Fairfax, Virginia

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The Fairfax Story is the American story. It is a story of migration and settlement, of civil war and economic boom, and of respecting heritage – while embracing new cultures. While our earliest residents were Native Americans who lived here near the end of the ice age, Colonial Fairfax was a place of tobacco plantations, revolutionary ideas, and a black slave labor force. By 1700, European planters and farmers from the Tidewater region migrated westward to the 5 million acre land grant owned by the aristocratic Fairfax family. Life was first organized around the Truro Parish in 1732. Like the church, large plantation owners controlled the county court, charged with both judicial and administrative duties. In 1798, county officials chose a new courthouse location, one catering to Fairfax’s economic and political changes. The first session of court at the new courthouse in the Town of Providence convened April 21, 1800.

Eighteenth-century Fairfax was home to two of the greatest political figures of the period: George Washington and George Mason. Together, they authored the Fairfax Resolves in 1774, a proclamation of colonists’ rights. By the end of the century, a new crop – wheat – had replaced tobacco. On January 14, 1805, the Virginia General Assembly established the Town of Providence on 14 acres of Ratcliffe’s land surrounding the new courthouse. However, residents and travelers alike commonly called the area “Fairfax Court House.” It was officially re-named Fairfax in 1874.

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Preserving the Past, Protecting the Future

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Fairfax City got its name from Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, who was awarded five million acres of land in northern Virginia by King Charles.

The scene of the first land battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Fairfax Court House took place here on June 1, 1861. A second battle took place two years later on June 27, 1863, where Union troops were defeated.

It was incorporated as a city in 1961 by court order. Under Virginia law the city was separated from Fairfax County yet remains the county seat.

The former Fairfax County Courthouse is the oldest historic building in Fairfax. The first Fairfax courthouse was established in 1742 near present-day Tysons Corner, and is the namesake for Old Courthouse Road. The oldest two-story building in the city, the Fairfax Public School was built in 1873 for $2,750.. On July 4, 1992, the building became the Fairfax Museum and Visitor Center.

The City of Fairfax’s historic buildings and landmarks are tangible reminders of the area’s heritage and its continuing important role as a major crossroads of commerce, travel, and judicial center. Today, the City is both a place to rediscover the past and to savor the present. This six-square-mile city of 24,000 is a blend of commercial, office, retail and residential properties, combining the charm of a small town with a thriving urban area. The city is known for outstanding cultural amenities and sponsoring world-class events such as Fall for the BookSpotlight on the Arts, and a weekend-long Chocolate Lovers Festival.

There are three annual flagship events: the day-long Independence Day celebration, recognized as the best parade and most colorful fireworks in the area; the Fall Festival, where Old Town Fairfax opens its streets to hundreds of craft merchants and thousands of visitors; and the Holiday Craft Show.

A View of Fairfax

Which Neighborhood Will You Call Home?

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Mantua

Between Route 50 and Little River Turnpike, Mantua is a neighborhood of single-family homes popular for its sense of identity and midcentury architecture: a mix of ramblers, split-levels, colonials and modern homes, most on large lots.

The Mantua Swim and Tennis Club is a center for neighborhood gatherings. Eakin Community Park offers picnic areas, playgrounds and access to walking trails.

Kent Gardens

Kent Gardens, an older neighborhood with great schools, has a strong sense of community and more affordable than adjacent neighborhoods, many older Cape Cod-style homes and ramblers, often that have been remodeled or are teardowns.

A big draw for this family-oriented neighborhood is Kent Gardens Elementary School, which has a French immersion program and a reputation as an excellent school. The Kent Gardens Recreation Club, open since 1957, offers swimming and diving lessons and teams, along with social activities in the summer months. The 26-acre Kent Gardens Park features hiking trails and a playground.

Country Club Hills

Especially for first-time buyers is the Country Club Hills neighborhood with dog parks and big trees. The property taxes are lower because the city is separate from Fairfax County, but with the same level of resources and services, including road maintenance and snowplows.

The Country Club Hills Civic Association has been active since 1954 and the community brings residents together for barbecues and ice cream socials or just casual meet-ups in the park.

Greenbriar

Greenbriar is a suburban neighborhood with sought-after schools where residents can walk to schools and to the Greenbriar Town Center with shops and restaurants. There’s an active civic association in Greenbriar, a community center, and Greenbriar Park with athletic fields. The Rocky Run Stream Valley Park runs through the community and has miles of walking trails.

Mosby Woods

The single-family homes in Mosby Woods appeal to first-time buyers. The first homeowners moved here in the early 1960s and the neighborhood retains some of its old-fashioned vibe. Like Country Club Hills, Mosby Woods means residents don’t pay county taxes.

While not as walkable as some other neighborhoods such as Country Club Hills, the houses and yards are a little bigger even though the residences are relatively affordable.

The schools are a big attraction, with Mosby Woods Elementary School earning high ratings. The community also has a 50-year old swimming center that was recently renovated.

Fairfax Neighborhoods

Places to Explore in Fairfax

  • Take a guided tour of Historic Blenheim. The Historic House is a c. 1859 central-hall plan Greek Revival-style brick farmhouse built by Albert Willcoxon just prior to the Civil War (1861-65). It is nationally significant for the voluminous quantity and quality of examples of Civil War inscriptions. More than 122 signatures, pictographs, games, and thoughts were left on the house walls by Union soldiers during their occupation of the Fairfax Court House area in 1862-63. This “diary on walls” provides insight into typical soldier life and extends to the effect of this war on local residents–such as the Willcoxon family–and free and enslaved people of African descent.

