they made more than 200 years ago.
Another interviewee brought stone with him, and showed Rollins how to carve it and whitewash the finished stone with lime, as was done with the President’s House in Washington City—hence its name today.
Given that the episode poses 10 questions, Conners guesses that Government Island will be on screen for all of two or three minutes, but is still excited about the prospect.
This bit of land, fringed by marsh and the tidal creek, was so crucial to the early republic that Pierre L’Enfant—the French architect who designed Washington, D.C.—bought it for the nation in 1791 after combing the Potomac River for good building material.
Today, the 17-acre preserve is part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail and features a beautiful boardwalk and a circular, 1.6-mile walking path. The county park’s street address, a short distance east off U.S. 1 in North Stafford is 191 Coal Landing Road.
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Clint Schemmer: 540/368-5029