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"Ashburn is a railroad town on the Bluemont division of the Washington and Old Dominion railway... Ashburn is a busy and prosperous place." J. Harry Shannon, The Washington Star, November 3, 1918
Ashburn's beginnings trace back to the 1720s, when Thomas Lee and Robert Carter tried to outwit each other by buying up strategic pieces of the Virginia countryside. Each sought to control the commercial destiny of the colony. Lee, influenced by Britain's success on the seas, held the theory that control of the waterways equaled control of the colony. Belmont, Lee's grandson's Ashburn estate, is situated near the Potomac River and Goose Creek.
Carter, nicknamed "King" because he owned vast quantities of land, felt destiny would reward the man who controlled land transportation, so he purchased land that controlled the approaches to mountain passes. For example Oatlands, built by one of Carter's descendants, stands at the foot of Mount Gilead.
In the early 1700s, the Lees appeared to be winning and owned most of the tobacco warehouses along the Potomac. Carter, meanwhile, was forced to roll his lots of tobacco down to Lee's warehouse at present-day Chain Bridge. It didn't take long for Carter to feel that Lee was overcharging him for storage and loading.
Carter told his servants to build a road from his tobacco warehouse at Occoquan to Vestal's Gap Road (later known as Route 7). The Ox Road, (alternatively, Frying Pan Road from Carter's Frying Pan copper mines), was started in 1728 near present-day Occoquan/Woodbridge and was finally connected to Vestal's Gap Road in the late 1740s by Carter's son, "King" Carter having died in 1732.
Just wide enough for an ox cart, the Ox Road likely passed through Herndon on what is now Frying Pan Road and entered the Ashburn area via present-day Shellhorn Road, then swung north on what is now Ashburn Road (Route 641) and then east on Stubble Road (Stunkle Road or Route 647), crossing Goose Creek at Hough's Mill around the year 1765.
Ox Road let Carter's Loudoun County tobacco plantations send tobacco down to Occoquan by land, bypassing Lee's warehousing and shipping concerns on the Potomac, thus granting the Carter family the last laugh. Until 1820, that is, when Leesburg Turnpike sent Ox Road into dusty oblivion as a major east-west trade route.
Ashburn was originally called Farmwell (alternative names Old Farmwell, Farmwell Station) after a nearby mansion of that name owned by George Lee, great-grandson of Thomas Lee. The name Farmwell first appeared in George's October, 1802 will and was used to describe the 1,236 acre plantation he inherited from his father, Thomas Ludwell Lee II.
Thomas Ludwell Lee II was the cousin of Belmont owner Ludwell Lee and owned an equally magnificent mansion, Coton, on property north of Route 7 now occupied by Xerox Document University and Lansdowne. Thomas inherited his land from father Thomas Ludwell Lee I, who obtained the 4,700 acre tract ("the remainder of all my lands between Goose Creek and Broad Run") from his father, Thomas Lee.
George Lee, originator of the Farmwell name, died in 1805 and his property passed to son Doctor George Lee (1796-1858). Doctor Lee married Sarah Moore Henderson in 1827. Sarah is reputed to have given birth to 23 children, the eldest of which, George III, inherited Farmwell upon his father's death and granted a right of way across the plantation to the Alexandria, Loudoun & Hampshire Railroad (later the Washington & Old Dominion) in 1859.
The agricultural village changed into a commercial village when the railroad arrived in 1860 at Farmwell Station, although the Civil War (1861-1865) and the depression which followed delayed the change.
The section of Farmwell plantation west of Ashburn Road, a 580 acre tract, was purchased in 1841 by lawyer and almost vice-president John Janney, a Quaker, as a summer home. He called the property Ashburn Farm (first known written use is 1870 when he sold the property). It is likely he named the farm after family friends named Ashburn.
In 1895, Ashburn Farm was purchased by Senator William Morris Stewart. Stewart was known as the "Silver Senator" because of the half-million he made in 1856 defending claimants of Nevada's Comstock silver lode and because he was a strong supporter of silver currency. Senator Stewart represented Nevada from 1862-1875 and 1887-1905 and lived at Ashburn Farm from 1895 until retirement from the Senate in 1905.
Local Legend has it that the village, known until then as Farmwell or Farmwell Station, got a new name after lightning struck an ash tree on Senator Stewart's farm in 1896. The ash tree is rumored to have burned and smoldered for a week and attracted spectators from miles around. Since the Post Office had been pressing for a new name for the village (to avoid confusion with Farmville in Prince Edward County), and the Senator was the area's leading citizen, the villagers renamed the village after the ash burn.
"[Farmwell is] the place of residence of three ministers of the gospel, and to the credit of the citizens, no intoxicating liquors are sold within the village limits." Hardesty's Encyclopedia, Loudoun County Editon, 1883
Too far from Washington to be a railroad suburb, during its heyday, 1880-1920, Ashburn grew into the largest commercial center in Loudoun County east of Leesburg. It was also a Summer resort for people escaping the heat of the city. The Ashburn House, built in 1882 and now a purple-painted private residence, was a popular hotel frequented by fisherman desirous of trying the excellent bass fishing in nearby Goose Creek.
The hotel was run by Amos Jenkins, who is remembered as a kind, generous man. Amos, unfortunately, was gunned down by bootlegger Bertie Holsinger with a .22 caliber pistol at the Broad Run toll bridge. Exactly why Amos, a hotel proprietor, was meeting clandestinely with a bootlegger on a tributary of the Potomac River during Prohibition is unknown.
Ashburn is home to four landmarks on the National Register of Historic Places: Belmont Plantation (1799), the Broad Run Bridge and Toll House (1820), the sanctuary of Ashburn Presbyterian Church (1878), and Janelia Farm (1936).
Jump to a page about Ashburn geology.
Civil War sites near Ashburn include Union General John Reynolds' First Corps camp on the AOL campus en route to Gettysburg. In addition, most of the Union Army crossed the Potomac at Lansdowne in late June 1863 on two floating bridges when they headed north to Gettysburg.
Also, nearby Ball's Bluff in Leesburg was the site of the Battle of Ball's Bluff, the largest Civil War engagement to take place in Loudoun County.
Virginia is, of course, a Civil War buff's dream. While there are no known Civil War battlefields in Ashburn itself, there are at least four in Loudoun County. They are Aldie, Ball's Bluff, Middleburg, and Upperville. For more information about the War Between the States, check out the website of the U.S. Civil War Center at www.cwc.lsu.edu.
Other Local History
Jump to a page that contains information about and links to Things To Do & See in and around Ashburn and Loudoun County, including historic sites and museums.
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