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Published: June 18th 2019
We decided to make a visit to a nearby historic house today and went to see the Civil War Interpretive Center at Historic Blenheim. The site is operated by the City of Fairfax. It centers around Blenheim, a plantation house built in 1859 by the Albert Willcoxon family. Union troops occupied Fairfax City (then known as Fairfax Court House) in March 1862. Soldiers bivouacked on the grounds and the house was used a shelter and as a temporary hospital. The significance of the site today is the myriad graffiti left behind by the solders over a two year period. The inscriptions of more than 125 individual soldiers, left from the main floor to the attic, have been identified.
Twelve acres of the original 367 acre farm have been preserved. This is in itself significant, for the site is in the middle of heavy suburban development and the land is quite valuable. Members of the Willcoxon family lived in the house until 1997. They never removed the Civil War era graffiti, but did cover it with wallpaper.
The historic site is off Old Lee Highway. An interpretive center and museum exhibit have been built where dairy barns were once located.
The brick Greek Revival house was built in 1859 over the foundation of an earlier farmhouse destroyed in 1855.
The museum display includes a year-by-year timeline of the Civil War, comparing events in Fairfax with events across the theatre of the war. The attic is not open to visitors, but it has been recreated in the museum. Here are some of the most interesting inscriptions, including drawings of ships, cannon and eight-pointed stars. It is thought the eight-pointed stars were inscribed by German immigrants serving in Pennsylvania regiments. They are similar to the Moravian star.
Tours of the house are offered daily except Sunday and Monday at 1:00 p.m. Our docent for the house tour was simply the best I have encountered at any historic house museum. She gave a thorough description of the interior of the house and the grounds and welcomed questions. Only the first floor is open, but one can see the entry hall, parlour and dining room and the inscriptions they contain. One drawing in the hallway is of a Union observation ballon, a reminder that the Balloon Corps was present in Fairfax.
A pump house and the family cemetery and "Grandma's Cottage" are also sites visited on the tour. The latter frame house, dating to 1840, was the residence of Margaret Farr,
Spencer Colton of the 83rd Pennsylvania Volunteers wrote his name and regiment.
the sister of Albert Willcoxon. It is recognized that there were slave quarters on the property, though their location is still to be identified.
Blenheim is part of the Northern Virginia Civil War Graffiti Trail, documenting additional sites that contain graffiti by Union and Confederate Civil war Soldiers. We've been to the old Frederick County Court House in Winchester and to Ben Lomond house near Manassas, locations on the trail. (I've also seen Civil War graffiti at Rector's warehouse in Rectortown, but it is not on the trail list. They are probably many other undocumented sites.)
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