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Government Island: Connection to White House and U.S. Capitol almost lost forever

Saturday - 11/6/2010, 7:52pm  ET

govt island map (Courtesy Photo)
This map shows the path that the stone took from the island to Washington, D.C. (Courtesy Photo)
  • Gallery: (3 images)

Kathy Stewart, wtop.com

STAFFORD, Va. - Government Island, an island with deep ties to some of the most iconic buildings in the country, officially opens to the public for tours this Saturday.

This small historic island in Stafford -- along with its story -- was nearly lost forever. It almost became just another subdivision says Stafford historian Jane Conner.

"It's a story that can't be lost," says Conner.

The story is hidden in the rocks of Aquia Creek.

In 1791, the U.S. government bought the island -- hence the name Government Island. It was on this now 17-acre site in Aquia Creek that sandstone was quarried to build the U.S. Capitol and the White House, or the President's House, as it was called back then. The stone was called "Aquia Stone".

But 31 years ago, Conner stumbled upon the island and began researching its elusive history. With not much to go on, she began piecing together its story and uncovered its significance.

"It was the most important quarry in all of America at one time," she says.

The island also is home to a 1.5-mile hiking trail, which is now part of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.

Conner's been fighting to save this natural park and historic quarry that tells a part of America's story.

She says she was saddened to learn the island was going to be divided into home sites and destroyed. She took her fight to the White House and to the Stafford County Board of Supervisors.

Now, its history is being preserved and its story is being shared.

Conner says she's thrilled her dream has come true and that it's a park many people can enjoy.

The stone had to be just perfect for building the White House and the Capitol. Conner believes George Washington, a Stafford boy who grew up just miles from the quarry, pushed for this quarry to be used. Even Washington's own quarry at Mt. Vernon was cast aside because its stone was too soft.

However, the Aquia Stone used to build the two iconic buildings representing our freedom and democracy were quarried using slave labor.

Conner says you can see the pick marks made by slaves on the rocks more than 200 years ago.

(Copyright 2010 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)