Tour of Historic Occoquan
This tour includes several historic homes in Occoquan and the Mill House Museum, as well as sites related to the infamous Occoquan Workhouse where leading suffragists were brutalized following their arrest.
Rockledge is a historic home in Prince William County, Virginia, located in the town of Occoquan. Built in 1758 for industrialist John Balladine, the home is notable particularly in that it was partially designed by architect William Buckland. On June 19th, 1973, it was designated on the Virginia Landmark Register, and on June 25th, 1973, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Today, Rockledge has been fully restored and is available to rent out for corporate events, weddings or other events.
Occoquan Historical Society operates this local history museum at the site of an ironworks and mill that dates back to the late 18th-century and might be the first automated mill in American history. On display are a number of exhibits and displays, as well as a collection of historic photographs, documents, and artifacts related to the city of Occoquan. Many believe the real attraction is the mill house itself, the last remaining part of a large mill that dates back to the 18th century. The mill was originally part of an ironworks complex before it was converted to a mill. It may have even been the first automated gristmill in the US.
The Old Hammill Hotel is probably the oldest brick building still standing in the historic town of Occoquan. It was probably built around 1830. The Hammill family were likely the fourth owners of the property, from 1866 to the early twentieth century. The Hammill's lived in a home on a farm outside of town and also ran a local shipyard. One of their descendants has written a book on the family's history, from Scotland to Virginia. The hotel building was the headquarters of a Confederate colonel, Wade Hampton, in the first winter of the Civil War, from 1861 to 1862. In 1905, a robbery and assault of a hotel guest while in his room made the news. The building was converted into apartments on the upper two floors in the mid-twentieth century and houses commercial space below. The building is a contributing resource in the NRHP-listed Occoquan Historic District, an easily-walkable area.
The Ogle Harris Store used to be located in the building at 204 Washington Street in the historic town of Occoquan. The structure was built about 1900. Ogle Harris was the son of a formerly enslaved man. He made homemade ice cream in a former kitchen in the rear yard (since destroyed) of the store and ran a general store in the main structure. The store plus a job at the wharf took up too much of his time and he began to buy ready-made ice cream. The general store was known for its meats and local produce and was operated by Harris or one of his descendants until 1974. The corner building - now housing a yarn store on the ground floor - is one of many contributing buildings in the Occoquan Historic District, listed in the National Register in 1983.
The Lorton Reformatory, previously known as the Occoquan Workhouse, was established in 1910 as part of the Progressive Movement's effort to reform the penal system. The prison is best known for its deplorable treatment of women who were sent to Occoquan in 1917 following their arrest for participating in protests for women's suffrage at the nation's capital. Lucy Burns, Alice Paul and other prisoners launched a hunger strike in order to protest their arrest and publicize incidents of violence and sexual abuse. Prison guards force-fed the protesting prisoners. On the night of November 14th, 1917, the guards severely beat some of the women. News of the abuse galvanized support for women's suffrage and led to investigations into the treatment of prisoners at the workhouse and other prisons.
Built by the bricks made by its inmates, the District of Columbia’s Workhouse opened in the summer of 1910. The site was initially created as an experiment to determine if hard labor and an open-air environment would help reform short-term prisoners charged with drunkenness, disorderly conduct, and other crimes. A notable contribution to the importance of this place was its involvement in the women’s suffrage movement and the women known as the Silent Sentinels who were treated deplorably during their stay at the prison. The Workhouse has served several purposes and has changed hands several times throughout its history. The site has been used as a workhouse, a maximum-security prison, and is currently used to house the Workhouse Arts Center and Museum to name a few. Today, the Prison Museum provides visitors with an overview of the history of the prison with a greater focus on the suffragists and the torture, hunger strikes, and force-feeding that they had to endure.
After the establishment of the Occoquan Workhouse Prison in 1910, management set aside land for the burial of inmates. This "potter's field" was built around 1920 and became the final resting place for inmates who died in prison and whose bodies were unclaimed. The deceased were buried in simple pine coffins constructed in the prison's carpentry shop. Most of the graves are unmarked or have very simple concrete markers. The last burials most likely took place in the 1960s, though the prison operated in some capacity until 2001. No records are extant of the number of burials or identities of those buried here and historians estimate that the number of people buried here is probably between 50 and 100 individuals.
The Lorton Nike Missile Site E-97 was created due to the tensions between the Soviets and the United States following World War II, a time known as the Cold War. The Nike Missile site was created outside of Washington DC to protect the nations capital of an attack from the Soviet Union if there was to be one.