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What’s in a Name? A Look at Burke’s Roots

Burke was once a potential location for Dulles International Airport.

Silas Burke House. By Susan Larson.
Silas Burke House. By Susan Larson.

This is part two of a three-part series on the identity of Burke. Read part one.

Plenty of people say they move to Burke for the community.

But fewer move for the history, or even realize what deep roots Burke has.

Burke's name actually dates back as far as the 19th century, when it took its name from Col. Silas Burke, a farmer who built a house on a hill  — now known as the Silas Burke House) — that overlooked Pohick Valley.

"The house is located where the Orange and Alexandria Railroad was originally constructed. The railroad gave farmers access to markets in Alexandria and Washington, DC,” said Brian Slawski, chair of programs Chair for the Burke Historical Society (BHS). “Today, Burke residents still use the rail line brought by Silas Burke to commute to Alexandria and D.C. So, because of its history, Burke has retained much of the character of a country town in spite of always being strongly tied to its neighboring big cities.”

Many of the streets, shopping areas and neighborhoods in the area have kept the name "Burke." Aside from the larger area itself, the Burke Centre Shopping Center, Burke Centre Town Plaza, Kings Park Shopping Center and the Burke Town Plaza all use the name.

Burke Centre is one of the largest residential communities in Burke, with more than 5,800 homes on about 1,700 acres. Every fall, the community hosts the annual Burke Centre Festival, which celebrates their neighborhood and all other things Burke.

Some other remnants from Burke's beginnings are things residents pass every day — there’s the Silas Burke House located off of Burke Lake Road, which was originally built in 1824 and rebuilt in 1854. And the Burke Nursery and Garden Center is on the former grounds of the old Copperthite Horse Race Track, which opened on July 4, 1908.

“[It] entertained visitors from distances across the country, yet no evidence remains of its existence,” said Jon Vrana, president of the BHS.

A fun fact: Burke was once the potential site of Dulles International Airport.

For residents of Burke, though, history isn’t all that keeps them connected.

“Burke is also its people. It’s a community of long-term residents and newcomers. Each brings a spirit of community and cooperation, very unique to the Washington, DC area,” Vrana said.

That spirit of cooperation extends as much to residents as it does to the local organizations and causes that set them apart from other areas of Fairfax County, like the Burke Volunteer Fire Department (BVFD) and the Springfield/Burke Relay for Life.

Back in June, Burke residents helped raise more than $160,000 for the Springfield/Burke Relay for Life at West Springfield High School. They also rallied behind a 9-year-old Burke child to raise more than $18,000 to help clean up the 2010 oil spill off of the Gulf Coast — just by setting up a lemonade stand and selling T-shirts online.

“Burke is a collection of comfortable, residential communities ... each with its own personality, but all focused on friendly, livable communities,” said Braddock District Supervisor John Cook, whose office is located in Kings Park Library, one of three libraries in Burke.

Those communities are also focused on their future. Read about development in Burke here

This is part two of a three-part series on the identity of Burke:

Part IBurke: An Oasis Outside the Beltway
Part IIWhat’s in a Name? A Look at Burke’s Roots
Part IIIAmidst Rising Urban Centers, Burke Tries To Find Space of Its Own

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