Newton Boundary Stone
Mattie Orrie Gaskins Brown lived a long life, 107 years, enriched by her remarkably generous spirit. One of the more tangible things she gave to the Centreville community was the Willoughby Newton Boundary Stone. Inscribed with the date 1739, it is older than Fairfax County, which wasn’t established until 1742, and is hailed as “Fairfax County’s oldest dated artifact.” Mrs. Brown donated the stone to the Historic Centreville Society. The Society loaned the stone to the Fairfax County Library which kept it in storage until it could be placed on display when the newly constructed Centreville Regional Library opened in 1992. In 2017 the stone was loaned to the historical display at the Sully District Government Center on Stonecroft Blvd.
Backstory and Context
In 1988, when Mrs. Brown donated the stone to the Historic Centreville Society, she revealed that some 80 years earlier she was looking out of her window and saw a white neighbor move the stone onto her father’s property. Not wanting to make any trouble, her father left the stone in place until it was discovered by Boy Scouts in 1971. Though there were plans to create a path to the stone and encircle it with an elaborate iron fence, they were never realized. It seems the stone was soon forgotten by everyone, except Mattie Brown. As western Fairfax rapidly expanded in the 1980s, highway development took swaths of Mrs. Brown’s land. The bull dozers were getting closer to the location of the stone. Anxious that it would be destroyed or buried by the construction, Mrs. Brown reached out to a neighbor who put her in touch with the Historic Centreville Society. Members of the Society found the stone within 1 and ½ feet of construction markers and removed it.
The Boy Scouts who found the stone in 1971 had been dispatched by historian Eugenia Smith. Ms. Smith had just completed writing her book, Centreville, It’s History and Architecture, which was intended to raise public awareness of the area’s rich history and the many cultural resources that were in danger of being lost to “suburban sprawl.” Interested in both searching for evidence of Willoughby Newton’s patents and in stimulating public interest in Centreville history, Ms. Smith approached Fairfax Troop 1122, led by Don deLaski, and Centreville Troop 893, led by Leon Spencer, to organize scouts to search for 7 different Newton boundary stones Smith had identified in her research.
Smith’s research had been funded by the Fairfax County Division of Planning and they helped provide the scouts with maps and coordinates. The scouts camped out on Big Rocky Run near Braddock Road, hiked to Saint John’s Church for a history lesson, and then dispersed to the 7 locations with compasses and maps in hand and slogged through mud and brambles on their determined quest. One group found a surveyor’s pipe where a stone was once said to be, two groups found interesting building foundations but no stones, and one group, Group Six, found a boundary stone in Mattie Brown’s yard.
Willoughby Newton (1702-1767) lived in Westmoreland County but over the course of 10 years, from 1739 to 1749, he acquired over 6,000 acres of land in and around today’s Centreville area. Newton had surveys conducted beginning in 1739. The 1739 surveyor, James Thomas, identified 14 points, labeled A thru P (omitting J which could be easily confused with an I), that defined Newton’s first patent for 1719 acres between Little Rocky Run and Great Rocky Cedar Run (more simply known as Big Rocky Run today). Point “P” was marked by inscribing Newton’s initials and the year, 1739, onto a large stone partly buried in the ground.
Donna Barne. Local Woman Provides Historic Landmark, in The Centre View, January 21, 1988, p. 1,6. In Boundary Stone Vertical File, Virginia Room, Fairfax County Public Library.
Anonymous. A Report On the search for Discovery of a 1739 Willoughby Newton Boundary Stone in Centreville, Manuscript copy in Boundary Stone Vertical File, Virginia Room, Fairfax County Public Library.
Mrs. Ross Netherton, recorder. County of Fairfax Historic Landmarks Survey, November 23, 1971. Identifes James Louis Roberts as "owner" of stone
NN [Likely Nan Netherton]. The Willoughby Newton Boundary Stone Discovery in Centreville. Prellimnary Report Only, Manuscript copy in Boundary Stone Vertical File, Virginia Room, Fairfax County Public Library.
Northern Neck Grants and Patents, Book E, p. 172. 1719 acres to Willoughby Newton, September 18, 1740.
Northern Neck Grants
Fairfax County History Commission
Fairfax County History Commission
Fairfax County Digital Map Viewer