Falls Church history – Iroquois Indians, The Falls Church and Little Falls

The Falls Church during the Civil War

Picture from the 1860’s of The Falls Church. (Source: Mary Riley Stiles Public Library)

Where does the name Falls Church come from?
Taking its name from The Falls Church, an 18th-century Anglican parish, Falls Church gained township status within Fairfax County in 1875. In 1948, it was incorporated as the City of Falls Church, an independent city with county-level governance status. It is also referred to as Falls Church City.

Northern Virginia, before Europeans explored it, was firmly governed by the Iroquois Confederacy-—a consortium of Native American nations and peoples including the Tauxenents, Patawomekes, and Matchotics. Local inhabitants considered the Little Falls of the Potomac River as highly significant—it is the first “cataract”, or barrier, to navigation on the river.

The word “Potomac” is native American for “gathering place”. This reflected the fact that the river served as both a highway and location for trading.
The Colony of Virginia grew out of early European explorations, and English settlers may have established themselves at the site of modern-day Falls Church as early as 1699.

A cottage, called Two chimneys, was demolished between 1908 and 1914, two blocks from the city center, bore a stone engraved with the date “1699” set into one of its two large chimneys. At that time the cottage was about 25×55 feet with 3 chimneys, 4 rooms on ground floor and 3 rooms above. Foundation stones were dug up in 1972 at a site believed located near the intersection of the tobacco rolling roads in the 1700s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Chimneys). No colonial-era land grants or land records have been unearthed reflecting upon this first home, and its origin remains uncertain.
Indian trails meandered past the site of the “1699” cabin – an east-west one generally following the route of modern Broad Street, and one branching off from it to the Little Falls of the Potomac.

Little Falls is the end of a 10-mile stretch of rapids, falls, and swift water where the Potomac begins the transition from a free-flowing stream to a tidal estuary. At Little Falls (10 miles downstream from Great Falls), the tidal influence is actually felt. Little Falls is also the river’s “head of navigation,” meaning that ships cannot navigate the river any farther upstream. (source: http://www.riverexplorer.com/details.php4?id=541) This route is today’s Little Falls Street.

Image from around 1907 taken at intersection of Broad Street and Washington Street. (Source: Mary Riley Styles Public Library)

Image from around 1907 taken at intersection of Broad Street and Washington Street. (Source: Mary Riley Styles Public Library)

Just east of Falls Church, on Wilson Boulevard, is Powhatan Springs, where Powhatan is said to have convened autumn councils. By the 1730s these trails became important transportation routes. In 1734 The Falls Church—-as it came to be known—was founded at its present site adjacent to the intersection of the important Indian trails.

Two acres were purchased from John Trammell, a local landowner, and a carpenter named Richard Blackburn built a wooden church. This stood until 1769, when the present brick church was designed and built by architect James Wren. George Washington, the future president, kept the bricklayer at his home in Mount Vernon. Washington, along with George Mason—-the future author of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution-—was a church vestryman.

Originally called “the crossroads near Michael Reagan’s”, the site of the church first appears on a map dated 1747, and is labeled the “Upper Church”. It was also called “the church up at the falls”, and then eventually, The Falls Church.

Hard to imagine that our Route 7, such a busy road, often backed up, was just as busy of a route through time, dating back to the 1700s … busy with Indians traversing it for trade …
(source: mostly from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falls_Church )