William Gooding, Jr. claimed he had never “…seen a railroad, though living within sound of the whistle ten years.”1 Yet a railroad right of way ran through his property near his house and tavern on Little River Turnpike. That railroad was the Independent Line of the Manassas Gap Railroad (MGRR), which was never completed on land that Gooding and others were compelled to sell for the right of way. Fairfax County has preserved a section of the partially constructed roadbed in the Manassas Gap Railroad Historic Site, 7504 Royce St., Annandale.
The Manassas Gap Railroad company was chartered by the State of Virginia to construct and operate rail transportation connecting Alexandria with the upper Shenandoah Valley. Incorporated in 1850, the MGRR began business two years after the Orange and Alexandria Railroad (O&ARR) and involved some of the same sponsors and stockholders. Edward Carrington Marshall, son of John Marshall, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, was the company’s first president.
Initially, the MGRR relied on a contract with the O&ARR to use that company’s rails between Alexandria and Manassas (formerly Tudor Hall, renamed Manassas Junction). From that point westward, the MGRR pursued its work obtaining right of way, constructing roadbed, laying rails and building support facilities. Rail service began in 1852 to communities east of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and by 1853 passage had been cut through the mountains. Service extended to Front Royal and Strasburg in 1854.
MGRR Independent Line
To reduce operating costs and support its plans for expanding the railroad into other markets, the MGRR obtained state approval to construct its own connecting rail line all the way eastward to Alexandria. Approved in 1853, right of way for the Independent Line was obtained from land owners stretching from the eastern border of Alexandria, through Fairfax County via Annandale and Fairfax City (formerly Providence), to a point on the MGRR mainline in eastern Prince William County.
Many landowners, including Gooding, his son Peter Gooding and several other owners of former Ravensworth land, resisted the railroad’s efforts to take land for right of way through their property, as well as the amount of compensation offered. The railroad was successful through a process carried out under the guidance of the Fairfax County Court, but in many cases that success involved extended law suits and counter suits. In 1854, William Gooding, Jr. and Peter Gooding were two of many defendants in a suit brought by the MGRR that offered proposed compensation to land owners. The defendants were successful at least for a time. The suit was set aside in 1855 and compensation later confirmed in 1856.
Although the land was acquired and much of the roadbed was constructed, rails were not installed and the Independent Line was never completed. Work was suspended in 1857 for lack of money and inability to obtain additional financing. The Civil War intervened, and war damage to its infrastructure as well as post-war economic conditions resulted in the Independent Line being permanently abandoned. In 1867, the MGRR merged with the O&ARR to form the Orange, Alexandria & Manassas Railroad.
MGRR in the Civil War
The MGRR and its unfinished Independent Line played historic roles in the Civil War. In July 1861, the MGRR was the first railroad ever employed to transport soldiers into battle when its trains transported Confederate troops from Delaplane, VA to the First Battle of Manassas/Bull Run. In September 1862 in the Second Battle of Manassas/Bull Run, General Stonewall Jackson used a portion of the Independent Line’s roadbed as a defensive earthworks for his troops to gain tactical advantage in holding off superior Union forces.
Today’s view (in Google Maps) – Portion of MGRR Independent Line from Annandale to Fairfax City
View Manassas Gap Railroad in a larger map
This Civil War map (A Look Back at Braddock) shows the MGRR and O&ARR from west of their junction in Manassas to Alexandria, and the MGRR’s Independent Line, which is labeled “NEW R. R. GRADE.” Charles Gailey’s short essay accompanying the map explains the geography of battles and struggles for control in the area.
Map of the Manassas Gap Railroad and its extensions; September, 1855 – Library of Congress
Information for this brief profile of the MGRR came primarily from the first three of the following sources.
- MGRR Independent Line Historic survey report (1.5 MB .pdf) on the Manassas Gap Railroad Historic Site in Annandale – information about the MGRR’s history, organization and business operations as well as the engineering and construction of the roadbed in Annandale – Virginia Department of Historic Resources
- “The Unfinished Manassas Gap Railroad”, Historical Fairfax article by William Page Johnson, II on the history of the MGRR and Independent Line emphasizing locations in Fairfax City
- MGRR During the Civil War – Encyclopedia of VA
- In addition to the Annandale site, two Fairfax County History Commission historical signs mark locations along the MGRR Independent Line west of Fairfax City and in Centreville.
- The Life and Times of the Manassas Gap Railroad – Fairfax County Park Authority concise history of the MGRR and Independent Line emphasizing the Annandale site