Of all of Fairfax County's historic districts, Centreville's might rank at first glance as the oddest fit. The junction of Interstate 66 with Routes 28 and 29 in western Fairfax, with its newly revamped cloverleaf and access roads, appears as a case study in suburban development. Townhouse subdivisions march down the ridge that was occupied by Confederate and Union soldiers during the Civil War.
But Centreville, to hear residents tell it, is brimming with history, and its leaders are intent on preserving more of it. Led by Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), whose district includes Centreville, a group of planners, historians and civic activists has proposed to roughly double the district created in the 1980s.
Expanding the amount of land and property the county considers historic won't stop it from developing. But it will ensure that the modern mixes in the old, with architectural touches and archaeological studies to make sure no artifacts are lost.
"The thinking is that we want to be able to have more control over those properties that surround the original district," Frey said. "Development pressure is reaching a point where we have to make sure we don't lose the old properties altogether."
A proposal likely to go before the Board of Supervisors by next summer would expand to about 35 acres the 17 acres already encompassed in the historic district along Braddock Road, tucked east of Route 28 and north of Route 29. The district would extend mostly south and east.
Historic Centreville is not distinguished by a focal point as Mount Vernon, George Washington's Potomac River home, is. Instead, it comprises five free-standing buildings: the Mount Gilead House, St. John's Church, the Harrison House, the Havener House and the Old Stone Church. They date from the 18th and 19th centuries.
"The district is an enigma to people," said Sue Davis, a Centreville resident and history buff who is working to expand its boundaries. "Most people don't know it's here."
Davis organized the community's annual Centreville Day Festival in the historic area for the first time last month, complete with children's games from the 180os. She says she's "absolutely in love with the history of Centreville." By formally expanding the district, the county would create a much-needed buffer between the old and the housing developments under construction in the area, Davis said.
The proposed expansion area is a mix of old homes and old property, including land on which a famous tavern, Royal Oaks, rose in the 1800s. The property has unmarked graves and the area's oldest oak. A previous owner dismantled the building and stored it in a warehouse in Fauquier County. A local developer is in negotiations to buy it and return it to Centreville, officials said.
All of the existing historic properties except Harrison House are available for scheduled public tours. The county paid about $1.2 million in 1996 for Mount Gilead, the oldest property, dating to the 18th century. Washington is reported to have slept there at least once. A Sears, Roebuck house from the turn of the last century sits on a seven-acre tract.
Frey said the appeal of Mount Gilead and the other properties in Centreville is not opulence. "They are not the homes of rich people. They're small, middle-class homes that Joe Six-Pack would have owned," he said.
The idea is not to shield historic Centreville from development but to develop it the right way, in a style reminiscent of Old Town Manassas or Alexandria. Razing a building becomes difficult in a historic district, though, requiring extensive county approvals.
Dennis Hogge, who has large holdings in the area, envisions a "founder's village" in an expanded historic district. A village green would anchor it with a development of 10 buildings, a mix of retail, office and possible residential space. Brick sidewalks and low-slung buildings with 19th-century touches would be included.
Historians date Centreville to the 1730s. The area, less than five miles from Manassas National Battlefield Park, was once known as the village of Newgate. In the decades that followed, its fortunes changed as history swept through, from the Civil War, which ravaged the area, to its heyday as a trade route on the Warrenton Turnpike to Alexandria at the turn of the century.