In the early 18th century, lands surrounding Popes Head Creek were ceasing to be frontier as Englishmen snatched them up as proprietaries. Four men received lands in the area that is now Clifton in the late 1720s: Richard Kirtling Jr., with 290 acres on Popes Head Creek and Bull Run; Thomas Hooper with 900 acres between Popes Head Creek and Johnny Moore Run; Francis Beavers with 400 acres on the creek and John Waugh with a formidable 2,800 acres.
These four men were the first recorded owners of the land, but it was not uncommon for land to change hands frequently in the early days of settled Fairfax County. One of the lasting names of the Clifton area, however, was Marmaduke Beckwith, who started with 424 acres of Hooper’s old property and whose descendants added onto it until it became an estate of about 1,200 acres. The Beckwith House, Clifton’s oldest house, was built in 1771.
The Clifton and Fairfax Station area was fairly quiet in the 18th century. It was a favorite hunting ground of George Washington, Lord Fairfax and others.
In the 1850s, post offices began to spring up in the area: Burke’s Station to the east near Braddock Road, Fairfax Station between Brimstone Hill to the south and what is now the City of Fairfax to the north, and Sangster’s Station to the west. The incorporation of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, in 1848, promised more mobility through the area.
In the late 1850s, the railroad advertised for workers to lay track westward from Alexandria. The railroad cut across Beckwith’s land and straight through the heart of Fairfax Station, and the Irish immigrants who responded to the advertisements began to settle there. So many did this, that in 1858 the Bishop of Richmond designated a Fairfax Station location for a mission of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Alexandria. That church, dedicated in 1860, still stands today.
Clifton and Fairfax Station played important roles in the Civil War. The Orange and Alexandria Railroad was a crucial link for troops shipping supplies and ammunition, and was controlled by Union troops up to Burke and Confederate troops from Manassas. Between the two, the Fairfax Station area saw much violence and, often, skirmishes.
After the Battle of Bull Run, the Union Army withdrew and St. Mary’s became the site of a field hospital. Pews were removed from the church and the wounded were laid on the church hill. It was there that Clara Barton made a legendary appearance, caring for the wounded for three days and nights.
In Clifton, Union soldiers were placed on guard against a Confederate invasion. Bull Run Bridge was destroyed seven times, more than any other bridge in the Civil War. But even as Union troops took up much of the Clifton area, its residents signed up to fight for the Confederacy — some even joining Mosby’s Rangers.
DEVEREUX STATION came about when civil engineer Herman Haupt came down from Pennsylvania to oversee the reconstruction of the railroad in the middle of the war. He worked closely with railroad superintendent John Devereux, whose name became that of the station. The station was mentioned by name around 1863, in dispatches such as this one, sent to Union Maj. John Byrnes to Lt. Hughes:
“The wagon-master in charge of teams hauling wood reports that 23 teamsters and woodcutters and 50 mules were captured between Sangster’s and Devereux Stations, by guerillas, at 9 o’clock this a.m.”
After the Civil War ended, streams of Northerners relocated South in search of cheap land and business opportunity. Harrison G. Otis came from Ontario County, N.Y. and purchased tracts of land on Castle Branch, Popes Head and the Orange and Alexandria Railroad from the executor of Beckwith’s estate. By November 1868, the name “Devereux Station” became “Clifton Station,” clearing the way for the formation of the Town of Clifton in 1869, and its incorporation in 1902.
Sources for this story are “Clifton: Brigadoon in Virginia” by Nan Netherton (1980), “Fairfax County, Virginia: A History” by Nan Netherton, Daniel Sweig, Janice Artemel, Patricia Hickin and Patrick Reed (1978), the St. Mary of Sorrows Church Web site (www.stmaryofsorrows.org) and “A Brief History of Clifton, VA” by Hilary Hodge at www.cliftonva.us (2002). With special thanks to Nancy Makowski, Suzanne Levy, Anne Toohey and Michele Bernocco of the Virginia Room.