The Fairfax Museum and Visitors Center, housed in a two-story brick schoolhouse built in 1873, turns mundane things into unexpected vehicles for telling the history of Fairfax County. For instance, a glass case in the first-floor exhibit space contains objects found in the crawl space beneath the schoolhouse. A mix of love letters, broken whiskey bottles and pages from a weekly newspaper spin yarns large and small, not all of them flattering about local residents. The newspaper was published in the building during the late 1920s and early 1930s by the Cavaliers of Virginia, a local chapter of the Ku Klux Klan.
The shiny hardwood floors and bright white walls of the building's interior seem to breathe new life into artifacts and copies of photographs from the museum's Civil War collection. You'll learn how soldiers of the South and North bent the ear of Antonia Ford, a Fairfax belle and how everything she learned went straight into the files of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. (But you'll be surprised how this tale ends.) Reaching back to the days of English settlement, the museum displays an original wax impression of Sir Walter Raleigh's seal, recently donated by Nicholas John Albert Fairfax, the 14th and present Lord Fairfax of Cameron, a descendant of Thomas, Sixth Lord of Fairfax, who held title to the land that bears his name when it was still under British rule.
The front room of the building, a 1912 addition to the schoolhouse, operates as the Visitors Center. Fancy maps and dozens of brochures show people what to see and do nearby. Two bucks will buy you a guided walking tour that starts here on Saturday mornings. The walk, only offered in the spring and fall, takes two hours and passes by about 15 historic sites in Old Town.
Ragtime music plays in the background at the Visitors Center, accompanying a silent movie from 1924. Made by Ford Motor Co., "The Road to Happiness" tells the story of a farmer's son learning to be a road engineer. Filmed in and around Fairfax, it stars several locals, with scenes of horse and buggies journeying along dirt roads, a far cry from the sprawling asphalt that smothers parts of the region today.