Washington’s Will Display Packs Old Courthouse

A display of George Washington’s will—along with other documents signed by famous Americans—was so popular Friday night it led deputies to cut off the line of people waiting to get in.

Loudoun County Clerk of the Circuit Court Gary Clemens partnered with Fairfax County clerk John Frey to bring the display to Leesburg’s First Friday, along with other historic documents such as a 1774 deed for church pews from the Pohick Church in Lorton, which contains the signatures of both Washington and George Mason; records signed by four U.S. Presidents from Virginia also including James Madison, James Monroe, and John Tyler; a criminal forensic laboratory report endorsed by former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover filed as evidence in a Loudoun County Circuit Court case; the Last Will and Testament of five-star general and Nobel Peace Prize winner George C. Marshall; and cartoons signed by Walt Kelly, former artist for the Walt Disney Studios.

The line to see the documents on display wound across the courthouse green before the courthouse doors opened to the public and grew so long that deputies had to cut off new visitors after nearly 350 lined up. Clemens said he was surprised at the good attendance.

The exhibit was born of a long-running partnership between Frey and Clemens, who once served under Frey. It’s also the result of a collaboration between the two clerk’s respective historic records divisions. Loudoun and Fairfax house some of the oldest court documents in American history.

“I think it’s a unique opportunity, not only because I’ve got my partner John Frey with me, but it’s unique that we’re able to consolidate our collections,” Clemens said.

He also said it’s an example of a return on the Board of Supervisors’ investment in his office to create a historic records department—and a chance for students to see a piece of history.

“This is an opportunity for the students to actually come and see some of the documents that they’ve read about in their history class,” Clemens said.

Frey said the story of Fairfax and Loudoun Counties—their growth, and their people from their leading lights to their historical deadbeats—is told through courthouse documents.

“These courthouses really are the story of our communities, and of course the country’s history,” Frey said. “You can find a lot of neat treasures here.”

And Clemens said there is more to come.

“I think what John and I are doing is just the beginning,” he said. “My next effort is to reach out to our colleagues in Arlington, and our colleagues in Prince William and even Alexandria.”

Learn more about the Clerk of Court’s Historic Records division at https://www.loudoun.gov/2165/Historic-Records-Deed-Research.

rgreene@loudounnow.com

George Washington’s will on display at the old Loudoun County courthouse in Leesburg at Leesburg’s First Friday May 3. [Renss Greene/Loudoun Now]
Loudouners line up to see George Washington’s will at the old Loudoun County courthouse in Leesburg. Nearly 350 lined up before sheriff’s deputies were forced to cut off the line. [Renss Greene/Loudoun Now]
Fairfax County Clerk of the Circuit Court John T. Frey and Loudoun clerk Gary Clemens. [Patrick Szabo/Loudoun Now]

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