Davis Ford Road comes to life within a shout and a holler of the Occoquan River on a curving roadway flanked by a hardware store, gas stations and fast-food places. About a mile away, the townhouse community of Elysian Woods stands on a sharp curve. Nearby is an abandoned house whose broken windows look out on the home of the Dangerfields, one of a half-dozen houses comprising a small, poor black community.
Junior and Lillie Dangerfield came to Occoquan as newlyweds in 1929, just as the stock market crashed. While everything else was collapsing, Junior Dangerifeld was building the roadside house where he and Lillie raised six children and where they still live with their 38-year-old daughter, Joan.
Prohibition was the law of the land in those early years, and the Dangerfields remember "rum runners" slipping up the Occoquan River to unload their whiskey.
Dangerfield shunned the local fast-buck moonshine operations and went to work cutting railroad ties for 20 cents an hour.
For most of his life, Junior has been a laborer, working at odd jobs near his home until he retired 12 years ago.
"My only money is from the Social Security," Dangerfield says, which totals $331.90 a month. That just about covers the costs of living and property taxes of $54.10 on the Dangerfield property which last year was assessed at $3,000.
The Dangerfields count on the land to help them get by: A backyard garden provides vegetables, and Dangerfield salts away most the fish he catches in the spring when herring run up the Occoquan to spawn.
The Dangerfields say they enjoyed life on Davis Ford Road more when the area was primarily rural and life was less expensive.
"Things used to be real quiet and nice. But those days are gone," says Junior. "A horse and buggy team would kick up a little dust but that's about all.
"I remember when I could buy a pint of whiskey for a quarter. Now, I could walk my legs off before I'd find that."
Trees are being choped down almost as fast as cars zoom along Davis Ford Road on their way to I-395. New communities continually form above the Virginia clay, bringing newcomers. Sandwiched between the expensive Lake Ridge subdivision and the medium-priced houses of Dale City is a one-family community called Chinntown.
"We've never lived any place else," says Alvera Chinn. "I doubt if I've ever spent more than 30 days away from it in my life."
At 66, Chinn lives on what she calls Idle Acres in a 19th century white stucco house, nest door to the home where she was born. Her house is a reminder of the heritage shared by the 30 people in this community.
Some of her furniture once belonged to Henry Fielder Roe, who owned a plantation across the road from Chinntown. A torn leaf from an old family bible marks the birth of Roe on Jan. 20, 1794.
The seven families in Chinntown trace their beginnings to the Roe plantation and to Chinn's great-grandmother, Mary Jane Chinn, who was a slave in the Roe mansion, known to several generations of Chinns as the "big house."
According to family history, Roe agreed before his death in 1868 to leave his land to his former slaves.
"But a doctor said (Roe) was incompetent at the time," Chinn says, and the land eventually went to one of Roe's nephews.
So Mary Jane Chinn moved her family across the road, where they bought land and built homes, almost in the shadow of the long gone "big house."
Alvera Chinn has seen many changes, including the end of a nearby town called Agnewville. She remembers segregated schools and stores. Despite the problems, Chinn says, there was always "us."
"Us," says Chinn, "were the people of both races that strived to improve their lot in life."
Chinn, who is the last to carry the Chinn name in Chinntown, worked for the U.S. Civil Service Commission nearly 30 years before retiring in 1969. tShe says that despite the new developments, no one in Chinntown plans to sell their land to "outsiders."
So far, she has no complaints about the new developments. "I think it's wonderful," she says, "so long as they stay on their side of the road and don't disturb us."
Less than two years ago, Bill and Mary Lou Looney bought an $80,000 home across the road from Chinntown in the new bedroom community of Lake Ridge. They moved from Alexandria "so we could afford the American dream of owning our own home."
Now they are having some second thoughts.
"It was nice and quiet with no stop lights and traffic. But now the traffic is horrendous and we have three stop lights," complains Looney. "It's 10 times as worse as before just trying to get out of Lake Ridge."
The Looneys commute to work in the metropolitan area. The cost of gasoline has forced them to trade in their cars for smaller models.
Although Looney likes the safety of Lake Ridge's quiet streets for his family of four, he admits that his daily workbound odyssey through Northern Virginia "makes me seriously question my sanity for living this far away from D.C. when I get in the traffic."
Once past the Colby Drive residence of the Looney's, Davis Ford Road continues westward in a series of sharp turns, past Gleaton's Mobile Home Park, Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses and the Virginia Christian Academy. The road breaks harshly to the right where it joins Minnieville Road and the pasture land owned by the Murphy family.
