Drive Through Stafford County's History

By Stafford County Historical Society

1. AQUIA CRUCIFIX AND BRENT CEMETERY

The crucifix, erected in 1930, memorializes the first English settlers of Stafford County, the Brenta. Colonel Giles Brent of Maryland and his Piscataway Indian wife settled at the mouth of Aquia Creek in 1647. His sisters joined them, one of them being Margaret Brent, prominent landowner and attorney, a remarkable achievement for a woman of that time. The Brenta, who were Catholic, welcomed others of all religions to settle in the Aquia area.

Close by the crucifix is the Brent Cemetery with tombstones dating back to the late 1600s. A brick wall surrounds the resting place of the Brents. In October of each year, this Virginia Historical Landmark is open to the public for the celebration of a field mass.

2. AQUIA CHURCH

Built between 1751 and 1757 in the shape of a Greek cross, Aquia Episcopal Church is considered one of the most significant colonial churches in America. It is noted for its three-tiered pulpit and Aquia stone trim. It served as a parish church, established by the colonial government. Landowners paid required taxes to the parish in the form of tobacco. During the Civil War, the church was occupied by Union troops.

3. STAFFORD COUNTY COURTHOUSE

There were several courthouses constructed between 1665 and 1752 in the Potomac Creek Marlborough Point areas. The present area was designated as a courthouse site in 1783 and has held three various structures. One of them was occupied by Union Cavalry troops and resulted in court records being "scattered to the four winds." The present structure was constructed in 1922.

4. WIDEWATER

Widewater peninsula was once known as "a wealthy man's hunting paradise" and was a favorite fishing ground for many U. S. presidents. This ecologically and environmentally sensitive strip of land with its 13 acres of fishing shore produced the longest running industry in Stafford's history. Widewater was the largest railroad fish shipping terminal on the Chesapeake.

In 1896, Professor Samuel Pierpont Langley launched a steam powered airplane from a houseboat off Widewater's shore. These launches were the first instances of flight by a mechanical, heavier-than-air machine. Professor Alexander Graham Bell witnessed and certified the experiments with photographs and written documents.

5. AQUIA LANDING

This shoreline was a major transportation center in the 1800s. It be came the head railroad terminus that connected with daily steamship runs to and from Washington, D.C. One of the first Naval engagements of the Civil War occurred here when Union ships traded shots with Confederate shore batteries. This was also the site of the first modern use of nautical mines.

In 1995, an American Indian Memorial and reburial ground was established nearby.

6. MARLBOROUGH POINT

The original residents of the Marlborough Point area were the Patawomeck Indians. There were at least 10 villages, each consisting of 2 to 100 long houses. It was here that Pocahontas was kidnapped and taken to Jamestown.

The town of Marlborough was created in 1691 after the House of Burgesses passed an act requiring each county to establish a public port. The port for Stafford County and the town of Marlborough had a very short existence as the town was remote and inaccessible. After the county courthouse burned in 1714, the town was left to decay. Later, Stafford born George Mason, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, studied here with his uncle, John Mercer, Marlborough's leading landowner.

7. WHITE OAK PRIMITIVE BAPTIST CHURCH

This church, organized in 1789, was first known as White Oak Church of Christ but changed its name in the 1830s in opposition to Baptists straying from original doctrines. Many early black members had been slaves at Chatham plantation. The church was used as a hospital during the Civil War. It is a Virginia Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

8. GEORGE WASHINGTON'S BOYHOOD HOME: FERRY FARM

Augustine Washington brought his family to this site in 1738, a few years after establishing his iron ore business known as Accokeek Furnace. His six-year-old son, George, spent his formative years here.

9. CHATHAM

Built in the mid 1700s by William Fitzhugh, this Georgian mansion has a commanding view of Fredericksburg. Fitzhugh was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. J. Horace Lacy was the owner of Chatham in April of 1862 when Union forces occupied the house. Chatham became a field hospital after the Battle of Fredericksburg. Clara Barton and Walt Whitman treated hundreds of Union soldiers here. Chatham, believed to be the only home in the United States that both Washington and Lincoln visited, is open to the public as a museum.

10. HARTWOOD PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

This red brick church, built in 1858, replaced a small wooden chapel where the congregation met since 1825. The building was used by both the North and South during the Civil War; as a result, there was virtual destruction of the wooden interior of this fairly new building. After the war, the interior was rebuilt. Today it is included on the Virginia Landmarks Register as well as the National Register of Historic Places.

11. BELMONT

BelmontThis 18th century estate became the home and studio of renowned American artist Gari Melchers (1860-1932). Melcher's work hangs in museums throughout the world and his murals decorate the walls of the Library of Congress and other important buildings. The home, open to the public, is furnished with antiques and paintings while his studio houses the largest repository of his work anywhere.

12. GOLGOTHA CHURCH

Located at the corner of Route 1 and Forbes Street this church was established in 1891 as the Falmouth Baptist Church. The structure was built in 1892.

