In the fall of 1958, I packed my clothes, got behind the wheel of my 1950 Ford, left my parents home in northern New Jersey and headed south. I had graduated from Seton Hall Univ. in South Orange the previous June and was due to report to the United States Marine Corps Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Va. for training. As I traveled Route 1 through Woodbridge and Dumfries, encountering a complete absence of traffic and traffic lights, little did I know that, in the years to follow, the county would be my home for 40 years.
Route 1, at the time was the major north/south corridor; Interstate 95 would not be completed for another 6 years. Travel Route 1 today from Massaponax to Ashland and you will experience the type of drive I experienced that day in September of 1958. A few gas stations, a Howard Johnson, some mom and pop motels, and two or three country stores. Only a handful of these structures remain today. Two which come to mind are the abandoned motel adjacent to the Hilda Barg Homeless Shelter and the nearby Double T Garage.
The county population was just under 50,000, having grown from 14,000 in 1930 and on its way to today’s 270,000. (Editor's Note: The current estimated population of Prince William County has continued to grow and reached 332,555 persons as of March 15, 2004, according to the county's Demographics office.)
Woodbridge became my permanent home in 1963 and by this time traffic was becoming a problem, but only on Sunday nights. Beach traffic would back up from the light at Longview Dr. south to Featherstone Rd. County services were in their infancy. There was only one library facility-located in Manassas, until the Leesylvania branch opened in 1965. Prior to that opening, eastern Prince William Co. and the rural areas were served by the Bookmobile - a library on wheels with limited selection.
Law enforcement was provided by the sheriff. A county police department would not be established until the early 1970’s. There were no parks and recreation services. The Poll Tax existed until eliminated in 1964.
Cecil D. Hylton almost singlehandedly changed the face and ultimately the politics of Prince William County. In 1945 he built 20 homes near Manassas Park and then in the late 1950’s, he literally began to rebuild Woodbridge. A list of his major projects and their approximate dates follows:
He built single family homes, townhouses apartments and shopping centers. He built and owned the first cable TV system in the county along with water and sewer system. He was welcomed by the governing body of the county because he represented “progress’. New residents brought incomes, which brought commerce and eventually light and heavy industry. But the newcomers were not to be silent. When services were lacking, as they were in the early 1960’s, residents became vocal and demanded changes
The problems associated with rapid population growth were most conspicuous in the delivery of educational services. Between 1960 and 1970 the county population grew from 50,000 to 111,000. In 1960 there were a total of 10 schools in the county. By 1970 there were 36 schools. In one year alone, 1972, 5 new schools were completed. In spite of the determined efforts of the school board, schools were becoming vastly overcrowded and it probably was impossible for any body to keep pace with a school age population that had grown from a mere 4,000 in 1950 to 28,000 in 1970.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s the political power in the county lay in and around the then town of Manassas. The county courthouse was, and still is, surrounded by the incorporated limits of Manassas. The majority of the professionals and predominance of wealth was in Manassas. There resided the doctors, lawyers, merchants, farm implement dealers, dairymen, the banks and bankers and the politically well-informed. In short, it was the nucleus of the county’s Virginia “blue bloods”. To be sure, the eastern part of the county had some of these services and wealth but nowhere near the extent of Manassas.
Woodbridge, on the other hand, was home to the younger, less affluent “newcomers” who were not as well politically connected. The residents of Manassas frequently noted that geographically, the county had a north/south orientation. With a wink of the eye and a nod of the head they would delight in referring to eastern Prince William County as “the lower end”, with strong emphasis on the word “lower.”
Further strengthening the political power of Manassas was the fact that residents of the rural areas to the north and west of Manassas like Catharpin, Nokesville, Gainesville and Haymarket identified themselves with the nearest center of commerce- Manassas.
I began taking an interest in county politics in upon separation from the Marine Corps in 1965. The Board of County Supervisors, at that time, numbered six. Mr. O. J. Fitzwater, the recurrent chairman, owned a Chrysler/ Plymouth dealership in Nokesville and was principal owner of the Bank of Nokesville. He represented the Brentsville Dist.
