Fairfax, Virginia

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This article is about the independent city surrounded by Fairfax County. For the county, see Fairfax County, Virginia. For the town in Culpeper County, formerly named Fairfax, see Culpeper, Virginia.
Fairfax, Virginia
Independent city
City of Fairfax
Downtown Fairfax
Downtown Fairfax
Official seal of Fairfax, Virginia
Nickname(s): Central Fairfax, Downtown Fairfax, Fairfax City, Historic Fairfax
Fairfax is located in Northern Virginia
Fairfax is located in Virginia
Fairfax is located in the US
Coordinates: 38°51′9″N 77°18′15″W / 38.85250°N 77.30417°W / 38.85250; -77.30417
Country United States
State Virginia
County None (Independent city)
Founded 1805
 • Type Mayor–council government
 • Mayor David Meyer
 • Total 6.3 sq mi (16.3 km2)
 • Land 6.3 sq mi (16.2 km2)
 • Water 0.04 sq mi (0.1 km2)
Elevation 312 ft (95 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 22,565
 • Estimate (2015) 24,013
 • Density 3,849/sq mi (1,486.0/km2)
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP codes 22030–22032
Area code(s) 703, 571
FIPS code 51-26496[1]
GNIS feature ID 1498476[2]
Website www.fairfaxva.gov

Fairfax (/ˈfɛər.fæks/ FAIR-faks), colloquially Central Fairfax, Downtown Fairfax, Fairfax City, Oldtown Fairfax, Historic Fairfax, or the City of Fairfax, is an independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia.[3] As of the 2010 census the population was 22,565,[4] which had risen to an estimated 24,013 as of 2015.[5][6]

The city of Fairfax is an enclave within the separate political entity Fairfax County. The city of Fairfax and the area immediately surrounding the historical border of the city of Fairfax, collectively designated by Fairfax County as "Fairfax", comprise the county seat of Fairfax County. The city is part of the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metropolitan Statistical Area as well as a part of Northern Virginia. The city is 17 miles (27 km) west of Washington, D.C. The Washington Metro's Orange Line serves Fairfax through its Vienna station, which is a mile northwest of the city limits. CUE Bus and Metrobus operate in Fairfax. Virginia Railway Express's Burke Centre station is situated three miles southeast of the city's boundaries. Virginia's largest public educational institution with 33,917 students in 2013 is George Mason University, which is located in unincorporated Fairfax County, along the city's southern border.


Fairfax Court House, Virginia, with Union soldiers in front and on the roof, June 1863

The city derives its name from Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, who was awarded 5,000,000 acres (20,000 km2) of land in northern Virginia by King Charles.[7] The area that the city now encompasses was settled in the early 18th century by farmers from Virginia's Tidewater region.[8] The town of "Providence" was established on the site by an act of the state legislature in 1805.[9]

The scene of the first land battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Fairfax Court House took place here on June 1, 1861 after a Union scouting party clashed with the local militia with neither side gaining advantage. A second battle took place here two years later on June 27, 1863 where Union troops were defeated. This battle delayed the movements of Confederate cavalry chief Jeb Stuart with disastrous consequences for Lee at Gettysburg a few days later.[10]

Fairfax was officially renamed the "Town of Fairfax" in 1859.[9] It was incorporated as a town 1874.[9] It was incorporated as a city in 1961 by court order.[9] Under Virginia law the city was separated from Fairfax County yet remains the county seat.[11] In 1904 a trolley line connected Fairfax with Washington, D.C.[12]

Important buildings[edit]

Piney Branch Mill was part of the Hope Park estate of Edward Payne in the 1800s.

