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Fairfax County gets funds to preserve historically significant map marking Alexandria boundaries

Part of the West End annexation map (via Fairfax County)

A newly awarded grant will help the Fairfax County Circuit Court preserve some historical records dating back to the 18th century, including one map that laid out the battlefield in a small legal war between the county and Alexandria City.

The 4-foot-long, 3-foot-tall Alexandria Annexation Map was impossible to fully photograph in its entirety because of its rough shape, but restoration work should help clear it up, said Heather Bollinger, the historic records manager at the Fairfax County Historic Records Center.

Billinger said the unique map shows many of the Black communities throughout the West End, some of which date back to the aftermath of the Civil War. Some were scattered by racist city policies, like the Ford Ward community, which was converted into a park in the 1960s with little regard for where bodies were buried on the site.

“It was a snapshot of the 1950s,” Billinger said. “You can see where there were smaller communities setting up new neighborhoods, a lot of African American communities.”

Billinger said the maps are a testament to the communities that are now lost to history.

“The map itself is fascinating,” Billinger said. “What’s most interesting about it is: it’s a snapshot in time. What we see on this map is several communities owned by African Americans, like Dowden Terrace.”

Billinger said the maps of that area look very different today.

“Now, that area of Fairfax and Alexandria is heavily developed,” Billinger said. “This is what it looked like before that westward expansion. We don’t have many maps that show that westward expansion. The post-World War II major population explosion was just starting to happen…If you were to do an overlay of the map now, it doesn’t look anything like it did.”

The map came to the forefront of a legal fight in 1951 when Alexandria filed a lawsuit to annex the West End from Fairfax County, citing a need for extra territory and being in a better position to offer utilities to West End residents.

Billinger said similar lawsuits were the common method of sorting out issues of annexation and ceding territory. There was a similar case when the City of Fairfax sought autonomy from Fairfax County. Most of it comes down to who is in a better position to provide utility coverage, Billinger said.

The Fairfax County Circuit Court was awarded a grant for $22,419.50 that will also be used to preserve records related to deeds and land taxes.

In addition to being physically housed at the Historic Fairfax Courthouse, the records will be made available digitally through the circuit court’s online Court Public Access Network, a subscriber-based database that has records dating back to 1742.

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