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Prince William County & Manassas, Virginia

By Ren´┐Że S. Gordon

(Photos courtesy Manassas CVB)

�Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.� Thomas Paine

Prince William County was mandated in 1731 by Virginia's General Assembly and named in honor of the third son of King George, Prince William. When John Smith arrived in 1608 two tribes shared the area, the Dogue, Algonquians, and the Manahoac, a Siouan tribe. Because the Manahoac were more nomadic the colonists had the most contact with the Dogue and though the Dogue were friendly eventually they came to be thought of as liars and cheats. It is widely held that �to lie like a dog� is from this era. By 1730 the Native Americans had moved from the area.

Capital Building

Prince William County is an oft-overlooked treasure filled with unique historic sites and modern attractions that will enchant both the solo traveler and family vacationers. The county's quiet cities and quaint towns are located within 50-miles of Washington, DC, with easy access via I-95.

�Potomac� is a Dogue word meaning �trader� and you will find it in place names throughout the area but none so appropriately named as Potomac Mills. This huge covered mall is already the largest outlet center in the state and they recently announced the opening of several new venues later this year. The more than 220 shops, movie theaters and dining establishments include Neiman Marcus' Last Call, Saks OFF 5 th , and a children's play area. This is not just a mall it's a shopper's paradise.


Laser Quest is a wonderful adventure for small groups while in the area. This is totally safe and loads of fun. Participants are given a brief orientation and then they test their skills in a futuristic laser maze. Hint; Wear dark clothing.

Potomac Mills and Laser Quest are located in the historic village of Woodbridge, the site of the first deeded land and the County Courthouse. The earliest non-native settler was Thomas Burbage in 1653. In 1796 a wooden bridge was constructed over the Occoquan River to provide access to the Potomac Path, a former Indian trade route now Rt. 1, and a plantation and nearby village took the name Woodbridge. The 1731 courthouse had to be erected in the center of an inhabited area and at the time that was Woodbridge. Eleven years later it was relocated.

Eight children were born in a mansion in what is now Leesylvania �Lee's Woods� State Park. The land was patented to the Lee family in 1658 and would be home to the father of Robert E. Lee, Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee Ill. Ironically, Lee II, who owned 55 slaves at his death, introduced a bill into the Colonial Virginia Legislature to tax slavery out of existence in 1766. The property stayed in the Lee family until 1825. The park offers excellent views of the Potomac River and consists of hiking trails, a cardio-fitness trail, a fishing pier, picnic area, boat ramp, amphitheater and visitor center. Freestone Point Confederate Battery, also on the grounds, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

Rippon Lodge

In 1714 Richard Blackburn, of Rippon, England, built Rippon Lodge in Woodbridge and today Rippon Lodge Historic Site is one of the premier historic sites in the county as well as its oldest standing colonial structure. Blackburn designed his home as well as the original house at Mount Vernon and his granddaughter married George Washington's brother John. Because of family connections and the tobacco plantation's location near the King's Highway, the Potomac Path, Washington truly slept here.

Blackburn owned four highly skilled slave carpenters and they built Rippon as well as at least four other structures in the area and George Washington's study at Mount Vernon. The house had 4 rooms and a central staircase originally. In 1800 Richard's son enlarged the house. Legend has it that the house is haunted and Route 1 was altered because people did not want to be on the grounds.

Today visitors to the 30-acre park tour the house, the Little Cabin, family cemetery and grounds. The house is listed on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom and the NRHP.

Occoquan's Historic District

Occoquan's 6-block Historic District, bordered by the Occoquan River, was added to the NRHP in 1983. The name means �at the end of the water� and the charming town is filled with Federal and Colonial structures, specialty stores and eateries. A footbridge, the original of which was constructed by Quaker Nathaniel Ellicott who donated the land for the town in 1804, indicates the beginning of the historic area. Ellicott established Merchant's Mill in the 1750s.

The Mill House Museum is a monument to the extraordinary lives of ordinary people. Housed in the restored 1790s miller's office the museum is literally filled with items from the 400-piece collection.

The artifacts showcased here are great but the stories interpreted here are even better. John Underwood, an abolitionist and carpenter, was a thorn in the side of the pro-slavery forces. In 1857 he was fined $312.50 for public Unionist statements. On July 4, 1860 he and a group of fellow Unionists, 3 of which were free African Americans, hoisted a �liberty pole� in support of Lincoln that was later chopped down. Although the entire 55 votes cast for Lincoln in Prince William County in November 1860 were cast in Occoquan it was no surprise that when, after the war began, Underwood was arrested by Confederate troops during a raid in December of 1861 as a traitor. Upon his release Lincoln made him a US Marshall to honor his loyalty.

