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July 11, 2017

Faces of Fauquier: Helping bring local history alive

Photo/Don Del Rosso
“It’s important for people to know the history of where they live,” Paula Johnson says.
History comes alive when children see living history before their eyes. Hopefully, they will be interested in history and preservation. And, sometime the seeds of Heritage Day will bloom and they will remember Warrenton and perhaps be a historian or preserve something of history.
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Staff Journalist
Her passion for the past started with a “return-to-the-old-days,” horse-drawn French carriage tour of historic Galena, Ill.

Accompanied by her parents, Paula Johnson — cofounder of Warrenton-Fauquier Heritage Day — was 15 at the time.

“I can remember that ride,” recalls Mrs. Johnson, who lives near Warrenton. “It just began there. I’ve always liked history.”

Her husband Ted’s job as a Lockheed Martin engineer kept them on the go, giving Mrs. Johnson a chance to delve into the histories of towns and cities in about a half dozen states across the country.

“The history” of such places “just always interested me. How the towns got started. Who lived there? Who did what?”

The Johnsons and their three children moved from Syracuse, N.Y., to Fauquier in 2002.

“When I came here, that really exploded,” Mrs. Johnson says. “Everybody passed through this area, beginning with all of the Indian nations. The colonials came through, of course; the Revolutionary War; the Civil War. . . . It’s just mesmerizing to me.”

The idea for Heritage Day, which will mark its 13th anniversary Sept. 30, largely stemmed from a desire to expose as many people as possible to Fauquier’s history, she explains.

“It’s purely an educational, fun experience for people of all ages,” says Mrs. Johnson, who relies on a core group of volunteers to pull off the daylong event, which typically features re-enactors, demonstrations, exhibits and music. “It’s about the uniqueness of this town and the wonderful history we have here.”

Longtime supporters of Heritage Day, the Town of Warrenton and Fauquier County this year respectively will contribute $2,500 and $1,544, which will be used to pay for advertising, brochures and other expenses, says Mrs. Johnson, who receives no compensation.

Heritage Day activities help animate the past, especially for young people, the Rockford, Ill., native explains.

“History comes alive when children see living history before their eyes,” says Mrs. Johnson, who has portrayed several historic people on Heritage Day, including Mrs. Robert E. Lee. “Hopefully they will be interested in history and preservation. And, sometime the seeds of Heritage Day will bloom and they will remember Warrenton and perhaps be a historian or preserve something of history.”

Mrs. Johnson also wrote a play called “The Battle of Brandy Station,” which she and five others performed in 2014 during Graffiti House Heritage Day in Culpeper.

• Age

• Home 
Near Warrenton.

• Work
Airline stewardess, Northwest Orient, 1975-77.

• Family
Husband, Ted; two sons and a daughter; two grandchildren.

• Education
Attended University of Minnesota, 1971-79; attended Rock Valley College, Ill., 1965-66; East High School, Rockford, Ill.,1962.

• Why do you remain committed to Warrenton-Fauquier Heritage Day?
It’s important for people to know the history of where they live. History is very important in the development of the county and the Old Dominion. And I just want people to enjoy that history as much as I do. To me, it’s an educational thing.

• Civic and/or church involvement
Brandy Station Foundation events coordinator and archivist, 2016 to present; Brentmoor Task Force, 2015 to 2016; Brandy Station Foundation board, 2013 to present; Brandy Station Foundation Ball Committee, 2012 to 2013; Warrenton Baptist Church, Bible study group leader, 2002 to present.

• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
Fifteen years.

• Why do you live here? 
My husband was transferred to Lockheed Martin in Manassas. We looked all around the area for a long time to find a home. Main Street (in Warrenton) was so attractive to us. There was a store for every purpose. I thought this town had something for everyone. I was enthralled with the architecture. I just looked around at all the different architecture and wondered what those buildings were used for. It was interesting to me.

• How do you describe this county? 
Driving into Fauquier gives me a sense of peace with the pastoral countryside, farms, horses, the streams, rivers and the seasonal beauty of the flowers and trees. It also evokes a sense of wonder in the development of the county with all the history that passed through and occurred here. Some of the county has the same landscape integrity that it had when the particular period of history took place. It is a step back in time experience and having knowledge of the history enhances the different architectural styles.

• What would you change about Fauquier?
I’d like to see some family clothing stores. My daughter’s complaint was there was nothing for a teenager to do here. You had to drive to Manassas or Culpeper to go to the movies. Yes, there’s the WARF, but we don’t have other things like theaters. What they’ve got is good, but we need more for the teenagers.

• What do you do for fun?
I make miniature gardens — small, little spaces with small types of flowers. It’s basically what you’d call a pot garden. And, I do other gardening projects.

The most fun thing right now is my new grandson, Brody. He’s 13 weeks old. He’s pretty fun.

• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
The Mosby House (in Warrenton). It’s just so interesting — the people that lived there. It was built for Judge (Edward) Spilman. Then there was James Keith and (Confederate Col. John Singleton) Mosby and (U.S. Sen.) Eppa Hunton. Just think of the lives that went through there and the history they were involved in.

• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years? 
I believe it will be developed to the point where there will be more restaurants, more shopping and more things for children to do, especially teenagers.

I hope it will remain the unique county it is and still emphasize the history.

• Favorite TV show?
“Southern Charm.”

• Favorite movie? 
“Gone with the Wind.”

• Favorite book?
“Seasons of War: The Ordeal of the Confederate Community, 1861-1865,” by Daniel E. Sutherland.

• Favorite vacation spot? 
Gotta have two: Waikiki and Paris.
• Favorite food? 
Tai — green curry.

• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom? 
Smile. It makes people wonder what you’re thinking. My mom’s mother.

• Who’s your hero and why?
My mom’s mother. My grandmother overcame so many adversities. She was always positive. She always had a twinkle in her eye. She was always encouraging to me. She was one of those ladies at a party who always had something to say to each person. She would say quirky things. If I complained it was raining and I had to go out, she’d always say, “You’re not sugar. You’re not going to melt.” There was always the idea to bring a smile to your face.

• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery?
Give a portion to my church. They have a program for all the orphans in Haiti. I’d take a look at charities that especially help children. I’d buy the Mosby House, if it was for sale. I’d open it for a museum.

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Do you know someone who lives in Fauquier County you would like to see in Faces of Fauquier? E-mail Cassandra Brown at, Don Del Rosso at or Editor Lou Emerson at

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