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The Town of Vienna has a long and storied history dating back to the 18th century - a history that involves a name change, brushes with Civil War armies, a vibrant Black community, and even spies.
Despite the many changes that have occurred since Vienna became a Town more than 125 years ago, it has retained a sense of pride in its community and history. Several historic properties have been preserved, and Historic Vienna, Inc. works to enhance a spirit of community by providing awareness of Vienna’s past.
History of the Town
The original Fairfax County Courthouse, built around 1742 near the present-day Tysons, likely marked the first European settlement in the Vienna area. Street names such as Old Courthouse Road and Lawyers Road still reflect that origin.
Perhaps the first settler within the current Town limits was Col. Charles Broadwater, a prominent colonial soldier and public servant, who owned much of the land in the region and built his home here in 1754. In the 1760s, John Hunter, a native of Ayr County in Scotland, married Broadwater's daughter and built a tobacco plantation in 1767 in what became the Town and called it Ayr Hill after his native county in Scotland. As the village grew, it assumed the name Ayr Hill, by which it was known for nearly 100 years.
In the mid-1800s, unseasonable weather in the north and attractive land values in northern Virginia brought considerable migration to Ayr Hill. Among those immigrants was a family named Hendrick that came to Vienna in 1854. The Hendricks wanted to change the Town’s name to Vienna, after their hometown in upstate New York (which is now Phelps, New York). The change was willingly made, probably because the family owned a lot of land and had become influential in local affairs.
Prior to the arrival of the railroad, Vienna had one main road, known as the Old Georgetown Road, that twisted and turned to avoid mud holes and rocks. The railroad reached Vienna in 1859 and provided the impetus for growth into a real village.
When the Civil War began, Vienna became a camping ground for the two contending forces—switching hands several times. This was a confusing time for residents. It was hard to tell friend from foe, and the area changed hands so often that many families moved away for the duration of the war.
In 1866, Maj. Orrin T. Hine—a Freedmen´s Bureau agent, radical Republican, farmer, and realtor—settled in Vienna. By 1885, he owned a great deal of real estate. In 1890, when the village of 300 people became an incorporated Town, he was elected Vienna´s first mayor. He remained in that post until his death in 1899.
Hine also was a leading advocate of public education and testified in favor of the state public school law of 1870. In 1867, the first Black public school, which also served as a Baptist church, was established in Vienna. The first public school for White students was built in 1872.
In the 1870s, the number of churches increased: A Presbyterian church was built in 1874, then a Methodist church in 1890, and an Episcopal church in 1896. Citizens began to speak of the street as “Church Street,” as we know it today.
In 1881, Howard Money founded an undertaking business. Today, Money and King Funeral Home remains Vienna's oldest continuous business.
The Vienna Volunteer Fire Department is the oldest in Fairfax County. Founded by Leon Freeman, it started in 1903 with a small hand-drawn chemical engine that was housed under Mr. Freeman´s porch to prevent it from freezing in cold weather.
The horse and buggy days waned with the turn of the century. A trolley line came in 1903, providing hourly transportation to and from Washington, D.C. This quickly gave way to the automobile age. The first car owned in Town was Mr. Freeman's Franklin in 1904, and the speed limit was 12 mph.
By 1940, Vienna was still a small, quiet, rural town with a population of 1,237. It remained virtually untouched by the metropolitan character of the nation's capital. But the post-World War II rush to the suburbs brought a burgeoning population to Northern Virginia. That growth included nearly 10,000 new residents to Vienna alone and spurred establishment of the Town’s water and waste water (sewer) systems in the late 1940s. New homes began blending with those of an earlier era. The Town continued to take on a new look when in the 1950s many businesses started to move from the old commercial section on Church Street to Maple Avenue.
In 1954, the first of Vienna's modern shopping centers was opened. More shopping centers followed in quick succession along a widened Maple Avenue in an attempt to keep up with the influx of newcomers who bought homes in the Town's new subdivisions. Older residents recall with nostalgia the Victorian homes and maple trees that lined Maple Avenue before it was widened in 1958.
Other dates of note in Vienna’s history
|1897||Town’s first library established|
|1920||First Town Hall and bank built|
|1940||Annual Halloween Parade started|
|1966||Vienna Community Center opened|
|1971||Patrick Henry Library opened|
|1974||First Walk on the Hill event held in Windover Heights Historic District|
|1986||Vienna Metro station opened|
|1986||First Viva Vienna hosted by Rotary Club of Vienna|
|2001||Vienna area resident and spy Robert Hanssen, who used several area parks as “dead drop” sites to provide information to his Russian handlers, was arrested|