The former Fairfax County Courthouse is the oldest and most historic building in Fairfax. The first Fairfax courthouse was established in 1742 near present-day Tyson's Corner, and is the namesake for Old Courthouse Road.[13] It intersects with Gallows Road, which today is a major commuter route, but at the time was the road where condemned prisoners were led to the gallows at the old courthouse.[14] In 1752, the courthouse was moved to Alexandria, which offered to build the new courthouse at their own expense. The reason the courthouse was moved from the Tyson's Corner location was because of "Indian hostilities", as noted on the stone marker at the northwest corner of Gallows Road and Route 123. The courthouse operated there until 1790, when Virginia ceded the land where the courthouse was located for the creation of Washington, DC. The General Assembly specified that the new courthouse should be located in the center of the county, and was established at the corner of what was Old Little River Turnpike and is now Main Street and what was Ox Road and is now Chain Bridge Road on land donated by town founder Richard Ratcliffe.[15] The courthouse changed hands repeatedly during the Civil War, and the first officer casualty, John Quincy Marr, occurred on the grounds.[16] The first meeting of the Fairfax Court was held April 21, 1800.[17]:45

The oldest two-story building in the city, built in 1873, the Fairfax Public School[18] for $2,750.[19] In addition to elementary school use the building has also housed special education, adult education, and police academy training.[20][21]:144 On July 4, 1992 the building became the Fairfax Museum and Visitor Center.[21]:156–157 Joseph Edward Willard built the town hall building in 1900 then gifted it to the then town in 1902.[22] The Old Town Hall now houses the Huddleston Library and the Fairfax Art League.[23]

Sites on the National Register of Historic Places[edit]

Site Built Address Listed
29 Diner[25] 1947 10536 Fairfax Boulevard 1992
Blenheim 1855 3610 Old Lee Highway 2001
City of Fairfax Historic District 1800 Junction of VA 236 and VA 123 1987
Old Fairfax County Courthouse[26] 1800 4000 Chain Bridge Road 1974
Old Fairfax County Jail[27] 1891 10475 Main Street 1981
Fairfax Public School[28] 1873 10209 Main Street 1992
Ratcliffe-Allison House 1812 10386 Main Street 1973


The city of Fairfax is located close to the geographic center of Fairfax County, at 38°51′9″N 77°18′15″W / 38.85250°N 77.30417°W / 38.85250; -77.30417 (38.852612, −77.304377). According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 6.3 square miles (16.3 km2), of which all but 0.04 square miles (0.1 km2) is land.[4]

While the city is the county seat, a small portion of the county comprising the courthouse complex, the jail and a small area nearby is itself an exclave of the county within the city.[29][30][31] Fairfax County's Government Center is west of the City of Fairfax.[32]


Historical population
Census Pop.
1880 376
1890 376 0.0%
1900 373 −0.8%
1910 413 10.7%
1920 516 24.9%
1930 640 24.0%
1940 979 53.0%
1950 1,946 98.8%
1960 13,585 598.1%
1970 21,970 61.7%
1980 20,537 −6.5%
1990 19,622 −4.5%
2000 21,498 9.6%
2010 22,565 5.0%
Est. 2015 24,013 [5] 6.4%
U.S. Decennial Census[33]
1790–1960[34] 1900–1990[35]
1990–2000[36] 2010–2015[37]
2014 4th of July parade dance group Fraternidad Tinkus Wapurys

As of the census[38] of 2010, there were 22,565 people, 8,347 households, and 5,545 families residing in the city. The population density was 3,581.7 people per square mile (1382.9/km²). There were 8,680 housing units at an average density of 1,377.8 per square mile (532.0/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 69.6% White, 4.7% Black or African American, 0.5% Native American, 15.2% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 5.9% from other races, and 4.0% from two or more races. 15.8% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

In 2000 there were 8,347 households out of which 28.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 53.1% were married couples living together, 9.6% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.6% were non-families. 24.0% of all households were made up of individuals and 8.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.64 and the average family size was 3.11.

In the city, the population was spread out with 20.4% under the age of 18, 10.2% from 18 to 24, 36.2% from 25 to 44, 27.6% from 45 to 64, and 13.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 39.1 years. For every 100 females there were 97.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 95.6 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $67,642, and the median income for a family was $78,921 (these figures had risen to $93,441 and $105,046 respectively as of a 2007 estimate).[39] Males had a median income of $50,348 versus $38,351 for females. The per capita income for the city was $31,247. About 2.4% of families and 5.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 4.3% of those under age 18 and 2.1% of those age 65 or over.


