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How Old is Fairfax?

City of Fairfax has gone through a few name changes.

Warren E. Tuthill has lived in the City of Fairfax since before it was the City of Fairfax.

"When I moved here 53 years ago, it was called the Town of Fairfax," said Tuthill, 81, a U.S. Army veteran and father of 11. "It rained the day I moved in, and almost every anniversary since." The population then was 1,600, he said.

But to Tuthill, Fairfax’s 200th birthday is not for another 156 years.

"All of a sudden, they come up with the town of 200 years being a city. I can disagree with them," he said. He remembers voting in 1961 on whether to make the Town of Fairfax a city, he said.

So how old is the City of Fairfax, anyway?

Two key dates to go by, said Chris Martin, historic resources director for the City of Fairfax, are 1805 and 1961. Forty-four years ago, Fairfax was incorporated as a city, but it was 200 years ago that Fairfax was created as a town, he said, and this year’s bicentennial celebration marks Fairfax’s creation.

As it turns out, the City of Fairfax has changed names a number of times.

Fairfax began as Earp’s Corner. In the late 18th century, said Martin, Caleb Earp owned Earp’s General Store, the main business in town, on the corner of what is now the crossroads of Chain Bridge Road and Little River Turnpike. Back then, he said, the area was mostly rural farms, a "relatively remote crossroads located in the geographic center of the city."

In 1800, Fairfax County built its courthouse on four acres of land sold by Richard Ratcliffe. Five years later, Ratcliffe petitioned the county to set aside the land as a new town.

In 1805, Earp’s Corner became the Town of Providence. The town was built around the courthouse, said Martin, and by this time, more streets were added.

"A small grid was established of streets, and that was the formative grid of streets that still exists today," said Martin. "The process is not unlike the formation of new developments today when rural areas are subdivided. It’s the same process."

The street grid may be the same, but the names are different. Back then, said Martin, University Drive was called Mechanic Street, after businesses such as carriage repair shops commonly known as "mechanics," and part of Chain Bridge Road was called Payne Street.

"It was an exciting time where a new town was created," said Martin. "A new courthouse was the center of county activity, especially on court days."

In the 19th century, people began to refer to the Town of Providence as "Fairfax Court House," said Martin. The town was officially renamed the Town of Fairfax in 1874.

Fairfax continued to grow into the 20th century. After World War II, the suburbs of Washington, D.C. expanded. The house Tuthill moved into in 1952 has changed address numbers three times, he said; its price has gone up, too, from the $13,250 he paid using a GI loan to about $400,000 today.

Other jurisdictions such as Falls Church and Alexandria had become cities after 1900, said Martin. In 1961, Fairfax became an independent city.

"So we went city. I think things have gotten better," said Tuthill. "Taxwise we’re better off, and the services are much better. We’re hooked up to well water and a big water system."

"When a jurisdiction goes from a town to a city, it takes on significantly greater independence," said city manager Bob Sisson. "When it was a town, it was the stepchild of Fairfax County. When it is a city, it becomes equal to counties, and that gives city much more autonomy to run its own affairs."

"In Virginia, cities have a lot of power counties can’t ," said Mayor Rob Lederer. "I think it’s a much more responsive focus for a government."

Lederer cited the advantages of Fairfax being a city, such as its ability to maintain its own streets, water system and schools. Trash and leaf pickup services are provided by the city, he said, and residents' complaints are much more likely to be heard.

"In a small town, you expect action, not bureaucracy," said Lederer. "We have a tendency to take (trash and leaf pickup) for granted, but you don’t see those things in larger communities."

"(Fairfax) can lay claim to the name for hundreds of years," said Sisson.

As for Fairfax’s birth date, one thing is for certain: it is a great excuse for a party.

"The bicentennial brings out the best in the pride of the city," said Martin.