The largely 19th century riverfront town of Occoquan, a tourist attraction for most of this century, is expected to become Prince William County's first historic district next month and a nationally registered historic district by fall.

The Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission will hold a public hearing in early August on its nomination of the older part of the town to the state historic register.

The register is an honorary designation that places no restrictions on the more than 70 historic structures in the town--except those whose owners apply for federal tax rehabilitation benefits that the historic designation now makes possible, according to Margaret Peters, assistant historian with the commission.

No hearing date has yet been set but it is expected to be held in Occoquan or at the county courthouse in Manassas, whose officials also are studying whether to establish an historic district.

Prince William County has a dozen individual buildings already on the state historic register, including three in Occoquan: the elegant Georgian mansion Rockledge, partially destroyed by an arsonist and now for sale, a late 18th century mill house, now a town museum, and the 1830 Hammill Hotel.

Occoquan, which in the 1700s was a major tobacco warehouse port and had iron furnaces and the nation's most advanced flour mills, is still a charming riverside "village," the state landmarks commission report states.

While the coming state designation provides no protection for Occoquan's old buidlings, the town, if it wishes, could create its own historic district and a board of architectural review that could prohibit demolition or incompatible changes within the district.

Town and county officials have supported the historic designation. Occoquan Clerk Joan Jennings said this week "the town has talked about this for a long time," and Bernadette Plunkett of the county's economic development office said the county is delighted to get its first historic district.

"Tourists have been coming to Occoquan since the turn of the century when Washington tour boats brought them down," Plunkett said, and preservation of Prince William's historic heritage is something "we like to see."