Confederates carried out two raids on Occoquan basically to fill army ranks. Interestingly, Samson Greenbrier Sites was �exempted� because he was the county's best moonshiner.

The town had a free black community and their lives are also interpreted. Ebenezer Baptist Church was built in 1883 under the leadership of former slave Lewis Bailey. The congregation held baptisms in the river until the 1950s. The current church was constructed in 1924.

Michelle Obama recently stopped in Occoquan's Mom's Apple Pie & General Store for a slice of what is widely held to be the best pie around. This family�owned bakery has been serving baked goods since 1981.

The Miss Rivershore departs from the Town of Occoquan Wharf for narrated 1-hour scenic tours of the Occoquan and Potomac Rivers. The 50-ft pontoon boat is also available for private and fishing charters and round trip rides to Tim's Rivershore Restaurant and Crabhouse. Tim's is situated on the shoreline in Dumfries with a 400-ft. multilevel dock and beach dining. The menu offers the best of the area's seafood and it is a great place to kick back and watch the sunset. and

On November 15, 1917 thirty-three suffragettes who had been arrested for picketing the White House were transferred to the Occoquan Workhouse. The women suffered outrageous treatment including force-feeding and brutal beatings. The site, now in Lorton, Virginia, is the location of a historic marker honoring women's quest for civil rights.

Dumfries, on Quantico Creek, is the oldest continuously chartered town in Prince William. It began with a gristmill in 1690 and went on to become an important port. The town's most popular attraction is the Weems-Botts Museum, named after two of its owners, Mason Weems and Benjamin Botts. Weems wrote Washington's first biography and is the one who penned the cherry tree story. Botts, who purchased the home in 1802, defended Aaron Burr at his treason trial.

Ninety-minute tours of the Weems-Botts Museum interpret the Colonial, Victorian and Civil War Eras. The Church of England built the house in 1749 for use as the vestry and in 1798 Weems purchased the house for use as a bookstore. The house is furnished with authentic period furniture. One of the subsequent families had an epileptic daughter named Mary who was confined to an upstairs room because they believed her to be insane. Visitors can see the tiny room where she spent her life. This is considered one of the most haunted places in the county and has been the subject of numerous spiritual investigations.

Quantico dates from the mid-1600s when it was settled as the town of Potomac,� by the large stream.� Scots settled there and started tobacco farming and by 1690 there was an active gristmill on Quantico Creek. During the Revolution Virginia launched naval operations from the nearby waters and the first acts of the Confederacy after they seceded were to confiscate the ferry that ran to Washington, DC and establish a blockade. Throughout the war soldiers, civilians and spies plied the area's waters. Quantico Marine Corps Base was established in 1917.

�The safest place in Korea was right behind a platoon of marines. Lord how they could fight.� F. Lowe

National Museum of the Marine Corp

The 120,000-sq.-ft National Museum of the Marine Corps opened in 2006 on a 135-acre tract adjacent to Marine Corps Base Quantico. From the exterior the museum was designed to remind visitors of the 32-ft. U.S. Marine Memorial Sculpture of planting the flag on Iwo Jima.

To enter the museum is to be submerged in the history of the marines, from 1775 thru Vietnam, and inspired with awe. The rotunda soars and is surrounded by interactive exhibit galleries. Inscribed in the walls at ceiling level are famous quotes that have served as inspiration throughout the years. At floor level there are several full-scale tableaus of Marines in action.

Tours begin in the Boot Camp Gallery where visitors can literally stand in the footprints of a recruit and experience training camp. There are six historical galleries that begin with the authorization by the Continental Congress for two battalions of Marines on November 10, 1775. It is believed that initial recruitment took place in Tun's Tavern in Philadelphia. Galleries are chronological and each has a life-like, experiential, diorama. They are all well done but the 5-star highlights for me were the Korean and Vietnam War Galleries.

Korean Exhibit

Visitors enter the Korean War Gallery and are immersed in the lives of the �Frozen Chosin,� Fox Company at TokTong Pass immediately prior to an attack by Chinese Troops. There are sound effects, special lighting and the temperature is controlled so that you feel the Korean cold.

You physically enter the Vietnam War Zone through a CH-46 helicopter and are confronted with nightmare scenes, sounds of mortar fire and aircraft.

The museum is free as are guided tours every day except December 25 th . Plan to spend the day.

