Historic Street Improperly Spelled?
Is it S-A-G-E-R or S-A-G-A-R?
By William Sagar
May 9, 2012
It's a small street that begins at the steps of the Old Courthouse and runs a few blocks to Roberts Road. For those who know the rich history of Fairfax, however, Sager Avenue represents a spelling error in the commemoration of a once prominent family.
But correcting the spelling could lead to a host of problems for the city.
“Well, first we would need to prove the street had been misspelled.” Fairfax City Manager Robert Sisson said.
He added that misspellings can often be attributed to the lack of written records, or the lack of writing in general, where names may vary in spelling because of their phonetic pronunciations.
This was certainly the case with Sagar, phonetically pronounced (sey-ger). Over the years, the name was frequently recorded in land deeds, court cases, and government related appointments.
“We had a similar issue raised a couple years ago over the spelling of Willcoxon Tavern Ct.," Sisson said. "A man believed it should be spelled Wilcoxson. Eventually our records, as well as local gravestones, showed that the street was correctly spelled after all.”
The Sagar family first moved to the area from New York in the 1850’s. They buying a plot of land that stretched from Braddock Road to Little River Turnpike, encompassing nearly all of what now is the George Mason University campus.
Their house, which has traded many hands since, is a historical landmark. Historians say it was used as a station on the Underground Railroad, and later battled for as a hospital in the Civil War.
It has become notorious for its rumors of being haunted, and was featured on HGTV’s series “If these Walls Could Talk” in 2008.
Sharon Day, who was raised in the house, will be publishing a book entitled “Growing up with Ghosts,” this summer. Day recounts her mother, a local teacher and historian, referring to the Sagars as “one of the founding families of Fairfax.”
The Sagars donated part of their property to create the first Fairfax school, which has since become the Sager School for students with special needs.
Althougha good number of listings use Sagar, there were occasions when the recorder listed the exact same people under the spelling S-a-g-e-r.
“If our records have past residents listed under both spellings, it then becomes very difficult to tell who the street was named after,” Sisson said.
News reports covering the years of 1886-1936 offer 48 listings of the last name, all spelled Sagar. Even more significant is that William and Dolly Sagar, as well as their son A.J., were all at one time incorrectly listed as Sager, but are all buried side by side in Vienna’s Flint Hill Cemetery under the name Sagar.
“Fixing the street signs is only a minor part of the issue,” Sisson said.
There are nine intersections on the small road, which would require the replacement of 18 signs at an estimated cost between $200 and $300 dollars.
“The real impact is on the families that will have to change the address they have had their entire lives,” Sisson continued. “Then there are legal documents to consider, it can be really overwhelming. I imagine the city would get some push back from the local community.”