- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 30, 2002

Two big pieces of American history, the Civil War's Battles of First and Second Manassas, are commemorated at Prince William County's Manassas National Battlefield Park. But a little piece of American history, the chronicles of daily life in the area farming and factories, home life and the importance of the railroad also can be seen at the Manassas Museum.

The Manassas Museum, established in 1974, is actually the anchor for a series of historical sites around Old Town Manassas.

"In a broader sense, the museum is about the settlement of Northern Virginia," museum director Melinda Herzog says. "The importance of the railroad led to the reason why the [Manassas battles] occurred here."

The museum is rich with artifacts of the settlers, who incorporated the town in 1873, after the war. There are journals of Civil War soldiers and relics that show how important the railroad was to the economic life of the small town. There are explanations of how the American Indians, European settlers and blacks (both enslaved and free) contributed to the founding of the area.

One of the more notable blacks was Jennie Dean, a former slave who devoted herself to educating her people. In 1894, Dean opened the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth.

"Jennie Dean saw there were children fleeing the rural areas to go to the cities," Ms. Herzog says. "But they didn't have enough education to get jobs. She encouraged parents to keep their children at home, get an education and build an African American business class. Her school taught blacksmithing, domestic arts, agriculture and carpentry."

The school served black students from many surrounding counties until the 1930s, when it was absorbed by the Prince William County school system.

The remains of the school now stand as a memorial to Dean. The memorial, which is at Prince William and Grant streets, within walking distance of the Manassas Museum, is one of several other exhibits around Manassas operated by the museum system. Other sights to see include:

• Mayfield Fort: The remains of this Civil War fort are near the museum. The Mayfield Fort was on a family farm and was chosen for its elevation and its proximity to the railroad. The fort was made of raised earth that was built up 200 feet in diameter.

The Mayfield Fort played a role in the First Battle of Manassas on July 21, 1861. Union Gen. Irvin McDowell opted to swing around the earthworks and outflank the Confederates.

Later, Union troops occupied the old Confederate earthworks and established a supply base at Manassas Junction. This was plundered and destroyed by Stonewall Jackson's troops on Aug. 27, 1862, the eve of the Second Battle of Manassas.

The Mayfield Fort is the site of the town's annual Civil War weekend. The weekend, which will take place Sept. 29 and 30, is a large Civil War re-enactment and living history tribute.

The museum system also operates a second fort. The Cannon Branch Fort was used by Union troops to keep lines of supply and communication open during repeated raids. It is being renovated.

• Rail Depot: The renovated train depot, near the museum at 9431 West St., now serves as the Historic Manassas Visitor Center. It is a great place to begin a tour of the sights of Old Town Manassas. The 1914 station houses the James and Marion Payne Railroad Heritage Gallery, which features permanent and special exhibits. It also is a working rail station for Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express passengers.

The museum system soon will open two more properties to further preserve the area's history. Renovation is under way on the Hopkins Candy Factory, a thriving business that was founded in Manassas in 1908.

"In its heyday, the Hopkins Candy Factory shipped 5 to 10 tons of candy every day," Ms. Herzog says.

In the 1920s, the company was involved in a hostile takeover. The building was later used as a feed mill, then sat empty. When the building reopens in the fall, it will be an arts center, Ms. Herzog says. It will contain an exhibition gallery, classrooms and a 250-seat theater.

Also under renovation is the circa 1825 Liberia Plantation House. The plantation was once part of a 330,000-acre holding of a wealthy Virginia businessman. Several Confederate generals set up their headquarters here. President Lincoln even visited the estate in 1862. During its prime, the plantation where tobacco, wheat, hay and pumpkins were grown was home to the largest number of enslaved blacks in the Manassas area.

The 18-acre Liberia House estate is open for special events, such as the annual Halloween Haunting and Civil War Christmas celebrations. When renovation is complete sometime in the next few years, the Liberia House will operate as a living museum for cultural and agricultural history, Ms. Herzog says.

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