Vienna: Still Small-Town after 250 Years

Vienna: Still Small-Town after 250 Years

The original Fairfax County Courthouse, built near the present Tysons Corner, likely marked the first European settlement in the Vienna area. Street names such as Old Courthouse Road and Lawyers Road still reflect that origin.

Perhaps the first settler within the present town limits was Col. Charles Broadwater, a prominent colonial soldier and public servant, who owned much of the land in the region and built his home here in 1754.

In the 1760s John Hunter, a native of Ayr County in Scotland, married Col. Broadwater's daughter. Partly by marriage and partly by purchase, he succeeded Col. Broadwater as the area's principal landowner. It was John Hunter who built the first house of record within the town in 1767 and called it Ayr Hill after his native land. As the village grew, it assumed the name Ayr Hill, by which it was known for 100 years.

Large estates were gradually lessened by sale or gifts. However, few houses were built in the village, and for a 100 years after the building of Ayr Hill, there were scarcely more than eight houses in the town itself.

Prior to the 1850s, Moses Cummins, a prosperous northerner, brought to Ayr Hill a plow factory. These plows were the first iron-beamed plows made in the U.S. and were shipped far and wide before the Civil War.

1849 was known as the "year without a summer." The unseasonable weather brought considerable migration from the north to the milder climate of the Ayr Hill area.

In the late 1850s, a doctor named William Hendrick agreed to settle in Ayr Hill if its name were changed to that of Vienna, his hometown in upstate New York. The change was willingly made.

The railroad reached Vienna in 1858 and provided impetus for growth into a real village. Known then as the Loudoun & Hampshire, it started at Alexandria and was planned to extend to the rich coal fields of Hampshire County, but natural barriers and the Civil War prevented the materialization of this plan.

At this time, Vienna had one main road, known as the Old Georgetown Road, that twisted and turned to avoid mud holes and rocks.

When the Civil War broke out, Vienna became an alternate camping ground for the two contending forces. This was a confusing time for residents. It was hard to tell friend from foe, and the area changed hands so often that many families moved away for the duration of the war.

The fifth skirmish of the war, part of the First Battle of Manassas, took place near the Park Street railroad crossing where the Vienna Community Center now stands. This incident marked the first time in history a railroad was used tactically in battle.

A year or more after the war was over, troops were still encamped in the village, and bugle calls awakened residents at an early hour.

Within the next three years, many northern families moved into and around Vienna. These new residents were not carpetbaggers or office seekers but were attracted to make Vienna their permanent home because of its milder climate, the fertility of its soil and its nearness to the nation's capital.

Among these came Maj. Orrin T. Hine, Freedmen's Bureau agent, radical Republican, farmer and realtor, who settled in Vienna in 1866. By 1885, he owned almost 6,500 acres in the vicinity. In 1890, when the village of 300 persons became an incorporated town "in order to improve its public schools and streets," he was elected Vienna's first mayor and remained in that post until his death in 1900. At the century's end, he was widely acknowledged to have accomplished much in rebuilding and constructively guiding the county so torn by war decades earlier.

Maj. Hine was also a leading advocate of public education and testified in favor of the state public school law of 1870. In 1868 or 1869, the first black public school, which also served as a Baptist church, was established in Vienna. The first white public school was built in 1872.

The number of churches increased. The Presbyterian church was built in 1874, then the Methodist in 1890, and in 1896 the Episcopal church was organized. Citizens began to speak of "the street" as Church Street; so we know it today.

At this time town businesses included saw and grist mills, blacksmith shops, wheelwright shops, a tomato canning factory, a lime kiln, a wood and coal yard, and a broom factory. There were also dairy farms within the town limits. In 1881, Howard Money founded an undertaking business; today, Money and King Funeral Home is Vienna's oldest continuous business.

The Vienna Volunteer Fire Department is the oldest in Fairfax County. Fathered by Leon Freeman, it started in 1903 with a small hand-drawn chemical engine that was housed under Freeman´s porch to prevent it from freezing in cold weather.

The horse and buggy days were no more. A trolley line came in 1903, furnishing hourly transportation to and from Washington, D.C. This gave way to the automobile age. The first car owned in town was Freeman's Franklin in 1904. The speed limit was 12 miles per hour.

Vienna in 1940 was still a small, quiet, rural town — population 1,237 — virtually untouched by the metropolitan character of the nation's capital. The town began to take on a new look in the 1950s when many businesses started to move from the old commercial section on Church Street to Maple Avenue. The post-World War II rush to the suburbs brought a burgeoning of population to Northern Virginia — almost 10,000 new residents to Vienna alone — their new houses blending with those of an earlier era.

In 1954, the first of Vienna's modern shopping centers was opened. More shopping centers followed in quick succession along a widened Maple Avenue in an attempt to keep up with the influx of newcomers who bought homes in the town's new subdivisions. Older residents recall with nostalgia the Victorian homes and the maple trees that lined Maple Avenue before it was widened in 1958.

Population around Vienna increased rapidly, leading to the establishment of Fairfax Hospital, the county's first hospital, in 1961; construction of Dulles International Airport in 1962; opening of Tysons Corner Center in 1968; and opening of the Vienna Metrorail station in 1986. In town, the Vienna Community Center was dedicated in 1966, and in 1971 Patrick Henry Library opened.

Despite the many changes that have occurred since Vienna became a town over 100 years ago, it has retained a sense of pride in community, and its people have worked successfully to preserve many of the traditions and institutions that give them the feeling of living in their own "small town."