During the post-World War II building boom, the Washington, D.C. area grew by leaps and bounds. Many people benefitted from the suburban growth, but there were casualties, including the loss of historic properties.
One place that fared better than most is the village of Brentsville. Located about three miles south of Manassas, it served as the seat of Prince William County from 1822 to 1893. The 25-acre historic site includes five buildings and a good number of interpretive markers. The setting is very pleasant with Broad Run meandering past and manicured green space. Another great benefit is that Brentsville it is not on a main highway.
Brentsville was born out of the Brent Town Tract of 1686, a grant given by King James II to George Brent, Richard Foote, Robert Bristow and Nicholas Hayward. Colonists were pushing westward away from the Potomac. Bristow took the northern tract where Brentsville was founded in 1822.
Prince William County, formed in 1731, originally included Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Fauquier County. It has seen five county seats, including Woodbridge, Aden (Cedar Run), Dumfries, Brentsville and Manassas.
Dumfries served as the county seat for several decades but silting of the river doomed it as a seaport. A HABS report notes as early as 1770, Dumfries was “already inconvenient to three-fourths of the population of the county.” Brentsville, with views of the mountains, was more centrally located and won out as the new seat in 1822. Eugene M. Scheel (“Crossroads and Corners”) notes the move was a “hint that Old Prince William had shifted from a maritime to a farming economy.”
Brentsville’s Main Street is today’s Bristow Road. Seventy lots were laid out. Hooe Street is also a remant. A restored church, the old jail, and one-room schoolhouse stand out.
The Civil War had a deleterious effect on Brentsville. Its fate was sealed when the Alexandria and Orange Railroad ran through Manassas. In 1893, the County seat moved there.
Prince William: A Past to Preserve, The Prince William County Historical Commission, 1998, Edited by Laurie C. Wieder
Crossroads and Corners, A Tour of the Villages, Towns, and Post Offices of Prince William County, 1996, Eugene M. Scheel and Historic Prince William, Inc.
Map – for Historic Prince William, Surveyed and Drawn by Eugene M. Scheel, 1992