When the train comes through Clifton, everybody knows it. Thirty-six times a day, the whistle, bells, lights and gate coming down in the center of town signal Amtrak, Virginia Railway Express and freight trains rolling through. The tracks cross Main Street, giving Clifton a historic feeling that everyone embraces.
“When I used to live there, I found it comforting,” said Lynne Garvey-Hodge, who lived a few blocks from the tracks.
Garvey-Hodge is a local historian who lived in the Canary Cottage, one of the homes on the annual Clifton Homes Tour. She now lives on the other side of town near Johnny Moore Creek but is still within range to hear the train.
“I wanted to stay here, I just love it,” she said. Fellow resident Rochelle Renzi-Stokes agreed. “People love watching the train go by,” she said.
Clifton is in Fairfax County, west of the Fairfax County Parkway. The Clifton town charter from 1938 defines its boundaries as “beginning at sign post corner Chappel and Main streets in said town, measuring four hundred and forty yards in opposite directions parallel with Main and Chappel streets, forming a square of one-half mile on each boundary, containing one-fourth square mile of territory.” However, the Clifton Zip code of 20124 is bounded by Lee Highway to the north, the Occoquan River to the south, Colchester Road to the east and Bull Run Stream and Little Rocky Run to the west.
The town is the center of Clifton, but the surrounding area is also known as Clifton. It is countryside dotted with farmhouses on three- or five-acre lots. It is a land of wooded acreage, barns, livestock and not much traffic noise.
Real estate values are higher in town because of the properties’ historic significance. Each house has a sign detailing its history. The residents don’t mind when by passers stop to read. It’s part of living there.
The Clifton Baptist Church on Main Street dates to 1876, when George W. Tillet and other veterans of the Confederate cavalry battalion known as Mosby’s Rangers built it after the Civil War. The Fulmer House was occupied by the mayor of Clifton in the 1920s and again in the 1930s. The Weaver House was built in 1898 for the general store owner but burned in 1930. The Main Street Pub is a gathering place that has live music on the weekends.
“Hamburgers and French-fried onion rings, they’re the best,” said Garvey-Hodge.
Garvey-Hodge knew so much Clifton lore that she wrote a book in 2009 about the town as part of Arcadia Publishing’s “Images of America” series. The mayor at that time convinced her to become the town’s historian.
“The more I lived here, the more I learned,” she said.
The book is full of Civil War history and pictures of old Clifton, including the 1903 Clifton baseball team and an assortment of old silverware she unearthed in her yard. Clifton had a code of conduct and “everyone was expected to go to church,” she said.
During the Civil War, Union and Confederate troops came through town. Ulysses S. Grant reviewed Union troops here during the war and returned during his presidency. Two skirmishes took place at nearby Sangster Station.
Clifton’s history and quaintness are big draws, said Teri Ann LaBuwi, a Long & Foster real estate agent in McLean. Its large homes with in-law or au pair suites also draw buyers, she said.
“We sell a lot to blended families,” she said, referring to a mix of relatives or “even [families with] an au pair.”
“If you price it right in Clifton, you can sell it in 30 days,” she said.
The two-lane roads in that area make commuting into Washington or Arlington a challenge.
“Our listings in Clifton take a little longer” because of the commute, she said.
Clifton was a stop on the now-defunct Orange & Alexandria railroad line, but the only time trains stop these days is for Clifton Day, an annual event in the fall.
“There was discussion in the ’90s about a potential VRE stop in Clifton,” Mayor William Hollaway said. “It did not go anywhere, due to concerns about parking and traffic.”
Living there: In the past year, there have been 185 sales in the Clifton area, ranging from a one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo for $190,000 in the part of Clifton near Centreville to a six-bedroom, eight-bathroom house with pool and equestrian facilities for $4.6 million. There are 92 homes for sale, ranging from a one-bedroom, one-bathroom condo for $195,000 in the Centreville area to a five-bedroom, seven-bathroom, 6,601-square-foot house with pool for just under $2.2 million.
Schools: Union Mill or Fairview Elementary; Liberty Middle; Centreville High; and Robinson Secondary (grades 7-12).
Transit: Although the Virginia Railway Express commuter line goes through town, it does not stop in Clifton. The nearest station is Burke Centre, about five miles away, which has a parking garage. The Fairfax Connector’s Bus 630 picks up at Centreville United Methodist Church, just north of Clifton. Route 66 is the closest major highway.
Crime: In the past six months, one robbery and one car theft were reported within Clifton’s 20124 Zip code, the Fairfax County Police Department said.