Prince William County, Virginia (population 325,324), encompasses 348 square miles and includes the independent cities of Manassas and Manassas Park. In 1608, Captain John Smith and his band of frontiersmen rode a barge along the Potomac River, the first white men to touch the unnamed wilderness that is now known as Prince William County.
The county was formed in 1731 and named for William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, second son of King George II. Dumfries is the oldest town in the Commonwealth of Virginia, having received its charter in 1749. The territory, which included Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria, Loudon, and Fauquier Counties, was reduced to its present size in 1759.
During the Civil War, this area took on crucial importance. Both Union General McDowell and Confederate General Beauregard recognized the town's strategic location at the junction of the Alexandria and Orange and Manassas Gap Railroads. By capturing the Manassas railroad junction, the Union would take possession of the best overland route to Richmond, the Confederate capital.
Two of the most significant battles of the War were fought in Manassas. In addition to the stretches of battleground now preserved in the Manassas National Battlefield Park, Prince William County is home to several other important sites in the Civil War that illustrate the crucial role this area played during this episode in American history.
Prince William County has created a strategic plan in which preservation goals focus on the preservation of county-owned structures and their use for public and heritage tourism purposes. In 2000, Prince William County purchased Rippon Lodge (1745), one of the county's oldest and most important historic structures.
The county, in cooperation with the Alliance for Revitalization of the Courthouse, the City of Manassas, and the Commonwealth of Virginia, also completed the rehabilitation of the 1893 courthouse, which had been abandoned for more than 15 years. The building now houses court offices, and the beautifully restored courtroom is available for meetings and private events.
Another current project is the Historic Courthouse Centre in Brentsville, where historic structures include the 1822 courthouse and jail, a 1928 one-room schoolhouse, an early 1800s log cabin, and an 1875 church.
Other county preservation efforts include the Old Bennett School, the Barnes House, the Lucasville School, and the Ben Lomond Historic Site. This 1834 Federal-style home is just south of the Manassas battlefield and was used as a field hospital. Visitors today can see graffiti scrawled by soldiers on the walls, and programs on historic folk medicine, textile production, and schooling are offered to scouting and school groups.
The non-profit Historic Preservation Foundation supports the county's many historical endeavors. The county is an active member of the Civil War Trails program and is also collaborating with private developers to preserve historic properties, including a one-room schoolhouse for African-American children and the core area of the Bristow Station Battlefield, soon to become a heritage park.
Designated a Preserve America Community in April 2005.