The Barns of Prince William County

Written by Lucy Phinney - published in the August, 1993 newsletter of Historic Prince William.

About three years ago, Jan Townsend, then the county's archeologist, asked for a volunteer to photograph an old barn out on Pageland Lane. It was in danger of being bulldozed by Til Hazel to make way for the shopping mall which he hoped to build out that way. Leslie Fravel and I volunteered and soon discovered that our friend Jim Bish, then president of Historic Prince William and a high school history teacher with a summer off, also shared our interest.

The three of us took the requested pictures on Pageland Lane and then another one on Route 28 near IBM and then another and another. In the back of our minds, besides historic record keeping, we envisioned a beautiful poster called "The Barns of Old Prince William" along the lines of the ones called "The Doors of Georgetown" or "The Pubs of Dublin".

The prints we took were lovely, but you know how things happen. Leslie discovered an even more exciting history in the graveyards. Jim found out that a new baby took more time than he thought possible. I was left holding the camera, so to speak.

Over the next couple of years, I added to my collection of barn pictures but, more importantly, I got my husband Steve interested in the project. We never intended to made a complete archives of the barns of the county, but we did want to record those which were in imminent danger of either falling down or being pushed down to make way for "progress." Just in the two years since we've been watching, both the Russell Farm and Rainbow Farms along Minnieville Road have disappeared. Several of the lovely big barns along Route 28 in Manassas have also been torn down. Thankfully, we got them on film.

In the early centuries of the county's history, farming was the way of life. Large plantations, run by slaves, covered the land, raising crops like tobacco, corn, cattle, hay, etc. The little towns existed for the farmers. As time went by, the large farms began to be divided. Following the Civil War and the end of the slave economy, further splitting up of the larger farms occurred and the county became an area of small agricultural holdings with towns growing up to serve the needs of more and more people. The balance began to change between an agrarian and an urban society and we see that even today. The eastern end of the county has almost no agricultural base; the western end is fighting the urban blight it sees coming. County computers cannot figure the number of barns found here twenty, fifty or a hundred years ago. No such count was ever taken and it would be a monumental task to sort it all out. We all know, though, that lots of barns no longer exist but I had no idea how many were still around!

To try to get the best idea of where to go to look for barns, I called the Planning Office to find out about parcels zoned for agricultural use. Naturally, Planning sent me to Zoning. Zoning referred me to Assessments for tax maps. Assessments sent me to Mapping. Mapping sent me to Real Estate Assessments. Bingo! There's a young angel named Allison Lindner who works in Real Estate Assessments who didn't say "You're interested in WHAT?"

She said she could probably help me and she did, very much so. I explained to her what I was looking for and in less that a week she had two computer printouts ready for me along with a huge Realty Atlas of all parcels of land within county boundaries. From that information I found out that: