The founding of Manassas is linked to the presence of the railroad. In 1851, when the Manassas Gap Railroad joined the Orange & Alexandria Railroad, the area became known as Manassas Junction. A small rural settlement grew up as a direct result of these railroads.
In 1861, Manassas Junction’s proximity to Washington, D.C., and the strategic nature of the two rail lines made Manassas an important prize to both Union and Confederate forces. As a result, considerable action took place in the area, including two major battles of the Civil War—respectively called the First and Second Battles of Manassas or Bull Run. The 1862 Battle of Bull Run Bridge, fought on what is now city land, was a prelude to the Battle of Second Manassas. Learning that Confederates had occupied Manassas Junction, a Union detachment was turned back by Confederate infantry under Gen. Stonewall Jackson.
The Civil War gave Manassas an identity. However, true growth and development of the area did not occur until after the war ended. Much of what is referred to today as Historic Downtown is the area where that growth began.
The railroad remained through the devastation of the war, creating a vital link between Manassas and the economic and social life outside of the area. In 1873, the Town of Manassas was officially chartered. Though sparsely populated and dominated by dairy farming, the rural settlement began to resemble a small town. When the County seat moved from Brentsville to Manassas in 1894, it spurred residential and business growth. The County Courthouse and related facilities continue to play an important role in the City’s development.
The early 1950s marked the beginning of a period of expansion for the town and its immediate surroundings as small manufacturing plants brought new jobs to the area and Manassas became a bedroom community for metropolitan Washington. The proximity of air, rail, major roadways, and local colleges have been key considerations as high-tech companies like Micron have located in the city and its population has grown to 42,000.
The newly expanded and renovated Manassas Museum features local history from Native American settlements to the city’s beginnings and its diverse population. Enjoy multi-media and hands-on experiences, tours and programs.
Liberia House, a two-story Federal-style brick residence, was built in 1825 by William J. Weir on land inherited by his wife, Harriet Mitchell. At the start of the Civil War, the Weir family had a prosperous 2,000-acre plantation thanks to the labor of nearly 90 enslaved people. In 1861, when Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard made his headquarters here, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was said to have visited the house during the First Battle of Manassas. In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln visited Union General Irvin McDowell at his Liberia headquarters after the General had been injured.
By the end of the Civil War, Liberia was one of the few significant structures to remain standing but the plantation never returned to its successful operation. In 1888 Robert Portner, a wealthy brewer from Alexandria, Virginia, bought the property and developed it as a successful dairy farm. The Breeden family acquired the property in 1947 and donated the property to the city in 1986. Today, Liberia is an educational, cultural, and recreational resource for the Manassas community and its visitors and its grounds are open every day.
Mayfield Fort is one of two surviving Civil War forts that were built to protect rail lines in what was then Manassas Junction. In June of 1861, the Hooe family that owned Mayfield farm was forced to abandon their property as Confederate soldiers and enslaved people under the command of General P.G.T. Beauregard constructed a ring of 12 defensive fortifications around the junction of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad and the Military Railroad to Centreville. Confederate troops occupied the fort between June 1861 and March 1862. When they withdrew, Union troops sporadically occupied the fort from March 1862 to November 1864.
Today the site features eight interpretive markers that tell the story of Mayfield, and the nearby Battles of Bull Run Bridge and Bristoe Station; stone markers for the foundation of the Hooe farm and the Hooe cemetery; earthen remainders of the Civil War earthwork fortification; and benches for visitors.
Cannon Branch Fort was a Native American base camp before its use as a Union Civil War fort. The fortification was built by Union troops, circa 1863-1864, as part of a series of forts sited along the railroad to defend supply lines. In 1863, regiments from Pennsylvania and New York, among other northern states, reached the Manassas area as they followed Confederate troops south after the Battle of Gettysburg. These regiments remained in the region until April 1864, to guard the Orange and Alexandria Railroad from additional cavalry and guerrilla raids and the fortifications continued to be manned by Union soldiers until late 1864. The site is open with interpretative signage and a walkway.
The Manassas Industrial School/Jennie Dean Memorial commemorates the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth, founded by Jennie Dean in 1893. Today visitors may see a statue of Miss Dean, linger in the surrounding courtyard, and read interpretive signs at the Memorial.
Annaburg, the 1892 Classical Revival three-story mansion and its grounds, has a long history as a recreational destination. Robert Portner, the Prussian-born entrepreneur and Alexandria brewer who built Annaburg as a summer retreat, generously enabled his neighbors to enjoy what was essentially a town park long before parks existed. After Robert and his wife Anna Portner passed away and the house was no longer occupied, residents recalled the grounds as a place to stroll, take photographs, and skate on the frozen ponds in winter. Residents and visitors also enjoyed attending the town’s Dairy Festival, 4th of July fireworks, and even church baptisms in the estate’s pond. Annaburg is thought to be the first home with mechanical air conditioning.
Today the house is being stabilized and will be open for special tours. The grounds are open from dawn to dusk for walks and picnics, and are available for special event rentals.
The 1914 Southern Railway Depot, is still in use for passenger and commuter trains, and houses the Manassas Visitor Center and a small Manassas Museum gallery. The newest of many depots on the site is a classic example of segregation architecture. The depot had separate waiting rooms for White and Black patrons, restrooms (for use by White patrons only), a ticket masters office, and a baggage room.
The present-day ARTfactory is housed in the 1908 Hopkins Candy Factory. In its heyday Hopkins shipped five to 10 tons of candy daily to every state east of the Mississippi. Today you can see dramatic productions in its theatre, free exhibits in its art gallery, and can take art and drama lessons in its studio space.
While there are currently no events listed specifically for City of Manassas, search the VA250 Statewide Calendar of Events for a comprehensive listing of programs across the state.