Until early this year, Burke, a 9 square-mile rectangle of meadowland and woods west of Springfield, was one of Fairfax County's last rural outposts, a place where not much has happened since Gen. J.E.B. Stuart captured 3,000 Union mules in 1862.

Today, as quickly as bulldozers can scrape the pastures and the woods down to clay, Burke is being converted into suburban cul-de-sacs. More new houses go up in a week than were built in a decade in Burke's earlier days.

"It's the No. 1 growth center in Fairfax," says county demographer David Sheatsley, whose computerized inventory of new development has been outdated by all the new construction around Burke.

Down Burke Lake Road, where Union soldiers chased a surprised contingent of Mosby's Raiders during the Civil War and along roads crossing it, whole new subdivisions and even a new town are rising. The new town is Burke Centre, which will have close to 16,000 residents by 1984. Nearby will be Burkeridge, Burke Village, Heritage Square North, Fox Lair, Signal Hill, Southport, and Cardinal Glen.

About 3,000 to 4,000 people will be added to Burke's population annually over the next five years, if present trends continue.

The strain on public services is already noticeable as residents in Burke Centre and those in Rolling Valley West, an older subdivision nearby, fight over who is going to get the next clementary school. The winner, so far, is Rolling Valley West, but the school board plans to make a final decision next Thursday.

"What's developing out there is civil war," said Fiarfax Supervisor Marie B. Travesky (R-Springfield), whose district includes most of the developing sections of Burke.

Transporation, though, is still geared to the community's rural days, when the narrow roads, with their blind curves and high crowns, were not crowded with the stream of commuters in the morning and evening. Two-land Burke Lake RoadZ, onto which much of the traffic funnels, isn't yet on the priority list for future improvements, and Burke has no bus service at all.

Also with Burke's new urban identity has come new crime. Although po- lice have not statistical breakdown on crime committed within its boundaries, many residents feel crime is increasing. A Burke man used his residence recently to counterfeit U.S. currency, and another man was arrested and charged with manufacturing the hallucinogen PCP in a trailer at Burke Lake.

Longtime resident Beatrice Prescott, the victim of six attempted or actual break-ins since she has been surrounded by development, has bought a German shepherd to stand sentry on her property. She said her house had never been broken into before. A sign on the garage reads: "Beware dog-Stay in car and honk horn."

While the new sometimes clashes resoundingly with the old - Mrs. Prescott has to drive through Liberty Bell Court in a cluster of town houses to get to her homw - the recent arrivals want what the old-timers already have acquired: the social institutions that make up the fabric of an established community.

They are, however, coming. At Burke Center, tha Rev. Dale Wentzelburger, a Lutheran minister, has begun holding services at the movie theater in the Rolling Valley shopping center.

The Rev. W. Banker Hardison, who for 34 years was pastor at Westover Baptist Church in Arlington, leads services at Burke Elementary School. Sometime early next year - "by Easter Sunday , by the grace of God," said the Rev. William J. Cumbie, executive secretary of the Mount Vernor Baptist Association - Hardison will be pastor of the first house of worship in Burke Center. The modular building will be rolled down Braddock Road from its present location to a new site on Burke Centre Parkway.

Clubs, committees and other groups are beginning to form. The sewing class organized this fall, turned out to be a bit premature. But a would-be Boy Scout troop heald its organizational meeting this week. There is a co-op babysitting group, which has about 26 members, and several mothers, after taking county-run classes, organized day-care facilities in their homes.

The Jewish community of Burke Centre held a Hanukah celebration at the new town's combination meeting hall, visitors' center and museum, and everyone. Christian and Jew alike, was invited. "They made pancakes till they were coming out of our ears," said Dolly O'Laughlin, assistant manager of the Burke Centre Conservancy.

The conservancy is the developer-created organization that, among other things, assists residents in establishing roots in the community.

One of the first things the conservancy did was organize a group of "Welcom Callers" - women residents who volunteer to greet newcomers. For people who are not familiar with the area, the callers provide basic information - where to shop, take dry-cleaning, get a haircut.

There are still reminders of Burke's earlier day: the narrow, winding roads where oxen, hastened along by the drover's whip, hauled hogsheads of tobacco: the train depot (now Burke United Methodist Church) where Gen. Stuart telegraphed Lincoln with a mocking complaint about the quality of captured Union mules: the whistle of the Southern Railway trains as theu rumble by the Victorian houses of Lee Street in old Burke village.

But most of the sights and sounds these days are associated with the new: bulldozers clearing woods and flattening meadows for houses and streets; signs announcing a shopping center (or church) is coming: long files of cars bringing the rush hour out to what was, until recently, country.

"Older residents are overwhelmed." said Lu M. Wright, a member of the Fairfax Planning Commission, and before her appointment earlier this year, president of the Burke Communities Civic Association. "You go down the street on day, and its completely changed."

For a long time, the urban trends that were transforming FairFax seemed to be passed by Burke. For some longtime residents, like Mrs. Prescott, that was just fine.

Mrs. Prescott and her late husband, Maurice, came to Burke more than a quarter of a century ago. "We'd been lokking for land for five years," she said. "My husband had been flying over the area in an airplane. One day he came home and said, I've found the most beautiful place in the world."

Maurice Prescott's discover was a log house restled among trees above the banks of Pohick Creek, which wound it way through the 25-acre property.

The house is still there, but now there are only two acres, the rest having been sold off by Mrs. Prescott for town houses and other development. "The taxes got so high, I had to sell the land," she said.

With all the emphasis on the new, some residents, old-timers and recent arrivals alike, are pausing to take a look at Burke's history, lest its heritage be entirely lost.

Stories are remembered and shared during gatherings in front of the fire in the lounge of the Burke Centre visitors' center. Owen Remington provides detailed chronicles of days past in his "Bits of Burke" column in the new Burke Herald, and Mrs. Wright and the Jaycees are compiling a history of Burke.

Reminders of Burke's role in the Civil War - the last skirmish in Virginia took place at Brimstone Hill at Rte. 123 and Chapel Road - are provided by the minie balls and uniform buttons dug up by longtime resident and nationally known blues and country singer John Jackson. Jackson's findings have been put on display at the Burke Centre Conservancy.

What will be left of Burke's past when the dust from development has settled remains to be seen. All the new interest in Burke's history pleases Supervise Travesky, but she says:

"We are changing the characterof the countryside. Vestiges will survive, but not in the context of the present. They'll be like Sully Plantation. You may have to pay a dime to see them and there'll be a fence around them."