The Manassas Gap and the Orange and Alexandria railroads crossed in Manassas, a surveyor’s decision in the 1850s that transformed this small farming community into one of America’s best known towns in the Civil War. In an attempt to control that railroad junction the Northern and Southern armies clashed twice in the first two years of the war five miles north of town near a creek called Bull Run, resulting in 30,000 casualties.
On July 21, 1861, the Civil War was expected to end. The fully equipped Union army under General Irvin McDowell was prepared to take the field for the first time at Bull Run. The complete submission of the rebels was considered such a certainty that the Federal troops were accompanied by picnickers and sightseers. After ten hours of bloody fighting, the Union army was in retreat and it was apparent this was not going to be a one-battle war.
The armies returned to Bull Run a year later, seasoned and spirited. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia was at the peak of its power, and he out maneuvered General John Pope’s Union army in three days of struggle beginning on August 28. With his masterful victory here, Lee was able to carry the war tot he North for the first time.
During the Civil War, both sides used the fledgling town as a supply base and twice Manassas was ravaged. Rebuilt after the hostilities ended, the town grew during the Victorian era of the 1880s and 1890s and became the Prince William County seat in 1892. A devastating fire swept through the commercial district in 1905 with only two brick buildings surviving the conflagration. Thereafter Manassas remained a small town for most of the 20th century. It became a city in 1975. Known for its Civil War history, Manassas trumpets its Old Town historic district.
Our explorations of the early 20th century Manassas streetscape will begin at the landmark that defines the town, a splendid relic from the golden age of railroading...
Norfolk-Southern Railway Passenger Station
at railroad tracks between West and Battle streets
This well-preserved passenger depot, still active today, was constructed for the Norfolk-Southern Railway in 1914. It is the third station to be built on this site and stands as one of the few such preserved stations in northern Virginia. The hipped shingle roof overhangs eaves supported by large brackets and posts. The station is surmounted by a central octagonal turret; it is patterned after its 1910 predecessor which burned.
WALK SOUTH ON WEST STREET, STAYING ON THE SAME SIDE OF THE TRACKS AS THE PASSENGER STATION. TURN LEFT ON PRINCE WILLIAM STREET.
9101 Prince William Street
The small greenspace includes the Manassas Museum, established in 1974 to preserve and present the history and culture of Manassas and the Northern Virginia Region. Civil War artifacts and lithographs tell the story of the fighting in Manassas and the importance of the railroads to both sides.
WALK NORTH ON BATTLE STREET ACROSS FROM THE PARK. CROSS THE RAILROAD TRACKS, WITH THE PASSENGER STATION ON YOUR LEFT.
Hopkins Candy Factory
9416 Battle Street
C. A. S. Hopkins, an Ohio native, began making soft candies in 1900 in a frame building on West Street. Inside his living room-sized factory some two dozen churned out an assortment of regionally popular sweets. In 1908 the operation moved to this three story brick building, designed by Manassas architect Albert Speiden. Hopkins added confectionery, toys, cereal products, extracts, cakes, crackers and candy to his product line and soon a small platoon of salesmen had Hopkins candy in every state east of the Mississippi River. More than 10.000 pounds of candy was shipping from the factory every day. The Hopkins Company, operated from 1900 to at least 1915. They apparently sold out in 1916 to the Manassas Feed and Milling Company which operated from this building for decades. After that it served many masters until being donated to the City of Manassas in 1998. Today, the building begins its second century as an arts center.
Peoples National Bank
9110 Center Street at Battle Street
The People’s National Bank brought this sophisticated example of the Renaissance Revival style to this corner in 1904. In addition to the decorative brick frieze the building is ornamented by stone corner quoins and window lintels. The single story addition to the west is a later addition.
TURN RIGHT ON CENTER STREET.
Old Post Office
9113 Center Street at Battle Street
This prominent town corner was graced in the early years of the 1900s with excellent examples of Renaissance Revival architecture. This brick building with decorative brickwork in the parapet wasbuilt by Judge C.E. Nicol in 1906 and was used to house the post office until 1923.
9107 Center Street
Architect John Tillett gave this building an imaginative blend of Renaissance motifs - a flat roof with parapet, a blind arcade at the second floor, decorative brickwork, bricks laid to resemble rusticated stone blocks and a curvilinear parapet to display the Masonic emblem. The facade has changed little since its construction.
9102 Center Street
This two-story, six bay commercial Italianate building appeared on the Manassas streetscape in 1907. It was constructed by E.R. Conner after a fire in 1906 destroyed this entire block. It sports a cornice with bracketed modillions and decorative brick work that creates stringcourses and arches over the upper windows. The first floor housed stores and the second floor hosted the town’s opera house. the Conner Building was the first place in Manassas to be electrically lighted.
