Archaeological evidence, including arrowheads and fire-cracked rocks, place Native Americans in the area as early as 8,000 BCE. Native Americans established important travel routes through the region. Later those travel routes became important links in the colonial era transport network, especially those on ridgelines such as Backlick, Ox, and Rolling Road.
Ravensworth and Land Grants
Most of Braddock District was part of the Ravensworth land grant purchased by William Fitzhugh in 1685. Members of the Fitzhugh family eventually built several manor houses, dating from 1790. Of these, only Oak Hill still stands. Ossian Hall was burned as a training exercise in 1959 and serves as the symbol of the Annandale Volunteer Fire Department. An unexplained fire in 1926 destroyed Ravensworth, and a commercial center and a subdivision developed in the 1960s encircle its former site.
Early Roads and Railroads
During the colonial era and the early Republic, Braddock Road and Little River Turnpike served as important commercial routes for Fairfax County. The Orange and Alexandria Railroad segment connecting Alexandria with Manassas was built in 1850-51. It was later extended southwest through Orange County and to Lynchburg by 1860. The Orange and Alexandria became a strategic prize for both sides during the Civil War. Burke Station was an important stop on the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, and it was the site of the 1862 raid by Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart. A modern concrete bridge has replaced the old wooden trestle bridge that carried the Orange and Alexandria trains across Accotink Creek.
Development of Towns and Settlements
Burke has several old buildings, including the Silas Burke House, built in 1824, and several other antebellum structures. Burke was a thriving community prior to the Civil War. The Copperthite Racetrack operated there between 1908 and 1917, boasting a racecourse and a spa. Washingtonians often traveled out to the racetrack by railroad for weekend stays.
Annandale was a regional center for supplies, marked by a tollhouse on the way between Fairfax and Alexandria. Blacksmithing, dairy farming and other agricultural trades operated in the area. A Civil War skirmish took place there in 1862.
During the Civil War in Fairfax Station, the Union Army used the Catholic church, St. Mary of Sorrows, as a field hospital. Clara Barton ministered to the wounded in its churchyard.
As early as the 1830s, a community of freedmen, including former slaves who had purchased their freedom, lived in the area near the intersection of Little River Turnpike and Guinea Road. Their numbers increased during and after the Civil War and the community, ultimately named Ilda, included several businesses. Among them, a blacksmith shop originally owned by the Gibson and Parker families remained in operation until 1910.
Sons and grandsons of William Fitzhugh farmed and developed the enormous land grant. The Fitzhughs were friends of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Later generations of Fitzhughs were friends to Robert E. Lee who honeymooned at Ravensworth. His wife sought refuge there during the initial phase of the Civil War, and their children inherited large portions of Ravensworth upon her death.
Silas Burke was one of the District's earliest successful businessmen in the early 1800s. He became chief justice of Fairfax County. A local promoter of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, Burke was instrumental in establishing a station in the town which bears his name.
Civil War Impact
Although no major battles of the Civil War took place in Braddock District, there were many skirmishes and control of the area changed several times as troops of both sides took over railroads and highways. John “Gray Ghost” Mosby operated in the neighborhood. Brimstone Hill, then a tavern, was the site of one of the last skirmishes of the Civil War.
Written by Gilbert Donahue