Fondly do we hope�fervently do we pray�that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-men's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn by the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said �the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.� Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1865.

The Civil War has been described as the fulfillment of the promise of the Declaration of Independence and just as Virginia was the foremost colony in the founding of the United States it would play a defining role in the war. During the four-year commemoration of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War all eyes are turned toward Virginia. One-hundred and fifty years ago the majority of Civil War battles were fought in Northern Virginia, more than 50%, and all the small towns and farms in the region were affected.

City of Manassas

Visitors can follow the Prince William Civil War Heritage Trail and visit the locations and hear the stories of the soldiers, slaves, freedmen and civilians. The trail includes 14 museums and sites and 25 markers with the focal point being Manassas the site of the Battle of Bull Run.

In 1686 England's King James II granted the land to the Brent family that would become Brentsville. In 1779 the Commonwealth of Virginia seized the land from the owners because they were British Loyalists and in 1820 50-acres was used to found Brentsville as Prince William's county seat. Manassas was designated the county seat in 1893 and the small town of Brentsville remained virtually unaltered.

Brentsville Courthouse

The 28-acre Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre is a complex featuring five historic buildings, the 1822 Courthouse and Jail, the 1850 Haislip-Hall House, 1875 Union Church and the 1928 One Room Schoolhouse. Additionally there is an archaeological site, a 1-mile nature trail and a self-guided historic trail.

The Jail, undergoing restoration, was in use until 1892. It was the scene of 13 hangings, 12 of which were slaves. Agnes, killed her master in self-defense and is believed to haunt the area. William Hyden, a freedman was arrested as a runaway but escaped in 1836. Not only were criminals incarcerated there but also the insane. There were four cells separated by sex and race.

The wife and 7 children of Dangerfield Newby, an ex-slave freed by his white father, were enslaved in Brentsville. Newby was unable to purchase her freedom and eventually became one of 5 blacks in the ranks of John Brown. He was the first one to die in the Harper's Ferry Raid and she was sold into Louisiana after the raid.

On October 14, 1863, during the Battle of Bristoe Station, Union troops were stationed in Brentsville and a number of buildings functioned as hospitals. �Ghost Hunters� filmed an episode here.

Haymarket, situated in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, was founded in 1799 at the junction of a former Native American path after the Indians abandoned the area in 1722. The town owed its prosperity to its location on an important trade route. The town was on the battle route in the 1860s and because snipers fired on Union troops as they passed and it was ordered to torch the town. Only the church and a few houses survived and the priest of St. Paul's petitioned the US government for the town's damages and eventually won $800.00. This history is featured in the Haymarket Museum, situated in the old town hall in the downtown area.

Haymarket's Winery at LaGrange is the sole winery in the county. It specializes in artisanal and handcrafted wines from Virginia fruit and offers tastings and private parties in a 1790 manor house originally constructed by slaves. Benoni Harrison, the 1840's owner, was publicly spanked by his wife when she took exception to being addressed as a �buxom lass.� He, in turn, vowed never to share a hearth with her again and visitors can still see the two separate hearths in the bedroom and the dining rooms.

Manassas Battlefield Park

Manassas is a 10-mile square independent city within Prince William County, adjacent to Manassas National Battlefield Park and part of the Washington Metro Area. It is situated between D.C. and Richmond, four roads joined there and it was a strategic point for both the North and the South with at least 12 Confederate forts nearby. Old Town Manassas, �History's Main Street�, is filled with art and specialty shops and unique dining and lodging establishments. Walking tours begin at the Visitor Center and Train Depot.

Manassas Museum and Echoes Gift Shop are located in the downtown district and are a good way to orient yourself for your visit. Artifacts and dioramas explain the town's history and how it figured in the Civil War.

Thousand Oaks Barrel Co. and Distillery Museum is a �boutique� barrel maker. They feature small barrels, custom bottles, humidors, accessories and home brewing kits. Visitors can watch barrels being made or take a whiskey tour by limousine.

Follow in the footsteps of Michelle Obama before you leave the center of the city. She stopped in to dine on Cajun Creole cuisine in Okra's. This is a wonderful restaurant, inside a former 1903 bank building, filled with Cajun music and a Louisiana vibe. The food is delicious and the menu is filled with Okra's specialty food and libations.

The Juke Box Diner is another must stop. This 50's diner offers a complete menu, from breakfast thru dinner, of American favorites.

The $46-million, state-of-the-art, Hylton Performing Arts Center opened in May 2010 as a venue to feature regional and national shows and provide a space for showcasing local and regional artworks. The current schedule is available online.

