History of Occoquan

by Nellie Curtis - published in May, 1993 newsletter of Historic Prince William.

On February 14, 1993 six representatives from Russia and their interpreter visited Occoquan, VA. They were in the United States to attend an Advanced Housing Seminar and were particularly interested in the creation, development and management of condominiums. They met in the Town Hall for a brief review of the business and political operation of the town of Occoquan. Nellie Curtis, representing Historic Occoquan, Inc. presented a brief review of the history and development of the town. She provided us with her notes which give a chronological picture.

1734 Occoquan was identified as a town early. There were public warehouses for tobacco, which was then shipped to many foreign ports.

1749 Charles Ewell and John Ballendine established iron furnaces on the Occoquan River in 1755.

1757 A water powered Country Grist Mill operated until 1890.

1758 John Ballendine built Rockledge, his 11 room home overlooking the town. Ballendine, an industrial entrepreneur of his time, is considered the founder of Occoquan.

1759 Merchant's Mill, so called because it was owned by merchants from the local towns and communities, became the second grist mill in Occoquan. It operated until 1924 when it was destroyed by fire.

1765 The Miller's House (now the Mill House Museum operated by Historic Occoquan, Inc.) was built and is the only remaining part of the Merchant's Mill.

1790 Merchant's Mill became fully a automated grist mill. The grain was completely processed from barge or wagon to the mill and returned to the carrier with the aid of one man. George Washington used this automated operation as a model for the Mount Vernon Grist Mill.

1795 A permanent bridge located at the site of the present foot bridge replaced the ferry. This Pratt Iron Truss Bridge served the Great Mail route for Washington, D. C. to the south. This meant that all southbound traffic-the equivalent of US Route #1 and #95 passed through the town of Occoquan. The bridge was destroyed by Hurricane Agnes in 1972. A new bridge located several hundred yards downstream was opened in 1974.

1804 Hammill Hotel was built by William Selectman to meet the need for accommodations on the main route to the south. The red brick hotel, which is still standing, is located on the corner of Union and Commerce Streets. It served as headquarters for Confederate General Wade Hampton during the winter of 1862.

1804 Occoquan was formally established as a town and chartered by the General Assembly. It was located on 31 acres of land owned by Nathaniel Ellicott, James Campbell and Luke Wheeler.

1828 One of the first Cotton mills in Virginia was built. It was four stories high. Both wool and cotton were processed on the 1000 spindles. It was destroyed during the Civil War by the Union Army.

Early 1800's Occoquan consisted of: 50 dwellings, bake houses, several mercantile shops, saw mills, a cotton factory, hotels and lodging establishments, 2 flour and grist mills, eaterys and barrooms, forges, active shipping of railroad ties by river barge.

1885 Ebenezer Baptist Church was established by former slave Lewis Henry Bailey. This church, located on the corner of Washington and Commerce Streets, is still active.

Mid 19th Century As early as 1836 Occoquan began to decline as a thriving industrial town. This was principally caused by:

1850-1950 Occoquan had become, mainly, a convenience center with the decline of industrial operations. The flour mill continued to operate until 1924. There were also grocery stores, general merchandise stores, banks, churches, a theater, a drug store, boat rentals and fishing supplies.

1950-Present Occoquan is experiencing a new kind of growth. It has gone from an industrial center to one of small businesses. It now has shops in which to buy gifts, novelties, books, and antiques. There are restaurants and sandwich shops.

Lynn, Martha, A Brief History of Occoquan
Harrison, Fairfax. Landmarks of Old Prince William, 1921
Writers Program of the W. P. A., Prince William: The Story of the People and Its Past.1941