map of roads in and near Ravensworth circa 1800

Map of roads in and near Ravensworth circa 1800

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By 1800, several roads passed near or through Ravensworth.

Tobacco Rolling Roads

The earliest began as tobacco rolling roads – paths for rolling hogsheads of tobacco from inland plantations like Ravensworth to ships and, starting in 1732, to official warehouses on the Potomac and Occoquan Rivers. These roads followed ridge lines between stream valleys and wandered as necessary, trading extra distance to avoid steep vertical inclines and difficult stream crossings.

Roads to Churches and Courthouses

Next came roads, built to similar principles, that provided access to The Falls Church (established 1733) in today’s town of that name, other churches, and Fairfax County’s first courthouse (established 1742) near today’s Tysons Corner.

Alexandria, which grew from the opening of the tobacco warehouse in 1732 to town status in 1748, became home to the second, relocated county courthouse in 1752 and the major center of commerce and Potomac River port to which all roads connected.

Washington, D.C., officially established in 1800 as the nation’s capital, was accessed by ferry from Mason’s Island to Georgetown and was not yet the primary destination. The likely route for traveling from Washington to Ravensworth is a shown here.

In 1800, the courthouse moved a third and final time to its present site – a four-acre parcel carved from Ravensworth’s northwest corner in today’s City of Fairfax. Little River Turnpike, an improved toll road connecting Alexandria to the new courthouse and points west, was in the planning stages and would not open until 1806.

Roads in 1800

The roads mapped are the major routes important to Ravensworth, not all that existed in 1800. They are shown in their present locations, which gives a good representation rather than an exact map of the original routes. (Lakes shown on the map did not exist in 1800; they are man-made 20th century creations.)

Alexandria-Colchester Road
The area’s first road, orginally called the Potomac Path, extended northward adjacent to the Potomac River from established areas in pace with the northward march of settlement; linked Alexandria with the town of Colchester and its ferry (today’s Richmond Highway, Route 1)
Leesburg Turnpike Road
Early road from area that became Alexandria to Leesburg and points west (today’s Leesburg Pike, Route 7)
Alexandria-Courthouse Road
Rolling road east to the Alexandria warehouse (today’s route from Annandale via a section of Columbia Pike, Lincolnia Rd and Duke St to Alexandria) and north to the first county courthouse (today’s Gallows Rd from Annandale to Tysons Corner)
Backlick Road
Rolling road to the Pohick warehouse
Rolling Road
Rolling road to the Pohick warehouse
Ox Road
Rolling road to the Occoquan warehouse (built c. 1729 connecting Occoquan to copper ore deposits near today’s Dulles Airport)
Alexandria-Church Road
Road connecting the Alexandria-Courthouse Road to the Falls Church (today’s Annandale Rd to Falls Church)
Alexandria-Centreville Road
Road from Alexandria to Ox Road, Centreville, and points west (authorized 1752, originally called the Mountain Road, later also Alexandria Turnpike Road; today’s Braddock Rd)
Church Road
Road from Mason’s Island/Georgetown ferry to the Falls Church and west (today’s Lee Highway, Route 29)

Information about tobacco warehouses and roads was developed from several sources. Especially useful were Beth Mitchell’s Fairfax County, Virginia in 1760, an Interpretive Historical Map1 and Robert Moxham’s Annandale, Virginia: A Brief History.2 Mitchell’s work is a comprehensive, county-wide review of land ownership and early transportation in an illustrated map. Moxham’s insights focus specifically on Ravensworth and apply a cartographer’s analysis of topography and land records.

More Information About Early Roads

The county court authorized and oversaw roads: issuing orders, tasking the work to individuals, and assessing fines for deficiencies. Beth Mitchell’s Fairfax County Road Orders, 1749-18003 makes the full record of its decisions and orders from 1749 to 1800 available online.

A History of Roads In Virginia surveys the evolution of Virginia colonial law governing roads as well as the history of the development of early roads and turnpikes in the state.

Early roads were not paved. Some were more rights of way than thoroughfares. Probably challenging in good times, poor weather and ruts caused by heavy wagon loads added greatly to travellers’ woes. This record by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation of Jefferson’s travels between Washington and Monticello, which sometimes took him through Ravensworth, tells something of the conditions facing travelers in 1800. In late March 1804, Jefferson wrote Nicholas Fitzhugh for advice to avoid the public roads by travelling through Ravensworth. Their exchange of letters identified a route through Ravensworth off the beaten path.


  1. Beth Mitchell, Fairfax County, Virginia in 1760, an Interpretive Historical Map (Fairfax County Office of Comprehensive Planning, 1987), 80-84, 92-93, map.
  2. Robert Morgan Moxham, Annandale, Virginia: A Brief History, ed. Estella K Bryans-Munson (Fairfax County History Commission, 1992), 7-11.
  3. Beth Mitchell, Fairfax County Road Orders, 1749-1800 (Virginia Transportation Research Council, 2003). This is a large 326-page portable document file (pdf).