Mr. Bradford Lowe was retired, lived in a home at the intersection of Hoadly Rd. and Rt. 234 which still stands. Lowe represented the Coles Dist. and was the most quotable, if not articulate, member of that board. Mr. Robert Alvey was a gentleman farmer and owner of Alvey’s Store on Rt. 234 in Catharpin. The store was relocated to the other side of Sanders Lane, but the original structure, which also housed the Catharpin post office, remains. Alvey represented the Gainesville Dist. and was the most youthful board member.
Mr. Joseph B. Johnson was a hard working dairy farmer whose extensive family land holdings were on Rt. 234 just south of Manassas. Johnson’s farm, which had been in his family since 1770, is now the site of the community of Wellington but the old slave quarters remain. Johnson was probably the most intelligent and hardest working member of that board and represented the Manassas Dist. The aforementioned four supervisors, while fulfilling their obligation to foster the welfare of the entire county, were more closely associated with Manassas than either Woodbridge or Dumfries.
The remaining two supervisors from the eastern county fought for their constituents but were frequently outmaneuvered or outvoted by the majority. Mr. Grover P. Manderfield, a self-made multi-millionaire, worked in the copper mines of Michigan, became a bricklayer and arrived in Woodbridge in the employ of Rust Engineering which owned the quarry adjacent to the Rt. 1 / Occoquan River Bridge. He acquired a controlling interest in the Bank of Occoquan and merged it with Fitzwater’s Nokesville bank
Manderfield fostered the development of the Occoquan/Woodbridge Sanitary District which provided water and sewer services and was the forerunner to the current Service Authority. Manderfield, formal, gentlemanly and possessed of a massive right hand from years of bricklaying, represented the Occoquan District.
Dr. Alfred J. Ferlazzo was a family physician who first came to the county in the 1930’s. In the 1960’s he purchased a controlling interest in the Potomac News and, along with Editor Paul Muse, oversaw its maturity into the dominant newspaper in the county, surpassing the Manassas Journal Messenger. “Doc”, a humanitarian to the core, possessed a passionate temper and was an enthusiastic champion of the poor and disenfranchised. Ferlazzo represented the Dumfries Dist.
The political difficulties which existed between the old, established western [northern] Prince William County and the upstart eastern [southern] county were compounded by certain other factors. The population centers of Manassas and Woodbridge were [and still are] separated by twenty miles. But in those days one had to negotiate Old Davis Ford Rd. which was a challenge under the best of circumstances. Parts of the old road remain in service but the Prince William Parkway has replaced it as the major connector between Woodbridge and Manassas and a considerable time saver.
The residents of Dumfries had a somewhat easier and faster trip to Manassas via Rt. 234 which, while only two lanes, was much less crowded than today. There were two newspapers; the old, established Manassas Journal Messenger owned by State Senator John Galleher and the younger, more liberal Potomac News. Additionally, there were two Chambers of Commerce. These situations contributed to a feeling of “us” versus “them”.
In the mid 1960’s the United States Supreme Court handed down an opinion which required the county to more equally reapportion the population in each of the six magisterial districts. To help accomplish this and to lessen the likelihood of future tie votes, the Board of Supervisors created a seventh district and named it Neabsco. It encompassed Marumsco Hills, Woods, Acres, Featherstone, Cardinal Drive, and Mr. Hylton’s newest offspring Dale City. This action necessitated the appointment of a seventh supervisor.
The circuit court appointed Mr. Francis Coffey, a long time resident, member of the Planning Commission, and developer of the rustic vacation home community of Country Club Lake which is now known as Montclair. Coffey, built like a bulldog, was a staunch rural conservative and defender of property rights who advocated limited government. He lived on Cardinal Dr. about one mile east of its intersection with Minnieville Rd. As my office was located near the courthouse, I began attending hearings in the supervisor’s chambers.
One such hearing in 1967 was to gather public input concerning the possible establishment of a county police department to relieve the sheriff’s department of law enforcement responsibilities. The rapid population growth was necessitating the retention of additional law enforcement personnel but the supervisors were becoming increasingly frustrated at the Virginia State Compensation Board’s, refusal to promptly approve and partially pay for, requested additions to the sheriff’s manpower allotment. Creation of a police department, while requiring complete funding by the county, would eliminate this source of frustration.
I was interested in the subject and wanted to know what my newly appointed representative thought about the proposal. I cannot be certain, but I think that I decided to stand for election when I heard his statement: “I don’t need any police department. I got all the protection I need - a german shepherd and a shotgun.”
(to be continued…)