The Fairfax County Historic Courthouse is one of the oldest buildings in Fairfax. Since it was constructed in 1799 to serve as the government seat of Fairfax County, this courthouse has been the focal point of public affairs, ranging from local civil disputes and legal matters to changing hands while under the control of Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War. Much like other courthouses in Colonial America, the Fairfax Courthouse was necessary for the economic, social, and political growth of Fairfax. What makes this courthouse historically important, however, was the role it played during and after the Civil War.
The Fairfax County Historic Courthouse still operates to this day and is home to the Fairfax Juvenile and Domestic Relations General District Court and Clerk’s Office. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981.
Ever since the Jamestown colonists realized that survival in the New World was possible, they began setting up county courts similar to the government system in England at the time, and since the beginning of Virginia, counties were seen as the basic unit of local government. As such, when Prince William County was partitioned to create Fairfax County, circa 1742, the Journal of the Governor in Council in Williamsburg had the following entry:
Saturday, June ye 19th, 1742. . . .ORDERED that the Court-house for Fairfax County be appointed at a place call'd Spring Fields scituated between the New Church and Ox Road in the Branches of Difficult Run, Hunting Creek and Accotinck.1
This early courthouse, located according to the order, probably consisted of log structures built on stone foundations. However, the courthouse was soon moved to Alexandria before and during the War of Independence. Then in 1798, it was moved to the center of the County to be more convenient to citizens and better for business and commerce. James Wren was the architect for the new courthouse’s construction in 1799. The first order of business at the new courthouse was to record the will of Corbin Washington, the nephew of George Washington.
During the Civil War, the Fairfax County Courthouse changed hands several times between Union and Confederate Troops. At first, however, Fairfax County aligned itself with Richmond as opposed to Washington, and citizens ratified the secession ordinance.
Confederate troops soon after positioned themselves around the courthouse, and the first Confederate officer death of the Civil War occurred when Captain John Quincy Marr was shot on June 1st, 1861 (it is unsure whether it was friendly fire or a stray bullet).
By July of that year, the courthouse came under the control of northern Union troops, and by the Spring of 1862, the courthouse ceased all legal function and became a military outpost. From 1862 to the end of the war, the courthouse remained in Union hands.2