Fairfax County was originally named for Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, whose family was granted nearly all of Northern Virginia by King Charles of England. The community of Fairfax, Virginia began in the early 18th century as farmers from Maryland and the Tidewater region of eastern Virginia began settling in the area. These farmers formed the County of Fairfax in 1742.
The Town of Providence, which would one day become Fairfax City, was established in its current site by an act of the Virginia state legislature in 1805. The town was centered around the Fairfax County Courthouse, completed in 1800 at the corner of Little River Turnpike (now Main Street) and Ox Road (now Chain Bridge Road). This courthouse still stands as an icon of history in the Fairfax City Historic District, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.
The area was a hub of conflict during the American Civil War. The town was the scene of the first land battle of the Civil War on June 1st, 1861, when a Union scouting party clashed with the local militia at the Battle of Fairfax Court House. The battle resulted in the death of Captain John Quincy Marr, the first Confederate officer killed in the war. A second Battle of Fairfax Court House was waged two years later, where Union forces suffered a heavy defeat. However, the battle delayed Confederate cavalry chief Jeb Stuart, with disastrous consequences for the Confederacy at Gettysburg a few days later.
The Town of Fairfax’s History
As the nation put the tribulant times of war and conflict behind it, the area became a growing commercial force in the late nineteenth century. The booming dairy industry propelled economic rebirth and the building of schools, churches, businesses and other important community fixtures. In 1874, the Town of Providence was officially renamed the “Town of Fairfax” following Culpeper’s name change from Fairfax to Culpeper.
The early twentieth century ushered in significant innovation in both technology and transportation, while civic organizations and public infrastructure began to form. Sports clubs, a town police force, and a volunteer fire company all began to sprout up around the community. Motels, inns, and restaurants began to open, acting as rest stops for travelers bound for Washington, D.C. and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Fairfax High School, the Town’s first four-year high school, opened in 1935.
World War II spurred rapid population growth throughout the region while commerce and housing production boomed to match demand. Fairfax was quickly changing, shaking its rural roots for those of a suburban community. In 1959, the Town of Fairfax deeded a 150-acre tract of land to the University of Virginia to establish a permanent home for what is now George Mason University, a national innovator in higher education.
Fairfax City was officially incorporated as an independent city in 1961, and a new City Hall followed just a year later. Fairfax City was also decreed separate from and independent of the County of Fairfax by the Virginia state legislature, although it remains the county seat still today. The City promptly expanded the local school system, established public transportation for the community, and expanded services to citizens. The City also moved to create a downtown historic district, which today is home to the original Fairfax County Courthouse from 1790, the original Fairfax Elementary School from 1873, and the Old Town Hall from 1900. The Courthouse was still used by Fairfax County Courts until 2009. It is now used for municipal office space. The Elementary School was renovated in 1992 and now serves as the Fairfax Museum and Visitor Center. The Old Town Hall now houses the Huddleson Library and the Fairfax Art League, and is used to host business events, weddings, and cultural performances. Fairfax City is home to seven total sites on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fairfax City Today
Today, Fairfax City is a warm, diverse community of approximately 24,000 people with a strong and growing economy. The City’s unemployment rate and median income are lower and higher than the national average, respectively, and it is in the top one percent of locally owned businesses per capita in the United States. This gives it a unique advantage over other cities and towns of its size. A thriving small-to-medium size business community, strong retail base, and growing hospitality market, coupled with its convenient access to major interstates, airports, and Washington, D.C. make Fairfax City a dynamic economy ready-made for the challenges of the 21st century.
With its rich history, heritage, and engaged community, Fairfax City’s future prospects are bright. As the City’s first mayor, John C. Wood said in 1962: “Fairfax has a wonderful past and present, and an even greater future.”