- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

The Fairfax Museum and Visitors Center is a place to look back at the area's history and look ahead to a visit in other parts of the region.

The historical part is that the museum, housed in the original Fairfax Elementary School (circa 1873), holds artifacts reflecting Fairfax City's role in the Civil War and as an important agricultural center. A large part of the building's lobby is devoted to maps, brochures and other tourist information, making the museum a good starting point for anyone taking a walk through Fairfax's historic district or planning a day trip to Old Town Alexandria, the Shenandoah Valley or the District.

"The museum was started in 1992 because there was a need in the community for the presentation of history and also because of the growing number of Virginia tourists," says Susan Inskeep Gray, curator of the Fairfax Museum. "When you are here, you see not just the Fairfax story, but the Virginia story and the American story."

The museum will be of particular interest to Virginia schoolchildren as they study the state's history for Standards of Learning tests. The museum is a popular choice for school groups as well as individual students who are researching state history projects, Ms. Gray says.

The Fairfax Museum will undergo renovation this spring, says Christopher Martin, director of historic resources. New exhibits will include one on the role of the Fairfax Court House in the Civil War as well as one on the suburban growth that changed the area immensely after World War II.

Highlights of the museum that will remain are pictures of Blenheim's attic. The attic is in a nearby house, which was built in 1855 and eventually will be open to the public. During the Civil War, the house was home to Confederate soldiers, who wrote names and messages on the walls of the attic that are still visible.

Another display features presidential candidates from George Washington to Pat Buchanan. Information and artifacts on Lord Fairfax and the evolution of the city's name it originally was called Providence, then Fairfax Court House also are provided.

A 1927 aerial photograph of Fairfax City and the surrounding land shows how rural the area was even in the early part of the 20th century.

"In 1927, Fairfax was the largest dairy-producing county in Virginia," Ms. Gray says. "It was fueled by its access to large population centers such as Washington. It wasn't until after World War II that it became a suburban community, and then a business and technological center."

Relics from the preserved brick schoolhouse including a picture of its 40 students also may be interesting to students. The building was constructed for $2,750, a large sum in the late 1800s, Ms. Gray says. Its front was added in 1912, and the school remained in operation until 1925, when a larger school opened next door. The building was owned briefly by the Ku Klux Klan until it was repurchased by the Fairfax County School Board in the 1930s.

The museum is a good starting point for a walking tour either with a guide or self-guided of Fairfax's six-block historic area. The museum offers guided tours Saturdays at 10 a.m. from April to June and September to November. Special tours are offered as well, including a cemetery walking tour, Ms. Gray says. The tours vary in admission price but average about $4.

Featured on the historic district tour is the Ratcliffe-Allison house. It was constructed in 1812, which makes it the oldest house in Fairfax City. The Old Town Hall, at the corner of University Drive and Main Street, was built in 1900 by Joseph E. Willard, a former lieutenant governor of Virginia. Visitors also can glimpse the Fairfax Court House, the Joshua Gunnell House and the Dr. William Gunnell House, all of which played roles during the Civil War.

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