Moving Towards the 20th Century
From 1870 to 1900 Fairfax County moved forward as an agriculturally driven economy with some challenges, but also some successes. Cheap land and a relatively milder climate made the county attractive to Northerners, some of whom had passed through during the Civil War. Small groups settled around Accotink, Chantilly, Clifton, Falls Church, Herndon, Merrifield and Vienna. Relationships between the newcomers and the Southerners were not unfriendly; they simply did not socialize much with each other.
During Reconstruction in 1867, the U.S. Congress had declared that Virginia was no longer a state, but instead Military District Number One. To re-enter the Union, Virginia had to revise its constitution, allowing blacks to participate in the process. Over 20 black men served in the 1867 constitutional convention—the first time black men were allowed to vote in Virginia. The new constitution institutionalized the rights of black men over 21 to vote (women of any color were still not granted the franchise).
Ratified in 1869, the new constitution required each county establish a board of supervisors as its chief administrative agency, replacing the old county court system. Six districts elected a member to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors who took office in December 1870: Centreville, Dranesville, Falls Church, Lee, Mount Vernon, and Providence.
Budget challenges in 1874 included long lists of delinquent taxpayers, with no money in the treasury and $1,500 in outstanding bills. By 1880, the situation was a bit better—taxpayers had to fund a budget of $9,904 with a tax rate of 50 cents per $100 of real and personal property plus a 50 cent tithe for each adult male and dog owner. The year ended with a budget surplus of $973. Care of the county’s convicts and paupers represented the single largest outlay, 44 percent of the budget. This included operating the jail and the poorhouse, with expenditures to pay for coffins for paupers and vaccinations for those who could not afford them.
One of the biggest issues facing the county was the road network. Residents were concerned about the poor condition of the roads that they conveyed their produce to markets in Alexandria and Washington, DC. In 1871, the Board of Supervisors took over operation of the Little River Turnpike (Route 236) and the Falls Bridge Turnpike (Route 193) from the state, and in 1872 paid the Middle Turnpike (Route 7) Company $300 to make it a free road owned and operated by the county. In addition to a small tax levy for road maintenance, county males could be compelled to contribute up to three days of labor each year on the roads.
The new state constitution also required the Board of Supervisors to establish a system of public schools. Fairfax County had 41 schoolhouses open in the fall of 1870. All but one of these primitive schools consisted of a single room, only 16 had outhouses and the school term averaged fewer than five months.
When state funding was severely cut, there were seven fewer schools in the fall of 1878 than the previous year and the length of the average school term was cut to barely three months in 1878-79. Enrollment declined from 2,839 to 2,190 and teachers’ salaries fell from an average of $33/month in 1876-77 to $22/month in 1879-80. At the end of the county’s first decade of mandated public education, only 50 percent of the school-age population was enrolled; only 30 percent were actually attending.
Many longtime county farmers, saddled with debt and lacking their former slave labor, were forced to sell. Northerners with cash took advantage of the deflated land prices. By 1879, the Virginia commissioner of agriculture estimated that 600 families from the Northern and Western states had settled in Fairfax County since the war.
Organizations such as the Woodlawn Horse Company (to protect against horse thieves) and the Woodlawn Farmers’ Club sprang up, offering opportunities to share information as well as socialize. Baseball was the leading sport, with tennis growing in popularity.
The population continued to grow steadily, from just under 13,000 in 1870 to 18,580 by 1900, an increase of 43.5 percent. Land prices, however, did not keep pace. In 1896, an average county land price of $15.38 per acre was still below prices of 30 years earlier.
Source: Fairfax County, Virginia – A History (1978)