Thanks to Maral Kalbian, the newest class of Clarke County Public Schools teachers will receive a history lesson as part of their on-the-job training. Kalbian, an architectural historian by profession and resident of Clarke County, loves to share her deep knowledge of the county’s history using a fluid storytelling style that helps her listeners easily understand the people and places that built our county. Last Thursday Kalbian and a small group set out across Clarke County in a yellow school bus to learn a thing or two about the events and times that make Clarke special.
“I thought that it would be nice for new teachers and administrators to have a better understanding of the history of Clarke County” Kalbian said last week as she prepares to board a Clarke County school bus with nearly a dozen teachers and administrators. “When a child tells a teacher where he or she is from this tour can help by giving the teacher a little background about the area where the child is from.”
Once everyone is on-board the bus, Kalbian directs the driver for this tour, agriculture teacher Glenn Cole, to head down Main Street and then take a right turn onto Church Street. Kalbian’s encyclopedic knowledge of the county’s history begins to flow immediately and effortlessly as she describes pre-Civil War Berryville to the new teachers.
“Church Street used to be one of the main entrances into town before Route 340 was built” Kalbian says. “Back then it was a turnpike and people paid money whenever they wanted to use the road.”
Kalbian points out a brown house near present-day Josephine Street that served as the toll-keeper’s house for the old turnpike as the bus continues south.
Further out of town Kalbian begins pointing out and describing Civil War battlefield markers as well as roadside historical markers, many of which she personally authored.
Last week’s tour marks the third or fourth year she has conducted the new teacher tour, Kalbian isn’t sure exactly how many times she has shared her local history knowledge with new instructors, but there is no uncertainty on her part when it comes to telling the stories shaped the county’s past and present.
“Clarke used to be part of Frederick County until 1836” Kalbian tells the teachers while standing at the front of the bus with a microphone in her hand. Kalbian describes how the two social groups who settled the Northern Shenandoah Valley, Tidewater planters in what is now Clarke and Scots-Irish farmers in Frederick, found it easier to form separate governing bodies rather than try to reconcile Clarke’s slave-economy with Frederick’s merchant and small family-farm society.
“The land development patterns that you see today in Clarke County are directly linked to those societal differences” Kalbian tells the group.
As Glenn Cole heads the bus through Millwood, Blandy Farm, White Post and Boyce, Kalbian’s mental reservoir of history never run dry. Facts about local people and their lives spin forth in a delightful mix of humor and drama ranging from pre-historic Native American tribes that populated the areas along the Shenandoah River in the northeastern part of Clarke, Revolutionary-era giants like Nathaniel Burwell, Lord Fairfax and King Carter to the Civil War with tales of John Mosby in Millwood as well as the African American journey to freedom via formation of the Josephine Street community through the purchase of property from former owners of Clermont Farm.
Maral Kalbian’s tour is also as much of a “welcome” to the new teachers as it is a history lesson. Kalbian’s friendly personality and style is only further enhanced by the “goodie bags” that she personally hands to each tour participant as they board the bus. Kalbian’s gift bags are filled with Clarke County memorabilia that include a Harvfest tee-shirt, cookies and lemonade supplied by Locke Store in Millwood as well as a note-pad and ice scrapper embossed with the official seal of Clarke County, Virginia.
“You’re gonna need that ice scrapper” yells one of the trip members with more Clarke County tenure than the new teachers.
Kalbian’s goodie-bags also contain a wide assortment of history pamphlets covering self-guided tours of the Berryville and Greenway historic districts, information on the Josephine School Community Museum, Long Branch and the Burwell-Morgan Mill. Also found inside is a resident’s guide to Clarke County and brochure detailing Civil War Battle Monuments in Clarke County.
Kalbian is especially proud of the Battle Monuments brochure not just because she loves history, but also because the compilation was written by her son, Simon B. McKay.
While last week’s tour focused on Clarke’s history and towns, the new teachers also had a chance to do a little window shopping during a stop in Millwood at “Art at the Mill”. The educators appeared impressed with both the wide selection of high quality art on sale as well the large number of visitors and shoppers present on a sunny Thursday afternoon.
With time winding down on an all-too-short tour that covered only the southern part of Clarke due to time constraints, Kalbian receives warm applause from her charges in appreciation for her knowledge and outreach.
Heading north on US 340 Kalbian tells the group “The purpose of today was to give you a quick run through the county so that you’ll hopefully be able to engage with your students a little easier when you see them at school.”
Responses from the group indicated that Kalbian’s goals had been achieved.
“I’d like to speak with the other teachers that I work with to see if we can use some of the information that I learned today” said Tanya Paul, first grade teacher at Berryville Primary School. “She amazing! I learned a lot of things.”
Paul said that she had just moved to the area from Delaware to take her first teaching position and had yet to do much exploring in Clarke County.
Kindergarten teacher Joan Robertson, who lives in Frederick County, voiced her appreciation for Kalbian. “I learned a lot!” Robertson said. “It was good to see where my students come from and to better understand the history of where they live.”
When not doing her own original history research and work, Kalbian volunteers as secretary of the Clarke County Historical Society. To learn more about Clarke County from Maral Kalbian’s work, as well as the work of many other volunteer historians who contribute to preserving the county’s past, please visit the Clarke County Historical Society at http://www.clarkehistory.org/