A Look at the History of Fairfax, Virginia

Fairfax, Virginia is a city that was named after Thomas Fairfax. He was awarded 5 million lands in Northern Virginia. The area that is now known as the City of Fairfax was settled by farmers from the Tidewater region of Virginia during the early 18th century, and the two was established officially in 1805 by the state legislature.

The town was considered a village for a long time, and it has a claim to fame in that it was the site of the first land battle at the beginning of the Civil War – this was the Battle of Fairfax Court House, The story goes that on the 1st June 1861, when a scouting party for the Union clashed with the local militia. The battle ended with neither side having gained an advantage. Just over two years later, on June 27th 1863, the official Battle of Fairfax Court House took place, and in this battle the Union troops were defeated – however, the fight did delay the movements of Jeb Stuart, the Confederate cavalry chief, and that delay had disastrous consequences, causing problems for General Lee at Gettysburg.

Fairfax Becoming a Town

Fairfax became a town in 1874 and was then incorporated in 1961, becoming separated from Fairfax County under Virginia law – although interestingly enough it has still retained the county seat.

The town has some interesting and old buildings in it. Perhaps the most iconic, though, is the old Fairfax County Courthouse. This courthouse was first established in 1742, and it stands near what is the modern day Tyson’s Corner. The Old Courthouse Road intersects with Gallows Road. Today, that rather morbidly named road is a major route for commuters, but in the 18th century, it was the route which prisoners followed to the gallows at the old courthouse.

In 1752, the courthouse was moved to Alexandria, in part because of some ‘Indian hostilities’. The new location for the courthouse remained operational until 1790, and then the courthouse moved again, to an area near what is now considered to be Main Street. The courthouse in that place changed hands several times during the Civil War, and the war’s first officer casualty occurred on the courthouse grounds, with the death of John Quincy Marr.

Another old, attractive building in Fairfax is that of the elementary school. This was built in 1873, and it is the oldest two-story building in the city. It cost $2,750 to build the school, and it is an important icon of the new era of public education in Virginia. The school has had some uses over the years – from teaching children to offering adult education classes, training the police, and now serving as a museum and visitors center.

The Old Town Hall was built in 1900 as a gift from Joseph Edward Willard. Today, it is the home to the Hudson Library as well as the Art League, and some rooms can be rented out for weddings and meetings. Learn more about the history here