Several historians in Fairfax are excited about the recent discovery of logs, unearthed six feet underground at a local construction site, that could be the remnants of a Civil War-era road.
Last week, Lee Hubbard of Fairfax, 78, said he was driving along Route 123 near University Mall where some renovations are underway. He said he noticed a pile of what looked like old wood logs that he recognized as the type of logs that would have been used to make an old-fashioned type of road called a “corduroy road.”
These types of roads, he said, would have been commonly used in the area before the advent of automobiles and paved roadways.
Hubbard said corduroy roads are made by placing prepared logs perpendicular to the direction of roadways over low-lying or swampy areas to allow horses, carriages and buggies to continue down the road over patches that otherwise would be impassable. The end result can look almost like corduroy cloth, or train tracks — and likewise can extend for miles.
“I just saw them as I was going by, and as soon as I saw them, I knew what they were,” he said. “I called my friend [and fellow historian] Page Johnson and he said he had also seen them, and had also recognized what they were.”
Hubbard, whose family has lived in the area for 13 generations — since 1678 — said his grandfather helped to construct a corduroy road along another stretch of Route 123 sometime at the turn of the 20th century. He thinks it was prior to 1906, when his grandfather got married and settled down in the area.
“He helped lay down those logs along 123 and where West Drive is today,” he said. “Another corduroy road was also unearthed sometime around 1969 near the intersection of 123 and Popes Head Road.”
Since the discovery of the recently unearthed logs, several Fairfax-area historians have been scrambling to find out more information about the discovery.
Many have agreed that the logs appear to be from an older four-mile stretch of Route 123 that would have gone from Fairfax Station — a Civil War-era train depot — to the Fairfax City Courthouse.
But there is some hesitancy among historians to agree as to whether or not the logs actually date back to the Civil War. Historian Jim Lewis went out to see the logs for himself.
“I visited the location today and absolutely loved it,” he wrote in an April 4 email. “Even chatted with some of the onsite work workers, one from Culpeper and very knowledgeable [about] corduroy roads, and they all agreed these logs were of a ‘corduroy pedigree’ quality … in addition, a supervisor who was personally involved in pulling them out of the ground said they were located right under the old bike path, which would synch beautifully with the old road’s route.”
Historian Ron Beavers said in a subsequent email that in the book “Fairfax County, Virginia; A History,” published by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 1978, it is stated that in 1851 the Virginia General Assembly authorized the construction of two log roads from the Fairfax Court House. One ran to some point near Fairfax Station, he said. “The [Orange & Alexandria] railroad served Fairfax Station by April 1851 and the road to the station needed to be upgraded over the existing Virginia mud,” Beavers wrote in the email.
Historian Brian McEnany noted that during the Civil War, the Union’s 2nd Vermont Brigade was stationed near the Fairfax Courthouse and was sent to picket and guard the Occoquan.
“One regiment was stationed at Wolf Run Shoals in January 1863. In the history of the Vermont brigades, it specifically mentioned that after serving picket duty, the soldiers were assigned to cut logs so that Wolf Run Shoals road — then a main supply route to Fredericksburg — could be corduroyed from the Occoquan to Fairfax Courthouse,” he said.
But local historian Jon Vrana warns that jumping to the conclusion that the logs are from the Civil War, without further research and testing, may be premature.
“I would be very cautious about jumping to the conclusion that these are 150-plus years old. They need to be evaluated on a number of fronts,” he wrote in an email to other local historians. “Bottom line — jumping to conclusions with artifacts carries with it much of the same hazards as jumping to conclusions with text (e.g. who burned the Fairfax Station?).”
For now, the logs have been carefully removed from the construction site and are being housed at The Civil War Interpretive Center at Historic Blenheim, in Fairfax.
The center’s director and chief historian, Chris Martin, says further research will be performed on them, possibly to include carbon dating. “They are an extremely significant part of our local history,” he said. “We will preserve them and try to find out answers about them.”
Martin said the logs will be on public display during the center’s annual Civil War Day, to be held this year on April 26.