The Fairfax County Courthouse

Produced by Mark C. Orton, Chris Logan and the Online
Distributed Proofreading Team at http://www.pgdp.net

The following history publications are available from:

Fairfax County Administrative Services
Fairfax Building
10555 Main Street
Fairfax, Va. 22030
703-691-2781

  • Beginning at a White Oak…. The Patents and Northern Neck Grants of Fairfax County, Virginia—Mitchell
  • Carlby—Spann
  • Centreville: Its History and Architecture—Smith
  • Colchester: Colonial Port on the Potomac—Sprouse
  • Colvin Run Mill—Netherton
  • Dunbarton, Dranesville, Virginia—Poland
  • The Fairfax County Courthouse—Netherton and Waldeck
  • The Fairfax County Courthouse—1800—OCP—Brochure
  • Fairfax County in Virginia: Selections from Some Rare Sources—OCP
  • Fairfax County Tour Map—OCP and History Commission
  • Fairfax Family in Fairfax County: A Brief History—Kilmer and Sweig
  • Historic Preservation for Fairfax County—OCP
  • Historical Highlights of Bull Run Regional Park—Cooling
  • Huntley—Wrenn
  • Indices to Selected Maps from Hopkins’ Atlas, 1879—McMillion
  • Maplewood—Rafuse
  • Moorefield—DiBacco
  • Mount Air—Sprouse
  • Registrations of Free Blacks, Fairfax County, Virginia, 1822–1861—ed. Sweig
  • Wakefield Chapel—Evans
  • Sully: The Biography of a House—Gamble
    Book available from the Fairfax County Park Authority

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 77-84441

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This monograph is one of a series of research reports on the historical and architectural landmarks of Fairfax County, Virginia. It has been prepared under the supervision of the Fairfax County Office of Comprehensive Planning, in cooperation with the Fairfax County History Commission, pursuant to a resolution of the Board of County Supervisors calling for a survey of the County’s historic sites and buildings.

The authors of this report wish to acknowledge with thanks the assistance of Lindsey Carne, Mrs. J. H. Elliott, Lee Hubbard, Mrs. Jean Johnson Rust, and Mrs. Barry Sullivan, who provided information and graphics for this publication. Also valuable were the comments of the Honorable James Keith, Circuit Court Judge; Mrs. Edith M. Sprouse; John K. Gott; Mrs. Catharine Ratiner; and Mayo S. Stuntz, all of whom reviewed the manuscript with care prior to its final revisions.

Special thanks are tendered to the Honorable Thomas P. Chapman, Jr. and the Honorable W. Franklin Gooding, former Clerks of the Courts of Fairfax County; the Honorable James Hoofnagle, present Clerk of the Courts; and to Walter M. Macomber, architect of the 1967 reconstruction of the original wing of the courthouse, who granted extensive interviews which filled many of the gaps created by lack of documentary sources.

Throughout the entire research and writing of this report, the authors received valuable guidance and comments from the members of the Fairfax County History Commission and assistance from the staffs of the Fairfax County Public Library and the Virginia State Library.

Finally, the authors acknowledge with thanks the help of Jay Linard, Mrs. Verna McFeaters, Ms. Virginia Inge, Ms. Irene Rouse, Ms. Annette Thomas, and Ms. Robin Pedlar in manuscript preparation.

Ross Netherton
Ruby Waldeck

FOREWORD

The Fairfax County Courthouse is an important addition to the historical record of Fairfax County, Virginia. It brings together in one volume a history of the Fairfax County Courthouses and a manual of the organization and operation of governmental affairs centered within them over the years. A particular insight with regard to the early years of the county is evident.

Dr. Netherton and Mrs. Waldeck describe the consequential role the courthouse enjoyed as a social center as they examine the governmental role which made it the centerpiece of Fairfax County. The reader will note that the early Fairfax County officials gained an understanding of the importance of democratic government in our nation through their participation in county government while the people they served developed a sense of community through their interaction at the courthouse. The present courthouse stands as a monument to the governmental and social prosperity Fairfax County has enjoyed.

This text documents the story of the building which has stood at the center of almost two centuries of political life in Fairfax County. The extensive footnotes will prove an invaluable aid to scholars exploring the history of the county. History students in our county’s schools will find The Fairfax County Courthouse an important addition to their reading lists. We are all indebted to Ross Netherton and Ruby Waldeck for their contribution in casting such a revealing light upon the roots of Fairfax County, her people and government.

James E. Hoofnagle
Clerk of the Fairfax County Court

INTRODUCTION

Each generation of Americans has acknowledged its debt to Virginia’s leaders whose skill in politics was demonstrated so well in a half-century that saw independence achieved and a new republic established. They were products of a system of government which itself had been perfected over more than 150 years before the colonies declared their independence. To these men—George Washington, George Mason, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, John Marshall, George Wythe, James Madison, and the Carters—the County court was an academy for education in the art of government. Important as it was to sit in the House of Burgesses at Williamsburg, the lessons of politics and public administration were learned best in the work of carrying on the government of a county. Virginia counties were unique in colonial history, for the considerable degree of autonomy enjoyed by the County courts gave them both a taste of responsibility for a wide range of public affairs and a measure of insulation from the changes of political fortune which determined events in Williamsburg, and later Richmond.

In Virginia, the county courthouse was the focal point of public affairs. Usually built in a central location, with more regard for accessibility from all corners of the county than for proximity to established centers of commerce, the courthouse came to be a unique complex of buildings related to the work of the court. In time, most of these clusters of buildings grew into towns or cities, but throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries many places shown on Virginia maps as “Court House” consisted literally of a county courthouse and its related structures standing alone beside a crossroads.

On court days, however, the scene changed. The monthly sessions of the court, conducted in colonial times by the “Gentleman Justices”, provided opportunities to transact all manner of public business—from issuing licenses and collecting taxes to hearing litigation and holding elections. They also were social events and market days; there people came to meet their friends, hear the news, see who came circuit-riding with the justices, sell their produce, and buy what they needed.

In the two centuries since independence, profound changes have occurred in all phases of life that were centered in the courthouse. In Fairfax County, the pace and extent of these changes have been extensive. Architectural historians who note uniqueness in the fact that Virginia courthouses developed as a complex of related buildings may see ominous symbolism in the fact that today one of the structures in the cluster around Fairfax County’s courthouse is a modern fifteen-story county office building. Yet, at the same time this office building was being planned, workmen were rehabilitating the original section of the courthouse to represent its presumed appearance in an earlier time, thus providing a reminder of the historic role of county government in Virginia.

Five Colonial Justices of the Fairfax County Court
 
George Mason. George Mason.George Washington. George Washington.
 
Bryan, later eighth Lord Fairfax. Bryan, later eighth Lord Fairfax.Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax. Thomas, sixth Lord Fairfax.George William Fairfax. George William Fairfax.

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