  • In the Civil War Interpretive Gallery, wall inscriptions and pictographs from the house are reproduced with full-scaled photographs in the replica attic. The gallery also includes an illustrated timeline of Civil War events, artifacts that interpret the everyday soldier, biographies of several of the wall signers, and temporary displays.

  • On the grounds of the Historic Blenheim estate is “Grandma’s Cottage,” which dates to c. 1840. Grandma’s Cottage is significant both for its architecture and history. The Cottage was occupied for much of its history by Margaret Conn Willcoxon Farr, the daughter of Rezin Willcoxon, owner of the Willcoxon estate (later named “Blenheim”). Margaret Farr is buried in the Blenheim cemetery along with her husband, brother, parents, and grandmother. The cottage construction is important and unique because of its combination of log-wall construction and rare timber framing with brick infill between the studs in the oldest portion of the house.

  • Ratcliffe-Allison-Pozer House and Pozer Garden was built by Richard Ratcliffe in 1812, this house is the oldest residence in the city. This house-museum interprets the daily activities of some of its twelve owners and occupants, illustrating commercial and domestic change along Main Street during the 19th and 20th centuries. The last two private owners were Dr. Kate Waller Barrett, prominent social reformer, and her daughter Kitty Pozer. Pozer, a respected gardener, deeded the house to the city in 1973.

  • Old Town Hall is the social architectural cornerstone of the City. Joseph E. Willard presented the Hall as a gift to the citizens of Fairfax in 1900. Built by Arthur Thompson, a local contractor, the classical revival style Hall retains much of its original woodwork. Old Town Hall’s second level houses the Huddleson Library and is home to the Fairfax Art League.

  • The Ford House was built in 1835 and was the home of Antonia Ford, imprisoned as a spy following Ranger Mosby’s night capture of the local Union commander, Brig. Gen. Edwin H. Stoughton, March 9, 1863. A search of the house had revealed an honorary aide-de-camp commission to Antonia from Gen. Jeb Stuart. Union Maj. Willard, a former Provost Marshal at Fairfax Court House, fell in love with Antonia, secured her release and married her.

  • The first skirmish of the Civil War occurred on Main Street, June 1, 1861. Ex-Governor, “Extra Billy” Smith, a civilian , ran from the (now) Joshua Gunnell House to take charge of the Warrenton Rifles. Their commanding officer, Capt. John Quincy Marr had been killed, the first Confederate officer killed during the Civil War in a military engagement between the opposing forces. Union Col. Johnstone was billeted here during Ranger Mosby’s March 9, 1863 raid. However, Johnstone escaped capture by hiding beneath the outhouse, wearing only his nightshirt.

  • It was in the Dr. William Gunnell House that Ranger John Mosby captured the Union area commander Brig. Gen. Edwin H. Stoughton, in bed, the night of March 9, 1863. Mosby awoke the general with a slap. “Get up, general, and come with me.” Stoughton roared, “What is this? Do you know who I am, sir?” “I reckon I do, general. Did you ever hear of Mosby?” “Yes, have you caught him?” “No, but he has caught you.” Mosby also captured 2 officers, 30 soldiers, and 58 horses. Upon hearing of this action, President Lincoln disgustedly remarked that he could create another general with the stroke of a pen, but he surely hated to lose those horses. Private residence…do not disturb.

  • The Marr Monument was dedicated to the memory of Captain John Quincy Marr, the first Confederate officer to be killed in the Civil War. Union cavalry attacked the City at 3:00 a.m. on June 1, 1861. The Warrenton rifles commanded by Marr defended the city.

  • St. Mary’s Church is a historic Catholic church in Fairfax Station, Virginia and was built in 1858. It is a rectangular, one-story, gable-front, frame structure in the Gothic Revival style. It has a steeple at the entrance and a large Gothic arched window over the entrance door. St. Mary’s was the first Catholic church built within Fairfax County, and its early parishioners were primarily Irish immigrants employed by the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. During the Civil War, wounded were brought here by train to be treated in late August 1862. Volunteer Clara Barton, an employee of the U.S. Patent Office in Washington, tended to the wounded and made this church her headquarters; she later founded the American Red Cross in 1881.

  • The Children’s Science Center Lab is Northern Virginia’s first interactive museum where children, families and school groups can explore science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) concepts through fun, engaging hands-on exhibits, activities and programs.

  • The NRA National Firearms Museum in Fairfax, Virginia, consists of 15 galleries comprised of 85 exhibit cases housing 3,000 firearms in a 15,000 square foot facility. The Museum details and examines the nearly 700-year history of firearms with a special emphasis on firearms, freedom, and the American experience. Each gallery is evocative of a period of time in American history, from the stockade fort at Jamestown to the gun factories of New England. Life-sized dioramas include a nineteenth-century riflemaker’s shop, a trench on the Western Front in WWI, and a shelled-out town square in Normandy in WWII. The firearms tell the stories of how they were used to provide security and sustenance to the early colonists, how they were used to secure our freedom and independence, and have been used ever since to maintain and preserve those liberties.

Fairfax City Hall

Fun Fact For Your Next Trivia Night

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Joseph E. Willard, who served as lieutenant governor of Virginia and minister to Spain, financed the construction of Old Town Hall and gave it to the town in 1900. He was said to have been the most influential political figure in Fairfax County at the turn of the century. He was the only child of the Confederate spy, Antonia Ford and Joseph C. Willard, a Union major, and co-owner of the famed hotel in Washington D.C. Many residents saw their first motion picture here in 1911 (the admission price was 10 cents).

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