From being the site of a legal battle over the will of First Lady Martha Washington; the birthplace of the Confederate battle flag; the location in which the first Confederate officer of the Civil War was killed, and the home to two of the first Fairfax County women to register to vote in 1920, the City of Fairfax lays claim to many historical facts, tales and oddities.
Starting on April 19, many of these stories will be told as part of a new historical tour called Walking Through Time. Jenee Lindner, committee chair of the City of Fairfax Historic Walking Tours, will lead the new walking tour that encompasses the city’s history from the Revolutionary period through the Suffragette movement of the early 1900s.
“In addition to many national historical firsts, many Fairfax County firsts that define our modern world began here in Fairfax City,” she said. “The first telephone exchange, first electrified home, first movie house, first car dealership, first radio station, first supermarket, even the first duck pin bowling center!”
First established by the Virginia General Assembly as the Town of Providence in 1805, many residents commonly called the area “Fairfax Court House” because of the Fairfax County courthouse that first convened in the area in 1800. Providence was officially re-named Fairfax in 1874.
“I always like to tell people that Fairfax City is at the intersection of Little River Turnpike and Main Street which goes east to west, and the intersection of Ox Rd. and Chain Bridge Road, which crosses the downtown and goes south to north. It is at truly the crossroads of Fairfax County,” said Lindner.
According to Lindner, Fairfax City is also at the crossroads of American History – from prominent residents George Washington and George Mason in Colonial times, to Confederate partisan ranger Col. John Mosby, and the war-torn love story between southern spy Antonia Ford and Union Officer Joseph Willard in Civil War times, to recovering the will of Martha Washington from J. B. Morgan and returning it to the Fairfax Courthouse with the help of local Judge R. Walton Moore in the early 20th century.
“Martha Washington’s will was probated on June 21, 1802. During the Civil War, George Washington’s will was removed for safekeeping and buried in Culpeper for the duration of the Civil War, but Martha’s remained at the Fairfax Courthouse,” said Lindner. “In 1862, the courthouse was vandalized and her will was removed by Brevet Brigadier General David Thomson, who shortly before his death gave the will to his daughter, Mary Thomson. Thomson later sold the Will to J. P. Morgan for an undisclosed sum.”
According to Fairfax County Circuit Court Clerk John T. Frey, legislative action was initiated by Fairfax County to return the will to the courthouse. “In conjunction with Fairfax County’s action, the Commonwealth of Virginia pursued the will’s return to the U.S. Supreme Court,” Frey wrote in a historical brief about the subject. “In 1915, prior to the Supreme Court hearing the case, J.P. Morgan’s son returned the will to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia’s then-Governor H. C. Stuart later delivered Martha Washington’s will to the Clerk of Fairfax County Circuit Court, more than fifty years after it was taken.”
Lindner says this story, along with many others, will be highlighted during the upcoming 90-miniute guided walking tours. “We will be going to the very places where these events occurred, she said. “We encourage everyone to join us.”