📍 Mount Vernon
Discover History in Northern Virginia
People and places that helped shape our nation call this area home. Fairfax County is a historical destination that should be on everyone’s list. Meticulously preserved historic sites and estates where you walk in the footsteps of the American story dot our landscape. Monuments and memorials dedicated to iconic people and events offer perspective. And numerous museums that bring our diverse nation’s storied past to life fill visitor’s to-do lists.
These are the types of experiences you’ll find when visiting Fairfax County and exploring Northern Virginia and the greater U.S. Capital Region including Washington, DC - a region known to give in-depth perspective of who we are as a nation, where we came from, and where we’re going.
Fairfax County History
Fairfax County has roots in the founding of America in many different respects. Founding Fathers George Washington and George Mason made their homes here and those are some of the most visited historic sites in the Commonwealth. We are also home to the National Museum of the United States Army and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center – which tell the tales of individuals and institutions that gave all they had to advance America across the centuries through sacrifice and innovation.
These sites, and dozens of others, not only highlight the revolution that defined America’s earliest existence, but also the continuing evolution of America as the destiny of our nation unfolded through a beautifully diverse collection of cultures and beliefs all striving to make our country as good as it possibly could be.
Fairfax County, Virginia has a rich history that spans centuries. It was named after Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, who received a land grant from King Charles II in 1649. In the early years, the county was primarily agricultural, with tobacco being a major crop. During the American Revolution, it played a significant role as a hub for military and political activity. The county's proximity to Washington, D.C. made it a strategic location during the Civil War, witnessing several key battles. In the 20th century, Fairfax County experienced rapid growth and urbanization, fueled by its proximity to the nation's capital. Today, it is a vibrant and diverse community, known for its robust economy, excellent schools, and high quality of life.
Fairfax County, Virginia is renowned for its diverse range of tourist sites and attractions. Visitors flock to the county to explore iconic landmarks such as George Washington's Mount Vernon, the historic home of America's first president. Additionally, the county is home to Great Falls Park, where the majestic Potomac River cascades through dramatic rock formations, offering breathtaking views and hiking opportunities. The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, located in Fairfax County, showcases an impressive collection of aircraft and space artifacts. Nature enthusiasts can also enjoy the stunning beauty of the county's parks, such as the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens and the Huntley Meadows Park, known for its diverse wildlife and serene wetlands. With its rich historical sites, natural splendor, and cultural offerings, Fairfax County provides a captivating experience for every visitor.
Fairfax County, Virginia has been associated with numerous notable historical figures. George Washington, the first President of the United States, resided in the county at his beloved Mount Vernon estate. His influential role in shaping the nation's history is deeply intertwined with Fairfax County. George Mason, another Founding Father who authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights (which the U.S. Bill of Rights is based) also called Fairfax County home at his estate Gunston Hall. Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, spent time nursing wounded Civil War soldiers in Fairfax County and credited her experience here for the founding of that organization.
Historic Fairfax County Neighborhoods
In the Alexandria/Mount Vernon section of Fairfax County you find an immense collection of historic sites. George Washington's Mount Vernon, River Farm, Woodlawn, Frank Lloyd Wright's Pope-Leighey House, Historic Huntley, and George Washington's Distillery and Gristmill all are available to visit and worth the trip.
Town of Vienna
Vienna is a small town that is steeped in history. A history themed visit here must start at the Freeman Store and Museum which details the origins of the town and highlights its Civil War era history. Located on historic Church Street, it's the perfect place to begin your stroll around town and shop in the area's locally owned stores.
Town of Herndon
In Herndon you'll find the quaint Herndon Depot Museum which is the hub of the town's historical information. The town sprung up along the railroad and was a thriving community when Fairfax County was a major dairy producer. A trip to nearby Frying Pan Farm Park highlights the legacy of Fairfax County's agricultural past and is a favorite amongst area families.
Town of Clifton
Clifton is home to Fairfax County's first winery Paradise Springs. The winery is still owned by the same family who was awarded the original land grant when Fairfax County was established. Here is a list of all the historic buildings in the town.
Did you Know?
Fairfax County was originally part of Prince William County.......
As settlement of the Virginia colony spread north and west during the 17th and 18th centuries, the Assembly in Williamsburg began the practice of creating parishes, which then became counties. Prince William County was created in 1731 from Hamilton Parish (from what was previously part of Stafford County). The next year, the Assembly took the northern part of Prince William County for the Parish of Truro. Ten years later, Fairfax County was created from Truro Parish.
- A parish in colonial Virginia was a unit of both civil and religious authority that covered a set geographical territory. Each Church of England parish in the colony was served by a single minister and governed by a vestry usually composed of local elites.
The original governing structure of the newly created Fairfax County consisted of the County Court (14 men), County Lieutenant, County Court Clerk and the County Sheriff (the latter two positions still exist). The majority of the men appointed to these first county positions by the Assembly previously had the same roles in Prince William County.
The Court House of Fairfax County was ordered by the Assembly to be built at a place called Springfield. But it’s not the Springfield we know today. The one in the early days of the county was actually in the area we now know as Tysons, which made sense since what is now Loudoun County was part of Fairfax County. With horseback the main means of travel, a central location was important.
By 1752, the people of Alexandria (still part of Fairfax County) petitioned the House of Burgesses to have the courthouse moved to Alexandria. Since the “old” courthouse, 10 at that time, needed repairs and the Alexandrians offered to build the new courthouse, the Governor’s Council approved the move.
The land area of the original Fairfax County was reduced by almost 60 percent when Loudoun County was established, and land was ceded to the federal government for the District of Columbia. The northwestern part of Fairfax County was taken for Cameron Parish before the Assembly made it Loudoun County in 1757. In 1789, part of Fairfax County was ceded to the federal government to form Alexandria County of the District of Columbia. Alexandria County was returned to Virginia in 1846 and divided into the independent city of Alexandria in 1870 and Arlington County in 1920.