9025 Center Street
Hometown architect Albert Speiden drew up the plans for Manassas’ first town hall, which was built in 1915. The Colonial Revival composition featuresa rusticatedstoneandbrickbase, segmental-arched openings with keystones, wrought iron detailing, and a refined classicalcornicewith castellatedparapet. Thebrick building was originally surmounted by a balustraded platform supporting a domedwooden cupolathatwas removed after a storm in 1958 and restored in 2002. The large lower windows were once bays for the fire company that was housed on the first floor with the town council chamber above.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO MAIN STREET AND TURN RIGHT.
National Bank of Manassas
9366 North Main Street
Currently the home of Historic Manassas, this compact Romanesque Revival structure was built by John A. Cannon in 1896 on plans drawn by the town’s go-to architect Albert Speiden for the National Bank of Manassas. The red brick building is richly decorated with red sandstone trim that creates corner quoins, arches, keystones and a prominent lunette in the front gable. A small pinnacle atop the gable crowns the confection. This was the town’s first bank and after 1912 it did duty as a law office, art gallery and the original Manassas Museum from 1974 until 1990. The bank is one of the first projects undertaken by Albert Speiden after he and his brother William left the U.S. Patent Office where they were draftsmen to start their own architectural shop in Alexandria. Albert moved to Manassas in 1904 to marry a local girl. He would design scores of houses, theaters, churches and commercial buildings throughout northern Virginia until his death in 1933.
Bull Run Universalist Church
9400 North Main Street at Church Street
This is the best example of early 20th-century Gothic Revival architecture in Manassas, constructed as the Grace Methodist Church and dedicated in 1931. The brick building is dominated by a square corner bell tower with an open belfry and crenellated parapet.
TURN LEFT ON CHURCH STREET.
Manassas Presbyterian Church
9329 Church Street
The oldest church in Manassas, locally quarried red sandstone was used to craft the Victorian Gothic structure. After a century of service to the congregation the building was remodeled to serve as a restaurant. Its one-time steeple was removed and original Tiffany windows followed the congregation to its new home. The church had a cameo role in the anti-communist Hollywood melodrama My Son John from 1952 with Helen Hayes coming out of retirement to play the lead role.
Manassas Post Office
9108 Church Street
This Depression-era project, helmed by supervising architect James A. Wermore, is a fine representation of the Colonial Revival construction that was sponsored by the federal government across the country in the 1930s. The single-story brick building features stone keystones over the windows, a denticulated stone cornice, brick corner quoins and a triangular entrance pediment with full entablature under styled Corinthian columns.
TURN RIGHT ON WEST STREET.
Trinity Episcopal Church
9325 West Street
Albert Speiden took the original frame church that stood on this site and incorporated it into his Gothic design for this 1922 yellow rick church. It sports pointed arch windows and entry, brick-formed buttresses and a corner belltower.
TURN LEFT ONTO BARTOW PLACE OPPOSITE THE CHURCH AND FOLLOW IT TO GRANT AVENUE.
William County Courthouse
Lee and Grant avenues
In the early 1890s the town council issued $3,000 in bonds to construct the courthouse and the adjoining jail and clerk’s office. The courthouse, designed by James C. Teague and Philip T. Marye, of Norfolk and Newport Newsand completed in 1894, is a polychromatic structure built of sandstone and brick with a wooden octagonal cupola crowning the composition. It is one of only a handful of Victorian Romanesque courthouses in Virginia. This is the fifth county courthouse and was replaced by a newer model in 1984. In July, 1911, a week-long celebration of national healing and reunion took place when the Manassas National Jubilee of Peace brought together Union and Confederate veterans fifty years after the first major battle of the Civil War. The festivities culminated on July 21, the battle’s anniversary. The Union and Confederate veterans fell into opposing lines on Henry House Hill, where fifty years before they had clashed in mortal combat. On a signal, the two sides approached each other, and as they met they clasped hands in friendship and reconciliation. After a picnic on the battlefield, the crowd returned to the Prince William County Courthouse to listen to a speech by President William Howard Taft. Civil War veterans later held reunions on other great Civil War battlefields, but just as Manassas had been the site of the first major engagement of the war, it was also the site of the first reunion of these former adversaries.
TURN LEFT ON GRANT AVENUE. TURN LEFT ON CENTER STREET.
Loy E. Harris Pavilion
9201 Center Street at West Street
Opened in 2002, the development of this City Square is dedicated to the community improvement efforts of Loy E. Harris. Through the year the pavilion hosts a farmer’s market, ice skating, chili cook-offs and the like. Also in the Square is a caboose that has been retired from its days on the Southern Railway.
EXIT THE SQUARE ON THE WEST STREET SIDE. TURN RIGHT AND CROSS THE TRACKS TO RETURN TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.