A Few Characters in Burke's History

Chip and LaVerne Carson give talk at Burke Historical Society meeting.

— About 40 people attended a presentation by the Burke Historical Society on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, at Pohick Regional Library in Burke. Dubbed "The Characters of Burke," the talk featured siblings Chip Carson, 71, of Warrenton, and his sister LaVerne Carson, 75, of Occoquan, fifth-generation Burkites who recalled some of the colorful personalities they grew up with in the 1940s to 1960s in

Burke.

From 1946-1966, the Carson family ran two general stores in Burke: Carson's Trading Post, a general store where the present day Post Office is located at Burke Lake Road and Burke Road. They operated their second store from 1958 until 1963. Handy Dandy bought it and sold it to 7-Eleven.

"Our family has deep roots in Burke," said LaVerne Carson, who runs the Golden Goose Christmas Shop in Occoquan and served as Occoquan's Mayor. "We were so lucky to be raised in the store. We knew everybody in Burke. It was a good way to grow up."

She said her parents Roy and Olive Carson ran Carson's Trading Post on Lee Chapel Road from 1946-1952. Their land bordered Lee Chapel and Pohick Roads. Her mother lived in a house on that

property for 75 years and the house still remains in the family. She said they worked long, hard days from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Her other siblings are named Jan and Roy.

"It was a good way to grow up; you just knew everybody. Everybody was friendly. Old men would come into the store and chip their hat to me. These wonderful people who lived in Burke were good people," she said.

LaVerne recalls that during the 1940s and '50s, the Burke roads didn't have proper names; they just had numbers. Everything was either by road number or farm. "When we were growing up, there were no names of roads," she said.

And back in the day, people didn't have money for telephones. "The operator came on and it was a party line. You had four or five people on the party line. The operator would come on and ask for the number," she said.

Chip Carson, who works as a fire protection engineer, said because their dad was in the fire department, their store had a fire siren on its top. "This was the Home Depot of the day; we sold ammunition, groceries, we would cut steaks and roasts, and sell feed for animals -- everything from 100-pound sacks of chicken feed," he said.

Downtown Burke consisted of Burke Methodist Church, a post office, a fire station and Brownie's gas station. He said where Brownie's Station sat was the Marshall Store, his dad's store; it's now a 7-Eleven. "It looks considerably different now than it did in the 1950s," he said.

They talked about some of the unique characters who lived in Burke. There were brothers Lick and Pat who would travel on horse and wagon to Giant Food in Kings Park when it was first built. "Lick was a fixture around Burke for a lot of years," said Chip.

He mentioned Willie Harlow who always wore overalls and stuffed his pockets with things from the store -- like black ripened bananas and cans of tuna fish. "On election day, he was quite the figure. He would say, 'Hear Ye, Hear Ye, the polls are now closed.' He was a friendly guy," he said.

Chip said during the winters, everybody would go sleigh-riding down Blincoe's Hill. "People would go up there and build a track down the hill. At night time, they would build a fire with kerosene lanterns. That was great fun to go sleigh-riding down Blincoe's Hill," he said.

In the winter of 1966, there was a huge snow storm and Burke was totally covered in snow and isolated. His dad knew of a bulldozer down in Springfield that he could use to clean out the roads, so he borrowed it. "Dad started up the dozer and cleared roads in Burke. He spent two days on a bulldozer cleaning up Burke because you didn't have resources like you do now. Dad cleaned out roads for a couple of days to get Burke opened again," he said.

Chip said he started working in the store when he was 11. They had a big walk-in cooler and their Dad would buy half a cow and they'd cut steaks and roasts. They sold lunch meat and Chip would make sandwiches with his mom. "This was the first fast food in Burke," he said.

LaVerne recalled a mailman named Charlie Dyer who drove a paneled mail truck with no heater. "So they put a wood stove in the back of the truck and did the mail route," she said.

Chip remembers that Charlie was a hoarder. "I walked into his kitchen and he opens the oven door and pulls out a turkey roaster that he was baking a fruit cake in.... Charlie was a nice guy but he was a character. Charlie also had a steam whistle. Every once in a while he would blow the steam whistle."

LaVerne recalled a man named Buddy Quirk who lived on Pohick Road in a shack. "When he would walk to Burke, he would ride a white horse and his wife would lead. Buddy would need to go shopping and come to the fire department and say he was sick and get an ambulance ride to do his shopping," she said.

LaVerne talked about the Sideburn community that had a large black population. "A lot of those people came to Burke to clean houses. We knew them from the store. They cleaned a lot of the houses in Burke. They had a church on Burke Lake Road; that's where their original church was. It's kind of interesting because they came to dad's store all the time."

"This area has grown so quickly over the last few years that perhaps people aren't aware of some of

the history and some of the unique personalities of people that lived here in the past. So I think it's important to understand and learn about those people, to learn about the rich history that we have here in Burke, Virginia," said John Vrana, president of Burke Historical Society, which was established in 1978 and incorporated in 2008. They offer free history talks on the last Sundays of every month at 3:30 p.m. at Pohick Regional Library.

Burke Historical Society 2018 Schedule

Meets the last Sunday of month from 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Pohick Regional Library, 6450 Sydenstricker Road, Burke. Call 703-644-7333.

  • Jan. 28 — Everything Burke. Join the Burke Historical Society's annual meeting and learn about the town's history and other Burkes around the world.

  • Feb. 25 — Lost Towns of Fairfax County. Several of Fairfax County's once-vibrant communities have disappeared. Learn about the "big five" of these lost towns.

  • March 25 — Wilder's Lightning Brigade. Learn about Union Col. John Thomas Wilder and his 17th Indiana "Lightning Brigade," and how their new Spencer repeating rifles changed the Tullahoma Campaign in Tennessee.

  • April 29 — Burke's Railroad Stations. The arrival of the railroad put Burke on the map. Virginia Room's Chris Barbuschak shares his research on Burke's two historic rail depots.

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