A History of the Area Around Our School
As we look south and west from the front entrance to Bull Run Elementary school, we see the beauty of the Bull Run Mountains, where pioneers of the 18th century brought their vision of prosperity and tamed the wilderness. These earliest settlers helped to define the American dream for the many generations that were to follow, instilling in their children a hope that, through hard work, ingenuity, and perseverance, in a society that valued true liberty, the quality of life would be better for them than it had been for their parents.
Just a couple of miles from this spot, Bull Run Creek winds its way through the hills and valleys of Northern Virginia. Along this creek, settlers peacefully planted their crops and cattle grazed, far removed from the growing pains of politics and government. Settlement of this area began in the 1720's, when the Treaty of Albany banished local Native American tribes to lands beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains, and Westmoreland County patent holders began to lease parcels of their land to subsistence farmers. Forty years later, a small village called Newgate was thriving here, and the Lane family, dedicated entrepreneurs, built several mills, a store, a tavern, a distillery, and at least one saw mill. These were the amenities which the Lane's hoped would draw more settlers to the area.
By 1792, when the Virginia Assembly authorized town status and changed Newgate's name to Centreville, it was the largest and busiest town in Fairfax County. As the nineteenth century began, Centreville's citizens predicted a rosy future, but worn out land due to excessive tobacco production and a decline in population due to emigration to the new western states caused Centreville to fall into a decline.
Recovery began in the mid-1840's with an influx of northern settlers and new agricultural technology. Centreville once again became a thriving town and the center of a prime agricultural area. This peaceful atmosphere was shattered over 100 years ago, when the War Between the States, or Civil War, officially began in Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Just a few months later, near the spot on which we are gathered, 31,000 Union troops met 35,000 Confederate troops. The opposing forces, both composed mainly of poorly trained volunteers, clashed on July 21st in what was later called the First Battle of Bull Run, or the First Battle of Manassas. Gentlemen and Ladies from Washington, D.C. journeyed in carriages with picnic baskets to observe what they thought would be an entertaining skirmish. They soon fled in horror as the Northern forces launched several assaults and legend has it that the water of Bull Run Creek turned red with the blood of the many casualties. During one attack, the Confederate General Thomas J. Jackson stood his ground so firmly that he received the nickname "Stonewall". After halting several assaults, the Confederate troops counterattacked. The tired Union forces fled to Washington, D.C., in wild retreat. This battle convinced both sides that they faced a long fight.
Just over a year later, in August of 1862, the Confederate army met the Union Army on the same ground. The Union army repeatedly attacked the Confederates, but a Confederate counterattack swept the Union forces from the field. The beaten Northern troops plodded back to Washington once again.
During this chaotic period of history, thousands of troops gathered on the spot where our school stands today. Centreville has been historically designated as the town most destroyed by the Civil War. Homes were requisitioned for officers quarters, fences disappeared for firewood, and livestock and crops were confiscated to feed both armies. The troops built defenses and forts around Centreville, piling the earth in great heaping mounds for protection. They cut all the trees to provide wood for cooking and warmth, to build log shelters, and to corduroy the roads.
With the hills bare of trees, the rains caused terrible erosion, and when peace finally came, Centreville farmers returned to barren farms devoid of topsoil and etched with gullies. Poverty and debt were commonplace. In the late nineteenth century, great flocks of sheep grazed the gently rolling landscape of the Centreville area, including the land where this school stands, and in the 1930's Centreville dairy farms helped make Fairfax County the leading milk producer in Virginia.
As we look from the school to our north and east, we see the evidence of recent decades in which Centreville was transformed from a rural to a suburban community of explosive growth in residences, commerce, and traffic. We are now located at the base of the Dulles Corridor and near many of the world's most successful technology companies what is referred to as the Silicon Valley of the East.