His dream and his passion caught the attention of the community, and his enthusiasm spread like wildfire as people bought into his belief that Manassas had an opportunity to truly capitalize on its historic assets for the first time in 150 years.
But Owen, one of the greatest cheerleaders for Manassas and its history, won’t get to see it through. The 45-year-old Catlett resident was shot and killed in November in what police said was an apparent gun-cleaning accident.
Owen is gone, but the excitement he generated is not. All eyes are now on a four-day Civil War commemoration in July that could significantly elevate the community’s place in Civil War tourism.
“Creston was the voice of the sesquicentennial,” said his wife, Sharon Owen. “He was the catalyst who planted the seed, and now the rest of us have to water the seed and make sure it keeps growing. I’m going to do everything I can to keep his dream alive.”
For decades, the Manassas battlefield in Prince William County has been the red-headed stepchild to Gettysburg, whose name has been branded by history books and movies.
Gettysburg and Adams County, where the battlefield lies, have a population of 108,000, about 6,000 of whom are in the tourism industry. The battlefield sees 1.5 million of the 3 million annual visitors to the area, and in 2009, tourism generated $381 million.
Manassas and Prince William, with almost four times the population, bring in 3 million visitors each year, too, but only about 630,000 stopped at the battlefield last year. In 2009, the localities received $465 million from tourism.
Gettysburg is a name known around the globe. Some see it as the turning point of the Civil War; some idolize it because of Abraham Lincoln’s famous address that turned a place of such tragedy into a place of hope.
But Manassas has its own rich history. The First Battle of Manassas, on July 21, 1861, also called the First Battle of Bull Run, made people realize that the war would not be short, easy or bloodless; 900 of the 60,000 soldiers there died. It is also a place where the country came back together after the war. In 1911, former Union and Confederate soldiers gathered at the Prince William County Courthouse for the first time in 50 years for a ceremony of reconciliation.
In D.C.’s shadow
That history gets lost, though, in a place in the shadows of Washington. Instead, Manassas has been branded a distant suburb, often recognized more for its outlet mall than its battlefield. County officials and residents say that over the years, people have emphasized Prince William’s other attractions rather than embracing its Civil War past.