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A Burke author is petitioning for a historical marker to be put up at the former home of a prominent family whose local roots go back to 1728 and who she says was instrumental in the formation of the area.

Corazon Sandoval Foley is a local Burke historian, researcher and grandmother who in 2007 retired from the U.S. State Department after a 30-year career there.

She lives in Burke’s Edgewater community and has written two books on the area’s history; “Burke Vignettes 1728-2012”, and “Little Zion Baptist Church and the Case of Loving,” about a local African American church.

“Our Burke community has many remarkable historic sites,” she said. “And the most historical site of all—sadly, still unrecognized by the Fairfax County government—is the Coffer home.”

According to Foley, local Coffer family history (pronounced Coe-Fer) began in 1728 when Lord Fairfax granted 378 acres to Francis Coffer. His son Francis (II) then inherited the property, and it was later obtained by his brother Thomas Withers Coffer, who moved his family to the Burke area from an earlier Coffer residence on the Potomac River.

“Thomas Withers Coffer was a prominent landowner in Stafford County from which Fairfax County was spliced and created in 1742,” Foley said. “He served as Vestryman of Truro Parish along with George Washington and George Mason from 1765 until his death around 1781.”

Foley said in 1803, Thomas Coffer’s son, Francis Coffer III, purchased a second family home that today—although vastly renovated and expanded upon in later years—still sits at 10100 Wards Grove Circle in Burke.

The home is currently used as a community center and is owned by the Burke Centre Conservancy, a homeowner’s association that manages the 1,700-acre Burke Centre community which consists of more than 5,000 homes.

Foley says that during the U.S. Bicentennial in 1976, the Burke Centre Conservancy purchased the historical Coffer home and residents of Burke Centre then developed a History Forum that sought to obtain from Fairfax County an official historical marker denoting its primary importance in Burke local history, but was summarily refused.

“The 1976 historical marker project was ignored ignominiously by Fairfax County for some unknown or undisclosed reason; so, in 2012, I initiated anew a grassroots citizens’ project to get Fairfax County to install a historical marker to honor the most important historical structure in Burke The Coffer Home,” she said.

“I don’t know anything about an effort in 1976 because I was not yet involved with the conservancy and I have not seen any documentation of that,” said the conservancy’s executive director, Patrick Gloyd.

“But I will tell you that we are supportive of Mrs. Foley’s current push to have the county authorize a historical marker, as long as it is accurate. We have already authorized $1,000 toward a marker. We just want it to be accurate.”

Gloyd said that there is some question as to whether the current community center’s façade—which Foley says dates to 1803—actually goes back quite that far.

“It looks more like a late 19th century or early 20th century farmhouse façade to me,” Gloyd said. “We support a historical marker that would say the Coffer home sat ‘on or near this site’ since we are not completely sure. You only get one shot at a historical marker and once the information is cast in metal, it’s a little tough to go back and change.”

Meanwhile Foley, undeterred, is moving forward with her petition.

“I plan to collect signatures to present to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to obtain the historical marker for The Coffer Home,” she said. “I may join the bell ringers at Safeway, and would welcome volunteers to help gather signatures for this most worthy local history project. I also drafted an article for the upcoming December issue of the Burke Centre Conservancy entitled ‘Let's Rekindle the 1976 Burke Community Campaign.’ 2013 would be a magnificent year to celebrate installation of historic markers for The Coffer Home, which will then have had 210 years of history in what later became Burke.”

gmacdonald@fairfaxtimes.com