Right before the turn of the 19th century, it was decided that Earp's Corner — the intersection of Ox Road and the present-day Little River Turnpike — was an attractive place to build a new county court house. It was in a good location, near Washington, yet closer to the wilderness of western Virginia.
"It was at a time when the state legislature was moving the county court house to such places because of westward expansion," said Chris Martin, Fairfax City's director of historic resources, adding that the two previous locations of the county court house were at Alexandria and Tysons Corner.
Over 200 years later, the town that built up around the court house still prides itself on its central location. It will be celebrating that identity, along with other hallmarks of the town's history, when it turns 200 next year.
In 2005, the City of Fairfax, formerly known as the Town of Providence, plans to celebrate its bicentennial with a big bang. For the past several months, Fairfax residents, community groups and local leaders have been meeting to ensure that Fairfax's 200th birthday will be a celebration well remembered for years to come. While some of the events will be new, many of them will be an enhancement of the city's current celebrations, such as the Fourth of July and the Chocolate Lovers Festival.
"We're going to try to make it a community-based celebration," said Fairfax mayor Rob Lederer.
Events to celebrate the bicentennial will run throughout the entire year, kicking off with a Dec. 31 event akin to the First Night celebrations that occur throughout the area. Dubbed "First Fairfax: a Night to Remember," the event will include a variety of activities and entertainment in the downtown area for people of all ages. Open to all area residents, tentative activities could include carriage rides around Old Town and a temporary ice rink.
"We're talking about making this quite a party," said Fairfax City Council member Scott Silverthorne, who, with Fairfax resident and former City Council member Pat Rodio, is co-chair of the bicentennial steering committee.
SHORTLY AFTER First Fairfax, which organizers hope to be an ongoing event for New Year's Eves to come, the city will celebrate its actual birthday on Friday, Jan. 14. On that day, the state legislature approved a charter designating the area surrounding the Old Court House as the Town of Providence.
On Jan. 14, 2005, Fairfax will honor that birthday by hosting a day-long celebration throughout the city. Around noon, the city will dedicate a historic marker for Fairfax founding father's Richard Ratcliffe's former home on Main Street, called “Mount Vineyard.” Later that day, Historic Fairfax Inc. will host a birthday party at Old Town Hall, which will be followed by an 8 p.m. concert featuring music from the early 1800s.
The city is planning not only to create new events but to enhance existing ones as well. Groups involved in organizing the Fall Festival in October and the Chocolate Lovers Festival in February are attempting to weave the bicentennial theme of “Catch Our Spirit, Feel Our Pride” throughout their activities, and the Old Town Hall concert music series will showcase music from each period that the city has been existence. The Fourth of July fireworks could be grander than past years, as well.
Community groups have also been encouraged to incorporate the bicentennial into their events. For instance, the Fairfax Museum and Visitors Center will open an exhibit on its second floor called "The Fairfax Story," which will document the area's history over the past 200 years.
"We're going to put on the best face forward," Lederer said.
The city will be seeking citizen volunteers, especially for the First Fairfax activities. For more information, call 703-385-7850. A community calendar detailing bicentennial events will be mailed to all city residents in the late fall or early winter.
"It's a come one, come all," said Silverthorne on volunteering. "We want this to be an inclusive group."