Meet Michelle Arcari, the President of the Friends of Historic Pleasant Grove. Historic Pleasant Grove is an historic site in McLean and a former church built in 1895 by free African Americans. Since then, an all volunteer group took over to help preserve the site and hold community events.


Q. What do you do for the Historic Pleasant Grove site?


I am the board president of the Friends of Pleasant Grove, which is a 501(C)(3) nonprofit organization that owns the building. I have been President for two years now, and I have been on the board for 8 years.


Q. When was the site built? 


This church was built by free African American and indigenous people who lived locally near McLean in 1875. And it was… operated as a church as United Methodist Episcopal church until 1968 when it was de-consecrated as a church. Then it fell out of use, the parishioners split it up to the area’s local United Methodist Episcopal churches. Sometime in the 80s, someone purchased the building and began to dismantle pieces and sell off pieces of it. 

Several of the neighbors and local community members, including the Jesuits, [were] on the property across the street from the church and had lived there for many years. They still own that property. They were instrumental in getting local community support to form the Friends of Pleasant Grove group and save the church. So that it wouldn’t be destroyed.


Q. Who are your members? 


Our Friends group is an all volunteer group. So we have a board, there are 16 members on the board currently. Some of whom go back to being part of the group that saved the church initially. We also have a Descendents Council, which we’ve added in the last few years. Some of our board members are descendants of the families who were members of the church and who remember going to the church when they were children. Still a lot of them live very near the church. We have various volunteers that work to try to preserve the church while trying to document the history better. 

Q. What is your background?


I’m an Associate General Counsel, and I’m one of the lawyers at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. My undergraduate degree is in preservation. That’s what we do all the time, save places and tell the full American story. So because of my background, I’m here trying to develop a plan of how we can restore and preserve the church going forward legally and for the community. There are lot of plans about getting it listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I’m coordinating a plan to make all of that happen and getting it listed on the Virginia Registry of African American sites, and working with the State Historic Preservation Officer at some point to make the site well known.

 I also moved to McLean in 2009, I have family here. My dad and my stepmom live here in McLean, and she is part of the Jesuit family that owned the property across the street and that was involved in saving it. Because I have a background in preservation, I became involved in the church and became a board member. It’s really a family connection to the Jesuits.


Q. What is your favorite event held at the site?


We have a number of events open to the public. And we were hoping to do more. Our Christmas sing along is probably one of my favorite things that we do at the church. It’s just a nice chance for a very low key opportunity for everybody to come together and share some Christmas spirit.


Q. Are there any events coming up at the site?


We will have the Revels Singers coming, which is an African American interpretive singing group. There is no date yet planned but check in the near future. They’ve come in the past and one of their members is a descendant. We will also be having our Juneteenth Celebration in conjunction with the federal holiday.

Q. Will you be looking for volunteers?


We are always looking for volunteers. Even students, we were looking for volunteers and summer volunteers to help organize documents, to help us write the history, to do an ancestry timeline, or sort through historic records. And we have cleanup days too.


Q. Favorite spot in McLean?


We are big McLean Family Restaurant fans. McLean Treasure Trove as well, I’m always up for a good hunt in Treasure Trove.

Visit the Historic Pleasant Grove site:  8700 Lewinsville Rd, McLean, VA 22102; Phone: (703) 506-8270
Interview by Dania Reza: Reza is the social media content curator for McLean Today. She is a senior at McLean High School and is the design editor-in-chief of her award-winning school news magazine, The Highlander.


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