Though only six square blocks in size, Fairfax Historic District has covered considerable ground in American history. It's colonial court house, where George and Martha Washingtons' wills were probated and remain, has served as the center of Fairfax County life for nearly two-hundred years; however, it was the close proximity to the Federal Capital that played the greatest role in placing the small city in the middle of a divided nation throughout the Civil War.
On June 1, 1861, the first heavy engagement of the war occurred on our Main Street when Union cavalry rode into town, firing wildly. As Confederate Captain John Quincy Marr rallied his men, a spent minnie ball struck him in the chest. Killed by the impact, Marr became the first Confederate officer killed in the bloody war. He died without shedding a drop of blood. Seven weeks later Washingtonians in picnic-attire stopped here on their casual outing to the Battle of First Manassas. (However, few so much as broke stride on their rather chaotic return.) Following the victory at First Manassas, President Jefferson Davis conferred with his generals at the town's Willcoxin Tavern on October 1, 1861. It is believed that Fairfax town is where General Beauregard redesigned the Confederate battle flag to avoid the confusion and casualties caused by its similarity to the Union flag.
On March 9, 1863, Confederate Colonel John S. Mosby and 29 men entered the Union encampment here and captured Union General Stoughton, while he slept in the Gunnell House. In addition, Mosby captured 2 captains, 30 privates, and 58 horses. (Hearing of the general's capture, President Lincoln remarked, " I don't care so much about the loss of the general, as I can make another with the stroke of a pen...but I sure hate to lose those horses.") Throughout the war, Fairfax resident Antonia Ford (Ford Building) impressed soldiers from North and South with her beauty, charm and conversation. Impressed with her ability to recall those conversations, Jeb Stuart awarded her a written commission as "my honorary aide de-camp." Following Mosby's raid, Union officials searched Antonia's house and found the commission. Union Maj. Joseph C. Willard (owner of the famed Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.) arrested and escorted "the spy" to the Old Capitol Prison. Along the way, Antonia stole his heart, and 7 months later Willard secured her release and they were married. In 1900, their son (also named Joseph) gave the townpeople the impressive white colonnaded "Old Town Hall" building, which stands on the corner of University Drive and Main Street.
The Historic Fairfax Elementary School is now home to the Fairfax Museum and Visitors Center. This venerable building was the first two-story brick school house in the county. Today, it appropriately serves as a learning center for children of all ages. The Visitors Center also provides information on area attractions, including food, lodging and businesses.