Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Activist has connected Accokeek residents for 60 years

Civic group recognizes her service with award

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Nancy Wagner has worked hard to create a lasting legacy ever since she moved to Accokeek nearly 60 years ago.

Her community has benefited from the many causes she has supported — from protecting the Moyaone Reserve and Mount Vernon viewshed to forming the Accokeek library and helping to run the first kindergarten in the area.

Wagner was recognized recently when the Greater Accokeek Civic Association gave her its first Citizen of the Year award.

Wagner has served as a voice for her community since she moved into the area in 1946 as a young journalist married to a returning World War II naval officer. For four years before her marriage and subsequent move, Wagner worked for the Chicago Journal of Commerce, the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Daily News.

She kept writing after she moved. Since 1954, Wagner has edited the Smoke Signals newsletter, which is still published 11 times a year. She also edited the Potomac Progress from 1959 until it went under in 1961.

In the first issue of Potomac Progress in May 1959, Wagner’s lead story reads, ‘‘Accokeek and Piscataway are no longer quiet, rural villages. We are changing and changing fast.”

Wagner still attends community meetings with a desire to help protect green space and see that development in Accokeek is sustainable.

‘‘I wish we developed more like England, where there are green spaces between new housing developments,” Wagner said. ‘‘But here, whoever owned the land did whatever they wanted.”

Moyaone Reserve is a wooded community of 184 homes in Accokeek across the Potomac River from Mount Vernon and contiguous to Piscataway National Park — home of the National Colonial Farm and The Hard Bargain Farm, an environmental education center.

Over the years, Wagner and her husband — architect Charles Wagner, who died in 1998 — were among those who helped preserve the integrity of the Moyaone Reserve.

When they learned the Connelly Farm was being sold to an oil company in 1955, they informed the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and former U.S. Rep. Frances Payne Bolton (R-Ohio) swooped in and bought the farm for $330,000.

Nearly five years later, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission wanted to erect a sewage treatment plant and incinerator at Mockley Point. ‘‘Right in full view of Washington’s home,” Wagner said. But through a grassroots campaign, the WSSC plant went to Accokeek and the Mount Vernon viewshed was saved for a second time.

‘‘That was a big struggle,” Wagner said. ‘‘Those were exciting times.”

Along with Mary Thornhill and Louise North, Wagner assisted in the drafting of bylaws of the Alice Ferguson Foundation when it was chartered in 1954.

Wagner was also instrumental in establishing the Accokeek library. She was the president of the Friends of Accokeek Library in 1992.

The very first library was called the Accokeek Library and Museum and was housed in a 600-square-foot room at the Accokeek Elementary School, right across from the Accokeek Fire Department. When Alice Ferguson, a former resident and a friend of Wagner’s, died in 1951, she had left $50,000 to help fund the library, Wagner said.

After four decades of struggle, the library opened its doors in August 2004 at its present location.

Margaret Schmid, coordinator of an ad hoc committee that handles water issues at the Moyaone Association, said Wagner played a role in the introduction of kindergarten into the county by training as a teacher. Wagner, in fact, taught a kindergarten-type class at Accokeek Co-operative Nursery.

For the past 60 years, Wagner has galvanized the Accokeek community movement — even today she is active at community meetings, silently taking notes for Smoke Signals.

‘‘She’s absolutely a gem,” said Kelly Canavan, president of the Accokeek, Mattawoman, Piscataway Creeks Communities Council. ‘‘She is one of the most influential persons to shape the contours of development in Accokeek.”