History of the Fairfax County Virginia Courthouse
June 1st, 2018
Fairfax County was formed out of Prince William County, in 1742. At that time, the Journal of the Governor’s Council, in Williamsburg, shows that on June 19, 1742, the Council approved the construction of a courthouse on some high ground on a tract called “Spring Fields,” located in what is today known as Tyson’s Corner, where today’s Route 7 (then known as the New Church Road, later, as the Alexandria-Leesburg Road) and Route 123 (the Ox Road) meet. This location was chosen as it was, roughly, the center of the new county, equidistant between Alexandria, on the Potomac River, and the Goose Creek settlement, out towards Leesburg. This first courthouse was built on land deeded to Fairfax County by William Fairfax in 1745. While no sketches of this first courthouse remain, records show that a 16 square foot addition to the courthouse was authorized in 1749.
In 1752, efforts by citizens of the port of Alexandria, whose importance in trade was growing stronger, successfully petitioned to move the court from Tysons Corner down to Alexandria City. The last business in the Tysons Corner courthouse occurred in May, 1752. There, in Alexandria, a new courthouse was erected, facing Fairfax Street, between Cameron and King Streets, about a block south of where the Circuit Court for Alexandria City is located today. John Carlyle helped with the building of both the courthouse and a market square there, but the name of the actual architect, and the builder, are both unknown.
In 1798, as the Western part of the County continued to grow, and Alexandria’s influence fell somewhat, as Baltimore (Md.) expanded, the Virginia General Assembly directed that the Fairfax County courthouse be moved back towards the center of the County. Thus, a new courthouse, still standing today, designed by one James Wren, a justice of the court, was built in 1799-1800 on land then known as Earp’s Corner or Earp’s store, later named the town of Providence and, subsequently, Fairfax Courthouse (now the City of Fairfax), very close to where today’s Route 236 (then known as the Little River Turnpike) and Route 123 (the Ox Road) cross.
This courthouse opened in April, 1800. Records from 1835 show that the town then had, besides the courthouse, about 50 residences and a few businesses, with a population of 200, including four (4) attorneys.
The Fairfax County Courthouse changed sides several times during the Civil War, aka the War Between the States. The area was controlled first, by the Confederates, after Virginia seceded from the Union (with a June 1, 1861 skirmish at the courthouse shortly thereafter resulting in the first casualty of a Confederate office in the field, Captain James Marr of the Warrenton Rifles, whose monument is just outside this historic courthouse), second, by the Union Army, when it moved to confront the Confederate forces in Manassas, at the first battle of Bull Run, with the Confederate forces returning thereafter, following the Union’s retreat. Ultimately, in Spring, 1862, the Union forces again took control of the courthouse area and it remained in Union hands until the end of the war, in Spring, 1865.
In 1891, a new structure was built behind the courthouse to house the jail, after it burned in 1884, which also contained additional space for the Clerk and other court officers. In 1929 and again in the period 1951-1956, wings were added to the courthouse and jail facility complex to house, among other things, new courtrooms, further expansion in the offices of the Clerk, Fairfax County offices and new detention facilities. The original courthouse wing was itself restored between 1965 and 1967.
The present courthouse, sometimes known as the Jennings Judicial Center, was built in 1980-1982 and later significantly expanded by new construction which opened in February, 2008.
The history above is taken from Netherton & Ross, The Fairfax County Courthouse (Fairfax County Historical Commission, July 1977).
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