Old Town Fairfax has undergone an extensive redevelopment, which began in 2005.[40] The redevelopment added a new City of Fairfax Regional Library, more than 45,000 square feet (4,200 m2) of retail and restaurant space, more than 70,000 square feet (6,500 m2) of office condominiums, and 85 upscale residential condominium units.[41]

In May 2009, Fairfax was rated as No. 3 in the "Top 25 Places to Live Well" by Forbes Magazine.[42] Forbes commended Fairfax for its strong public school system, high median salary, and a rate of sole proprietors per capita that ranks it in the top 1 percent nationwide. According to the magazine, "These factors are increasingly important in a recession. When businesses and jobs retract, as they have nationwide, municipalities with strong environments for start-ups, and those that offer attractive amenities, are better suited to recover from economic downtimes, as there are more business activity filling the void."

Top employers[edit]

According to the city's 2015 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report,[43] the top employers in the city are:

# Employer # of Employees
1 G4S Secure Solutions[44] 410
2 Fairfax Rehabilitation & Nursing Center[45] 400
3 City of Fairfax 397
4 Inova Health System 390
5 Ted Britt Ford 300
6 Zeta Associates[47] 275
7 Multivision, Inc. 150
8 Rosenthal Fairfax Honda and Rosenthal Volkswagen Fairfax 150
9 Dominion Energy[48] 150

Annual events[edit]

  • Chocolate Lovers Festival
The annual Chocolate Lover's Festival is held in the heart of Old Town Fairfax in early March. Events have included craft shows, historic building open houses, children's activities, collections of vendors selling various edible chocolate products, and even chocolate sculpture contests.[49]
  • Fairfax Civil War Day
Every year, during the Spring, a Civil War re-enactment camp is held at the Blenheim estate, a city-owned historical property. The encampment features military muster, drill, and a firing demonstration.[50]
  • Fairfax Spotlight on the Arts
Each April, the City of Fairfax, in cooperation with George Mason University, Northern Virginia Community College and City of Fairfax schools, sponsors the Fairfax Spotlight on the Arts Festival. The festival runs for three weeks and features music, dance, theater, art and choral concerts. Events take place at venues throughout the city and the colleges.[51]
  • National Trails Day
In June, a National Trails Day is held to celebrate the trails, open spaces and parks in the City of Fairfax.[52]
  • Independence Day Celebration Parade and Evening Show
2011 4th of July parade participants Just Klownin Virginia Car Club
The largest hometown parade and fireworks celebration in the Washington metropolitan region is held in the City of Fairfax. The day's events include a parade through Old Town Fairfax, tours of historic buildings and local museums, an Old Fashioned Fireman's Day at the Fire Station #3, and a live concert and fireworks display at Fairfax High School.[53]
  • Irish Festival
In September, a festival of Irish and Celtic song, dance and music is held in and around Old Town Fairfax.[54]
  • Fall for the Book Festival
Each fall, the Fall for the Book Festival features readings, discussions, lectures and exhibits from nationally recognized writers and professionals. Festival events are held in the City of Fairfax, at George Mason University, and throughout the metropolitan Washington region. Two community reading programs coordinate with Fall for the Book: "All Fairfax Reads," coordinated by the Fairfax County Public Library, and "Mason Reads" at George Mason University.[55]
  • Fall Festival
A Fall Festival is held in historic downtown Fairfax on the second Saturday in October. This event includes more than 500 arts, crafts, and food vendors, and is usually held outdoors on the streets of the city. Attendance is about 35,000 to 45,000.[56]
  • The Holiday Craft Show
An annual Holiday Craft Show is held at Fairfax High School on the third Saturday and Sunday of November. The event features hundreds of craft vendors. Attendance is about 8,000 to 10,000.[57]
  • Festival of Lights & Carols
On the first Saturday in December, the city holds a Festival of Lights and Carols. Activities include photos with Santa, caroling, a yule log, hot mulled cider, illumination of Old Town Fairfax, and the lighting of the city Christmas tree.[58]

Notable people[edit]

2010 4th of July parade participants Clifton Horse Society and audience

Local government and politics[edit]