Mary Lou and Jerry Murphy own 215 acres along Davis Ford Road. Their major source of income is a boarding stable for horses and several garden plots that they rent to nearby residents.
They would have been happier if suburban sprawl had never come to Prince William County. But, the Murphys say, they plan to cash in by selling 579 acres they own with several partners along Davis Ford Road. They hope to get about $6,000 an acre.
Still, says Mary Lou Murphy, it has been difficult to adjust to change in the area. Her biggest shock came when she returned to the area after a 10-year absence and couldn't find the log cabin where she was born, even though it is only a mile from her present home.
"I left in '66 and Dale City wasn't here," Murphy said. "I came back in '76 and I couldn't believe it."
As the contour of the land rises and falls, motorists pass Massey's Beekeeping Service. This week, highway workers tore down the nearby sign introducing the boarded up Black Oak Restaurant. There is little commercial development here. A few country stores line the road near large tracts of land where horses and cattle graze.
On down the road, retired dog catcher William Small presides over Small Acres, a 21/2-acre roadside homestead that is hard to miss.
Small Acres has 'his' and 'her' outhouses and more than three dozen horses of every color riding atop a red, white and blue fence encircling the house.
"Hell, yes, I'm crazy," says Small, who delights in collecting intriguing signs, tea kettles stuffed with plastic flowers and plastic busts of Disney characters.
"It's really just a bunch of junk," Small says of his collection of the world's cast-offs. "I'm just an old country boy who likes junk."
Something of a craftsman, Small spends a lot of time in his workshop, identified by the sign "Mental Ward." He turns outhouse seats into picture frames and rebuilds discarded tools.
Small, who moved into the area in 1952, says he has no plans to move.
Although he encourages the constant stream of visitors that come to see his circus-like display, he has one view of the newcomers filling the subdivisions along Davis Ford Road.
"There sure as hell is a lot of them," he says.
Davis Ford Road is the only address Walter A. (Gussie) Davis has ever known.
A hog farmer turned lawman, the pot-bellied Davis was born 55 years ago in a wood-frame house where Davis Ford crosses Hoadly Road. The house has, at various times, has been the Hoadly Town Hall and Post Office.
The post office bars are still on the front door of the house, and the original post office, a wooden case with several rows of slots, stands in the middle of a large room filled with other abandoned items.
Davis, who is a deputy sheriff in Prince William, may soon have another address. He says he is being driven from his land because he can no longer afford the taxes.
In 1961, the last year he and his wife raised hogs here, the tax bill for their 148 acres was $151.20 and the land was assessed at less than $20,000. Last year, the land was assessed at $500,000 and the tax bill was $8,163.
The recent death of his wife Nancy, his impending retirement and the hope of getting $6,000 an acre for his land contributed to Davis' decision to move.
"I'm going to buy me another farm in another state," Davis says. "Ain't no way I'm going to stay in Prince William. No way!"
As Davis Ford road winds back toward the looping Occoquan, the countryside becomes hilly and crests before dropping down to the water's edge. An abandoned clapboard church, clled Bacon Race, stands greying where it served as racing ground and Civil War suply depot. Today, century-old tombstones fill the church yard. Near the original ford, where travelers crossed the river until the 1930s, is the 19th Century homesite of H. B. Davis, whose name lives on in the road.
Just east of Manassas and its access to I-66, Thomas Dugan is spending his retirement years in a 50-year-old farm house.
Dugan, a 78-year-old retired admiral, bought the house and 600 acres for $50 an acre in 1950. His four stepchildren, with his blessing, sold the land last fall for $2,300 an acre. Dugan said the developer who bought the land plans to sell five-acre lots for development.
Rising taxes and the concern that the land might lose its value if the energy problems get worse were the main reasons Dugan decided to approve the sale.
"In many ways," he says, "you buy a place like this and you're a serf bound to the soil -- you can't get away. . . ."
Under an agreement with the developer, Dugan will reamin in his house as long as he chooses. As far as Dugan is concerned, that will be until his death.
"Life between 50 and 80 is all downhill, you might say, but I haven't had too bad a time. I have to struggle to survive here, but I can leave any time I want to. No, thank you, I'm staying here."
From Dugan's waterfront yard, he can see the hilltop log-cabin home of Fairfax teacher Sylvia Tobler. Her forested homesite once served as a hunting lodge for Washington's elite. Now it looms above the stone wall embedded in the riverbank that is the last vestige of the original ford. Less than 1/4 mile away is its replacement -- Ravenwood Bridge.
Across the river are the emerging developments of Greystone, Deerfield Estates and Occoquan River Hills. They lead the way to Manassas, a quiet southern town where Davis Ford Road ends and much of Virginia's Civil War history begins.