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A Brief History Of Fairfax County

This is the 13th edition of Bisnow and United Bank's neighborhood guide series. This week, we're focusing on Fairfax County, DC's most populous jurisdiction. To see an interactive map with the rest of our neighborhood guides, click here. Our just-announced Fairfax County State of the Market event will be on Aug. 17.


Fairfax County was formed in 1742 and named after Thomas Fairfax, sixth Lord Fairfax of Cameron. At its formation, it contained neighboring Loudoun County, which split off 15 years later, taking more than half of the original Fairfax’s total area with it. 

Despite that significant loss of land, Fairfax is now the most populous jurisdiction in Virginia and the DMV, with more than 1 million of the nation’s highest-earning residents. It’s the seat of George Washington’s famous plantation, Mount Vernon, on the banks of the Potomac River, in addition to Gunston Hall, the home built by planter, politician, delegate and “Father of the Bill of Rights” George Mason.

Fairfax encompasses two important Civil War battle sites. The Second Battle of Bull Run, which was waged on the border of Fairfax and Prince William County, marked an important Confederate victory. The Battle of Chantilly, just three days later was a decisive victory for the Union, which endured the loss of two prominent division leaders to halt the advance of Stonewall Jackson.

Post-WWII federal government growth drove development in Fairfax, transforming the previously rural landscape into a bastion of lucrative government and tech jobs. Ten Fortune 500 companies are headquartered there, along with a number of intelligence agencies, most notably the CIA in Langley in the county's northeast corner.