Gubernatorial election results[78]
Year Democratic Republican Write-ins Libertarian Independent Reform Other
1993 2,920 3,390 23 5
1997 3,047 3,451 66 4
2001 3,478 3,203 0 43
2005 3,865 2,750 132 9
2009 2,909 3,285 7
2013 3,987 2,777 397 35

As an independent city of Virginia rather than an incorporated town within a county, Fairfax derives its governing authority from the Virginia General Assembly. In order to revise the power and structure of the city government, the city must request the General Assembly to amend the charter. The present charter was granted in 1966.[9] Every other year city voters elect six at large members of the council and a mayor.[9] An exclave of Fairfax County is located within the City of Fairfax.[30][31]

Presidential election results[78]
Year Democratic Republican Libertarian Green Independent Other Constitution Reform Taxpayers Natural Law
1992 3,884 4,333 25 1,439, 6, and 6 0
1996 3,909 4,319 55 422 27 13
2000 4,361 4,762 39 352 7 2 33
2004 5,395 5,045 53 23 30
2008 6,575 4,691 48 4 33 and 22 25
2012 6,651 4,775 123 38 24 18
2016 7,367 3,702 427 107 263 164

Drugs-for-sex scandal[edit]

On August 4, 2016, then-Mayor Scott Silverthorne (D) was arrested in a sting operation conducted by the Fairfax County Police Department. After receiving a tip that he was involved in drugs-related activities online, a police detective engaged Silverthorne on an online website "...used to arrange for casual sexual encounters between men."[79] The detective then arranged a meeting with Silverthorne and two other men, in which they agreed to exchange methamphetamine for a group sexual encounter. At the meeting in Tyson's Corner, Virginia, detectives performed the exchange and then arrested Silverthorne along with the two other men. He was charged with felony distribution of methamphetamine and misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia.[79] He announced his resignation on Monday, August 8, 2016, in a letter to the City Council.[80]


Fairfax, Virginia is located in Fairfax
Lanier Middle School
Lanier Middle School
Daniels Run Elementary School
Daniels Run Elementary School
Providence Elementary School
Providence Elementary School

Primary and secondary schools[edit]

The public schools in the City of Fairfax are owned by the city, but administered by the Fairfax County Public Schools system under contractual agreement with Fairfax County.[81] U.S. News & World Report often ranks Fairfax County schools among the best in the country.

City of Fairfax schools are Fairfax High School, Lanier Middle School, Daniels Run Elementary School, Providence Elementary School, and Fairfax Academy.[81]

Colleges and universities[edit]

George Mason University, the largest university in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is located just to the south of the Fairfax city limits.[82] Mason began as an extension of the University of Virginia in 1949 named the Northern Virginia University Center of the University of Virginia.[83] The Town of Fairfax purchased 150 acres (0.61 km2) for the university in 1958, though the property remained within the county when the town became a city. After several name changes in 1972 the institution became George Mason University.[84] Mason is most known for its programs in economics, law, creative writing, computer science, and business.[85] In recent years, George Mason faculty have twice won the Nobel Prize in Economics.[86] The university enrolls 33,917 students, making it the largest university by head count in the Commonwealth of Virginia.[87]

Public libraries[edit]

Fairfax County Public Library operates the City of Fairfax Regional Library in Fairfax. The library includes the Virginia Room, a collection of books, photographs, and manuscripts related to Fairfax County history, government, and genealogy.[88]


Rugby League[edit]

The Fairfax Eagles rugby league team plays in the American National Rugby League.



The intersection of U.S. Route 50 and U.S. Route 29 is located in the northeast corner of the city. The two major highways join to form Fairfax Boulevard for approximately 2.8 miles (4.5 km) through the city before separating. State Route 123 and State Route 236 both pass through the city. SR 236 is named Main Street in the city and then becomes Little River Turnpike once the city line is crossed. In addition, Interstate 66 is located along the northern border of the city.

Public transportation[edit]

A Northeast Regional train at Burke Centre station in August 2010


Although these stations are located outside city limits, trips to and from Fairfax are served by:


See also[edit]


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Coordinates: 38°51′09″N 77°18′16″W / 38.852612°N 77.304377°W / 38.852612; -77.304377