Burr Gray, A Historical Perspective
From its most early days, Cabin John has been fortunate to have leaders who have made the community the kind of place it is, a great place to live, with the right kind of services and amenities. We can look back to leaders who started the fire department, organized the first church, and opened
the first community store. Others helped develop sections of Cabin John Park, began the citizens association, supported the Glen Echo-Cabin John School that is now the Clara Barton Community Center, began the Village News, and started the home school program and the first Cabin John Crab Feast.
Many people, starting in 1919, have served as president of the Cabin John Citizens Association, usually serving one or two years. And then came Burr Gray, elected to lead the citizens association in 1997 who was reelected and reelected, by acclimation, and occasionally a bit of arm twisting, for 20 years. He has raised the bar on service, enlivening old traditions and starting new ones that continue to bring the community together.
Right at the start, in 1997, Burr encouraged Cabin Johners to volunteer for activities, become officers of the Citizens Association, and participate in the first Cabin John Creek Cleanup.
That year, all volunteers, including the Cabin John Citizens Association, received awards from the County. The creek cleanup has continued for 20 years, now a community tradition to keep the waterway that streams to the Potomac River, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay, clean and a
wonderful place to enjoy. Burr followed the creek cleanup with support for the Friends of Cabin John Creek Watershed. That now involves a coalition of neighboring community organizations, united in an effort to curb storm water runoff. The effort has merited a state grant, and Burr also brought forward Cabin John’s organizer-in-chief (of Crab Feast fame) Tina Rouse to manage the grant. After all, Cabin John Creek, originally named Captain John’s Run, was probably the Cabin John namesake—say it fast, Captain John, Capt. John, Cap’n John, Cabin John!
In 1998, Burr started summer lectures as a way to bring the community together. The first lecture
was by a scientist on the wonders of the universe. Lectures were followed by dances after a few years and later by a revival of Bingo! In 2003, he brought County Council member Roger Berliner to call the numbers, followed by State delegates, another new tradition. It was also in 1998 that Burr led the citizens association in trying to convince the C&O Canal National Historical Park to repair, resilt, and rewater the Seven Locks section near Cabin John. That effort also continues.
Cabin John has had many longstanding traditions. In earlier days, Cabin John residents could always
be found at the Potomac River and C&O Canal, boating, fishing, and even ice skating in the winter.
Then there was the holiday party and egg roll (dating back to probably the 1950s) to the Crab
Feast started in the 1970s. But it was Burr Gray who brought the community’s love for the river to a new level in 1999. He started the annual canoe trip, sometimes called the Cabin John Regatta
or the Cabin John Float, where some 50 people head to the water in canoes and kayaks guided by
professionals and all arranged by Burr.
In 1999, the Cabin John Citizens Association began other initiatives under Burr’s leadership with
vivid results benefiting the community today. The effort to improve the bike path began that year,
spearheaded by Susan Roberts. And recognizing the long and important history of the community,
Burr engaged with others in the start of a permanent historical exhibit now displayed at Clara Barton Community Center and involving creative Cabin John writers, designers, a filmmaker and framer.
Then in 2000, Cabin John began its web site, moving into the era of modern social media to
promote the community. Other improvements led by Burr included the plan and later building of a
children’s playground behind the tennis courts at Clara Barton Community Center. Community spirit
was ever present in Burr’s start of annual blood drives, another new tradition for Cabin John. He
revitalized the July 4 celebration with a bike parade and his reading of the Declaration of Independence, adorned by his 3-corner hat. In days of yore that celebration had included fire engines from the Cabin John Volunteer Fire Department (before they became too big for the firehouse and too heavy for MacArthur Boulevard with the aqueduct underneath) and Cabin John’s marching
In November, 2001, after 9/11, Burr led the community to a patriotic gathering to celebrate the
reopening of the Cabin John Bridge, marked by an iconic photograph with the American flag on the bridge. After a spectacular 2001, the next year Burr and the Citizens Association advocated for county funding to extend the hours and add staff to the Clara Barton Center. That effort also led to the formation of a nonprofit support group, the Friends of Clara Barton Center, led by Burr. The group began the annual craft fair that raises funds for the Center and other programs to benefit the community from children to older adults, with new fitness equipment, classes and activity.
In subsequent years, Burr led the Citizens Association in focusing attention to airplane and helicopter noise over the Potomac River and to the sewer project, to try to eliminate the stink along the Seven Locks of the Canal. He rallied volunteers to make sure that Cabin John was counted, fully, in the 2010 Census. Burr also served on the Boards of the Potomac Conservancy and neighboring Glen Echo Park, supporting efforts that add to Cabin John’s quality of life. Then there was the need to preserve Gibson Grove cemetery, as Burr and other volunteers helped clean the area, fix a path, and establish a roadside panel to highlight the history.
In 2008, Burr made sure that Cabin John celebrated the 400th Anniversary of Captain John Smith’s voyage on the Potomac River in 1608, possibly the Captain John of Captain John’s Run. That event
brought the community together to celebrate its history and the Citizens Association published the book, Cabin John: Legends and Life of an Uncommon Place.
As a leader, Burr has always kept the diversity of the community in mind, looking for ways to bring children and teenagers into events and to address the concerns of residents. Through it all, Burr has been one of the most active volunteers in Cabin John, not only leading but always pitching in where needed. He has picked up, set up, or put away tables for meetings and especially, for the Cabin John Crab Feast. And every year, Burr has agreed (sometimes under pressure) to serve and been reelected as President of the Cabin John Citizens Association. All of this incredible service to Cabin John has been accompanied by Burr’s wonderful optimism, enthusiasm, caring, and just plain
friendliness. In all of this, Burr Gray has demonstrated Cabin John’s longstanding tradition
of service and leadership and added an important chapter to the community’s history.
By Judy Welles