Northern Virginia's largest waterpark is located in Manassas. Splash Down Waterpark has 11 water features as well as 5 food locations, areas for sand and grass volleyball, tennis courts and a playground on 13-acres. Parking is free and the park is open daily.

Jane Dean was born a slave in Prince William County in 1852. She raised money and opened the Manassas Industrial School in 1894 to educate African American youth in a trade. The program offered trades as well as a teacher's certificate course. The Jennie Dean Memorial has a self-guided tour with seven interpretive sites. Visitors should start with a 5-minute audio program at the Information Kiosk. A bronze model of the campus is on view for comparison to the original foundations as laid out there.

Slaves constructed Federal-style Liberia Plantation in 1825 for $2,876 for William Weir. Weir, in a classic case of irony, supported the abolition of slavery and the resettlement of the freed slaves in Liberia, Africa. The name of the plantation reflects his stance and yet he owned 89 blacks, the largest plantation in the area, at the onset of the Civil War. He voted against secession but his sons joined the Confederate Army.

The Weirs sent the majority of their slaves into the Deep South in 1861, left a handful to take care of Liberia and relocated out of the line of fire to Fluvanna County with 22 slaves. The house retains the original floors and woodwork and is currently undergoing restoration.

In May of 1861 Confederate General P. T. Beauregard was headquartered at Liberia. Rose Greenhow, the famous Confederate spy, overheard information in D.C. that she sent to Beauregard at Liberia in a message hidden in the hair of a courier. Her information was critical and contributed to the Confederate victory at Bull Run. After the battle it was pressed into service as a hospital. By March of 1862 it was used as Union headquarters. Both President Lincoln and Jefferson Davis visited the mansion. The Weirs returned at the end of the war.

Ben Lomond House

Ben Lomond Historic Site features the sole, original, public, outfitted slave quarters in the region as well as the manor house, smokehouse, dairy and Baroque-style heirloom Rose Garden. The 5,200-sq. ft. garden is the largest of its kind in the US.

The estate originally belonged to Councillor Carter whose 452 slaves were freed by his will in 1792. His grandson, Benjamin Chinn, constructed the Federal-style mansion in 1832 using the labor of his 7 slaves. The lives of the enslaved are interpreted in the two family slave cabin. Guided slavery-themed tours are offered monthly.

The house served as a Confederate hospital in July and August of 1861 and is currently furnished to reflect the look and activities of a field hospital. This is a compelling site and one not to be missed. Eighty percent of the medical procedures performed were amputations and a tour takes you into the ward and the operating area complete with physician's instruments and period outfits.

One of the most amazing displays in the manor house is the graffiti on the walls left by the soldiers. Two walls are left exposed so that visitors can read the graffiti while the remaining areas are protected. Ben Lomand Historic Site is on the NRHP and the Northern Virginia Graffiti Trail.

The Battle of First Manassas/Bull Run, the first major battle of the Civil War took place in July 21, 1861 26-miles southwest of DC. Thirteen months later, in August 28, 1862, the Battle of Second Manassas/Bull Run took place. In 1861 few people thought the war would be long or serious. Onlookers came from as far as DC came with picnic baskets to watch the battle. By the second battle in 1862 everyone knew the war would not be brief.

Manassas National Battlefield Park is 5,000-acres and offers a Visitor Center with displays including a 45-minute orientation film, 6-minute electronic map and artifacts. A bronze and granite monument to Stonewall Jackson astride Little Sorrel is located on Henry Hill where he actually stood �like a stone wall.�

A marker designates the site of the home of ex-slave James Robinson. The house was used as a Union hospital in 1862 and the government later paid him $1,249 for damage to his property. Robinson assisted in the burial of many soldiers, 500 of which he temporarily buried on his property.

Wilmer McLean purchased land in Manassas in1854 and seven years later the 1st land battle was waged on his property and his house was used as a field hospital. When the battle ended McLean moved his family to a safer, more obscure town, Appomattox Court House, Virginia. On April 9, 1865 Grant and Lee met in McLean's front parlor to sign the surrender. McLean later is believed to have remarked, "The war began in my front yard and ended in my front parlor."

The Civil War Experience Pass saves visitors a 50% discount to six of the major historic sites as well as 10% off purchases in the Manassas Museum store from now until December 2013. This pass and the overall affordability makes Prince William County is an affordable treasure hidden in plain view. Spend a day or a week. You will love it. Planning information is available online. and www.

Prince William County & Manassas are perfect, affordable, destinations. A series of events are planned to celebrate the sesquicentennial and all information is available online.




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