Prince William County, Virginia offers the traveler a juxtaposition of identities: bustling Washington DC with all the complex modernities of politics is nearby. But the quaint small towns and numerous Civil War monuments, sites and battlefields seem omnipresent.
A trip to this historical area of the US offers a peek into American history accompanied by entertaining shopping, culture, restaurants and outdoor recreation. You may even see a ghost or two!
The Manassas Courtyard by Marriott offers clean, safe rooms with a friendly staff. There is a nice coffee bar in the lobby. Other nearby hotels include the Country Inn and Suites, the Hampton Inn Manassas and Fairfield Inn and Suites. These are all centrally located and family-affordable.
Owner Charles Gilliam offers authentic creole comfort food at Okra’s ( www.okras.com) He dishes up excellent gumbo, smoked oysters, jambalaya and all the fixing's. We also enjoyed the Lazy Susan Dinner Theatre (www.lazysusan.com) where guests serve themselves from a large variety of homemade Pennsylvania Dutch specialties, then are treated to a live singing performance. Shows change frequently. Dixie Bones (www.dixiebones.com) is comfortable and fun with a roadside diner atmosphere. The barbecue is served piping hot and complemented with S
outhern collard greens, pinto beans and rice, coleslaw, macaroni and cheese and rolls or cornbread in iron skillets. Do not skip dessert – order a slice of homemade pie!
The Manassas Farmer’s Market has been operating in downtown near the train station for more than 20 years. Seasonal offerings include local produce, soaps, coffees, baked goods, specialty meat and seafood. This is free and a visual delight (www.visitmanassas.org)
Truly serious shoppers may want to venture into D.C. and peruse the delightful offerings at Potomac Mills which has more than 200 outlet stores including the ever popular Off 5th, Ralph Lauren and Nordstrom Rack (www.potomacmills.com) . You can get there by train- another exciting adventure for Houston families who practically live in their cars. The Virginia Railway Express (VRE) is a great way to see DC without hassle. ( www.vre.org) While you are there, be sure to include the U.S. Capitol Tour (www.visitthecapitol.gov) After all, combining history with fun is what this trip is all about!Old Town Manassas was defini
tely one of our favorite things on this trip. There is a lot to browse through: art galleries, antiques, books, gifts, furnishings, and offerings by local craftsmen. Just walking along the streets is interesting, admiring the turn-of-the-century buildings. The small village of Occoquan boasts more than 100 antique shops, art galleries, gift shops and many good restaurants. (www.occoquan.com)
Art and Culture
The Center for the Arts in Old Town Manassas ( www.center-for-the-arts.org) is located in a charming old building that once housed a candy factory. The knowledge
able and friendly staff will show you around and fill you in on plenty of good things to do while you are in the area. The majestic Hylton Performing Arts Center opens in May and will provide a state-of-the-art focal point for the whole region. (www.hyltonperformingartscenter.com) Highly recommended is a visit to the Workhouse Arts Center. The 55-acre center once housed a prison and today offers vast space to a variety of local artists and musicians. Free. ( www.lortonarts.org)
Yes, there is wine in Prince Williams
County. The Winery at La Grange opened in September 2006. The owners bought a historic home built in the 1790s where ghosts are rumored to appear. Enjoy the lovely atmosphere and taste the products which traditional favorites and a Port-styled wine they call Snort. (www.WineryatLaGrange.com).
Did you know that three out of every five Civil War battles were fought in Virginia? There is so much to see and absorb in the area. You may want to begin at the Manassas National Battlefield Park where two major battles of the war occurred. Today, there is an interpretive center with park rangers ready to answer all your questions and to give tour guides.
The Journey Through Hallowed Ground ( www.hallowedground.org) is a 180-mile network linking cultural and historical sites along with charming towns, restaurants, farms, wineries and more than 10,000 places included on the National Register of Historic Places. The Journey features nine presidents’ homes, 30 historic Main Street communities, 13 national parks, and hundreds of historical sites from the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
Buckland Village, a well-preserved collection of buildings from the late 18th century (www.bucklandva.org). Ben Lomand, the site of a farm that served as a field hospital during the Civil War. Soldiers who were brought here wrote their names on the walls which are still visible (www.visitpwc.com). The Bristoe Station Battlefield (now called “Bristow”), where the Confederate forces fought and lost; it is now the newest battlefield park in Virginia. The park offers walking and horse trails and a spot where more than 200 Confederate soldiers are buried, mostly in unmarked graves. The Brentsville Courthouse Historic Center. The 1822 courthouse and jail, an 1872 church, a 1928 Brentsville one-room school house, a smokehouse and an early 19th century log cabin are on site. (www.visitpwc.com) Much of the area is preparing for the Sesquicentennial Celebration in 2011. (www.nas.gov/mana/) There will be many special events for this unique moment in history.
We completely enjoyed spending a morning at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. An impressive museum dedicated to this noble branch of the US Armed Forces has just been open for three years. There are interactive exhibits that explore the Marine Corps history. Perhaps the most famous exhibit showcases the flag raised over Iwo Jima. usmcmuseum.org
For the adventurers in the family, you may want to check out the ghosts of Brentsville by joining an earnest and experienced team of ghost hunters who offer a seminar and investigation at the Brentsville Courthouse complex. $100 per person. Reservations recommended.(703) 365-7895. A Candlelight Ghost Tour is offered in Occoquan historicoccoquan.com most Saturday evenings. Call ahead to 703-494-6983 for reservations. Ben Lomond is also said to be haunted; call 703- 367-7872 for information. More details about other ghost tours, as well as much more information about the activities in this article, may be found by calling the Prince William County/Manassas Convention and Visitors Bureau at 703-396-7130 or visiting visitpwc.com
Photos by Larry Shiflet