13. COTTON WAREHOUSE

This warehouse, which dates from the 1780s was used by Basil Gordon, one of America's first millionaires. It stored cotton from Virginia and South Carolina awaiting shipment from Falmouth's dock. In the 1860s, it became a private residence and remained one until 1987.

14. MAGISTRATE'S OFFICE

This small, red brick building is Stafford county's oldest existing municipal building. The architecture, Late Federal, suggests it was constructed in the 1820s or 1830s. It was used as a magistrates office and, until the 1950s, as a voting precinct.

15. GENERAL STORE

Located at the base of Cambridge Street, this early 1800s structure was a general store. Boarding was available on the second floor with fireplaces in each room connected to four external chimneys. During the 1930s, the building was called The Curb, an early "drive-in" restaurant. Patrons would honk their horns for curbside service.

16. LIGHTNER HOUSE

This brick structure with slate roof has no fireplace, just a vent. Probably constructed around the end of the 18th century, the warehouse was used by millionaire, Basil Gordon. Utilized as a cotton warehouse by Duff McDuff Green in the 1870s, it was sold to the Lightner family around the turn of the 19th century for use as a grocery store, lunch room, and ice cream parlor. In 1993, restoration was begun on this building.

17. SHELTON COTTAGE

This cottage is an example of an 18th century working man's home and was named for the family that owned it for several generations. A unique feature of the cottage is a central fireplace, more commonly seen in New England.

18. UNION CHURCH AND FALMOUTH CEMETERY

Land was set aside for a church yard in Falmouth's charter of 1728. The present structure, the third church to be erected on this lot, was built in the early nineteenth century. The church was used on a rotational basis by four denominations, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Baptists, thus its name Union Church. Except for its remaining brick narthex, this place of worship was destroyed by a heavy rain storm in 1950. The earliest standing tombstone is dated 1738.

19. FALMOUTH LOG CABIN (Locally known as HOBBY SCHOOL)

In 1930, this 1880s school house was moved to its present location from the corner of Butler Road and Carter Street. The Falmouth historic community saved it with the help of noted architect Edward Donn, for they felt it was similar to the type of house where Master Hobby conducted school for young plantation boys such as George Washington.

STAFFORD, VIRGINIA

Native Americans roamed and settled in the area known as Virginia centuries before the first documented Indian settlement in Stafford County. Indians lived here as early as 1,000 B.C., hundreds of years before...Pocahontas and English Captain John Smith visited these shores. In 1647, the Brent family migrated from Maryland to establish the first permanent English settlement. Stafford County was formed a few years later in 1664.

By the early 1700s, the Indians having dispersed, the county experienced a growth of farms, small plantations, gristmills and sawmills. Mining and quarrying became important industries. Iron works furnished arms for the American Revolution. Aquia sandstone, quarried in abundance, provided stone for the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and trim for private homes. After the destruction of Federal Buildings in Washington, D.C., by the British during the War of 1812, quarries were reopened for a short time to aid reconstruction.

Gold mining became a leading industry in the southwestern portion of Stafford County in the 1830s.

With the coming of the Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Potomac Railroad to Aquia Creek in 1842, the county became vulnerable to troop movements during the Civil War. Although Stafford County suffered no major battles, over 100,000 troops occupied the area for several years, stripping the county of its livelihood, farmland, and vegetation. Families endured the loss of churches and private homes as they were used as impromptu hospitals. Valuable records were also lost.

Prosperity did not return until World War I when the U.S. Marine Corps came to Quantico. At that time, the county was primarily agricultural, with the exception of fishing industries situated along the Potomac River. In World War II, the wide expansion of the Marine Corps base created new employment opportunities. A C.C.C. camp was located in southern Stafford County during this time.

With the completion of Interstate 95 in the 1960s and the recent addition of commuter rail, Stafford County is one of Virginia's fastest growing localities. While encouraging industry, the county is trying to maintain its wonderful rural atmosphere.

20. FALMOUTH'S HISTORIC DISTRICT

Falmouth was established in 1728, and at one point in time did extensive trade with the western frontier. Located on the fall line of the Rappahannock, wharves and warehouses were said to line the river. The Rappahannock was deeper and wider in colonial times, therefore Falmouth had regular trade with foreign countries. From 1775 until 178,1 Hunter Iron Works, by the river's shore, was the largest furnace-forge in the colonies and produced items for the Revolutionary War. After the War, around the turn of the 18th century, the area prospered and three flour mills dotted its shores. At this time Basil Gordon came to the area and made a fortune in the warehouse and merchandising business. It is said that he was one of the first millionaires in the United States. During the Civil War Falmouth became the headquarters of the Federal Army under both Burnside and Hooker.

Click here to see a map of these locations.

This brochure, prepared by the Stafford County Historical Society, shows just a few of the county's historical sites. If you would like to know more about Stafford's rich history, plan to attend the society's meetings. Meetings are held the third Thursday of the month at Stafford County's Administration Building. Visitors are welcome. If you have any questions please call (540) 658-8641.