More than a century ago, wounded soldiers on both sides of the Civil War were brought to Fairfax Station, where they were tended by a nurse named Clara Barton. Some say that was the start of the American Red Cross.
Barton's influence can still be seen in the neighborhood today: There is Clara Barton Court, Clara Barton Drive, Clara Way and a subdivision called Barton Place.
And the 19th century history of Fairfax Station will be put on display on a nearby hill next fall when a museum housing Civil War memorabilia and articles owned by Barton opens. The train station that gave the community its name closed in 1972, but the tracks are still used by the Norfolk Southern and CSX railways for daily freight and passenger traffic.
The Fairfax Station neighborhood -- south of Fairfax City, west of Rte. 123 and north of Lorton -- has held onto other aspects of its past. A few working farms with horse pastures still operate, several main roads still wind through thick forests, and white clapboard St. Mary's Church (founded in 1858) still holds its Labor Day picnic -- although the equipment brought to the fete for a priest's blessing each year is likely to be pocket calculators or small computers, rather than the farm implements of yore.
Most homes now are in subdivisions built within the past decade or two, but in many cases developers avoided the chop-and-level syndrome in which rows of houses loom out of a moonscape stripped of trees. Clusters of oaks, poplars and evergreens still stand along many roads.
Claudia Brady said that when she arrived in Fairfax County with her husband on a military transfer from San Diego six years ago, "I shopped for an area with big trees. The bigger the trees, the more impressed I was. Besides the normal things you looked for, that clinched it." They bought in the Fairfax Station subdivision, one part of the overall community.
"In the springtime, houses will disappear" in the foliage, said Chuck Gearhart, who has lived in the Fairfax Station subdivision for five years and is president of its civic association. "You have the feeling of privacy ... . Houses are arranged so they don't look like soldiers in a parade."
The community's woodsy character is to a certain extent frozen in time by 1982 zoning restrictions prohibiting new development on lots smaller than five acres, although some smaller lots were allowed to remain as they are. Few sewer lines run into the neighborhood; most homes have septic fields and wells.
All this beauty comes at a price. Five-acre lots that sold for $30,000 a dozen years ago in such developments as the Patterns and Smoke Rise along Fairfax Station Road now command $150,000, if they can be found. Real estate agents said it is difficult to buy a home for less than $300,000. Some carry price tags of half a million dollars or more. Values have boomed in the past two or three years. Some homes gained $100,000 in value in the past year alone, according to real estate agents. Most are of the three- or four-bedroom brick colonial variety.
"Of course, we'll see it in the tax bill, too," said Dick Reynolds, who moved to Fairfax Station with his wife in 1981 and is a former civic association president.
Most buyers are upper-management executives, high-ranking military officers and two-income couples. Some move in for a several-year tour of duty from out of town. Others trade up from nearby neighborhoods, like King's Park West and Middle Ridge.
Although there is a mix of ages, families predominate.
"You've got your 2.4 kids and your dog and a cat," said Betty Barthle, an agent with Long & Foster who is active in the Fairfax Station civic association. "It's affluent, but it's also a very good family community."
The area's growth has its downside. Some children are bused past overcrowded schools in their neighborhood to classroom buildings several miles away. That means some loss of a community feeling and more parental chauffeuring of sons and daughters when late bus runs are not available.
The problem will be alleviated but not eliminated by the opening of several new schools in the fall, including a new high school west of Fairfax Station on Braddock Road. The neighborhood has been successful in lobbying school system officials to relieve overcrowding in schools and limit transfers from one school to another as much as possible, said PTA activist Sandy Barmak.
Neighborhood activism also played a part in reducing potential ill effects of the Springfield Bypass, the $250 million road that will run through Fairfax Station on its 35-mile path from Rte. 7 in northwest Fairfax County to Rte. 1 in the southeastern portion of the county.
Preliminary designs called for an at-grade intersection with Fairfax Station Road. The community organized and sent out a questionnaire and then worked with County Supervisor Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield). Her top aide, Mike Frey, admiringly described the campaign as one of the most effective neighborhood efforts he has seen.
State highway officials were persuaded to build an overpass rather than an intersection. A few homes will be demolished to make way for the new road, but the number has been reduced. Eventually the community also will be affected by plans to widen Rte. 123 where it zig-zags near Butts Corner.
Community lobbying efforts currently are focused on a proposal by Wold Communications Inc. to obtain zoning approval for nine giant satellite dishes off Rte. 123; the company now has approval for two dishes.
Neighborhood residents say they like the feel of being in the country while having a reasonable commute. A rush-hour drive into Crystal City takes 40 to 45 minutes, while going to the District takes 50 to 60 minutes.
"I was so impressed that we were so close to Washington and yet there was so much land," said Lee Krushinski, who bought a lot in the Smoke Rise subdivision with his wife in 1980. "You could walk outside and not get hit by a Metrobus."