Beautiful Fairfield

By Posted on Sep 28 2014 | By

Fauquier County manor house celebrates 200th anniversary

Virginia history is replete with scenic properties graced by memorable personages. One of the lesser known—but richly historical homes–is Fairfield, located in western Fauquier County.

There have only been 12 owners of the property since 1600; the property has not been flipped for quick profits over the ensuing centuries. Like the Commonwealth itself, stability is highly prized when it comes to Virginia legend and history.

Sunrise at Fairfield

Sunrise at Fairfield

The first owner of the property was Charles I of England, who held control over vast areas of land in the New World. In 1649, his son Charles II granted all the land between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers to Lord Culpeper and six other supporters. The grants included Fairfield.

Today, the current owner is Marriott International and the property has resized itself from hundreds of thousands of acres down to 4,200; a shadow of its former size but impressive nonetheless.

Story line
The land encompassing Fairfield is an artist’s palette of rolling pastureland. Seemingly it would have been the colonials who leveled the original dense forests to plant a variety of crops, most notably tobacco. But not so.

Centuries ago, Indian tribes of the Five Nations periodically burned off land in the area to create pasturage for deer, elk, buffalo and more. These natives were the Nation’s first land managers.

In 1608, Captain John Smith of Pocahontas fame traveled the interior of Virginia to where Fairfield is located. He was the first of numerous historical figures who walked, hunted or lived on the property in the ensuing four centuries.

George Washington fox hunted on the land, “The Gray Ghost”, Confederate John Mosby, periodically resupplied his rangers there, and at times the Quartermaster General of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia was headquartered on the property.

Robert Ford—“that dirty little coward that shot down Mr. Howard”—or Jesse James as he is more accurately remembered, was born in a log cabin not far from the manor house. The cabin’s stone chimney stands today as a silent reminder of the bucolic-to-violent times of the mid-to-late 1800s.

Marriott & Reagan

Marriott & Reagan

Fast forwarding to the 20th Century, presidents, governors, and statesmen were frequent guests of J. Willard Marriott. Marriott and President Reagan became fast friends and spent many weekends at the ranch horseback riding and enjoying their mutual love of the out-of-doors.

The house
The manor house at Fairfield was built in 1814 by James Markham Marshall, brother of the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall. John Marshall was the “Babe Ruth of the Supreme Court” having written or co-written over 1000 decisions.

The Marshall brothers, along with Raleigh Colston, paid $70,000 for 220,000 acres encompassing Fairfield after the Revolutionary War and divided the property into three separate ownerships with James taking possession of 80,000 acres.

The house was built in the Federal-style except for the roof. The hip roof reflects an Italian influence most likely due to the period that Marshall and his wife Hester spent in Europe. An east wing was added in the 1820s but the west wing was never built.

Bricks used in the home were a combination of ballast from ships coming from England and transported overland from Alexandria and those kilned on the property. Marriott Ranch General Manager, Lanier Cate said, “There is a huge carved out section of clay bank on the property that looks like it would have been the source to make the bricks.”

The rooms in the Manor House are twenty-five feet square, sixteen feet high with eighteen inch thick walls, making the house comfortably cool in an era predating air conditioning.

In September, the Marriott Ranch celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Fairfield manor house with a corporate celebration. Given the loving restoration devoted to the historic home, the celebration will commemorate its storied past and assured future. 


   J. Willard Marriott 

MarriottIn 1951, J. Willard Marriott and his wife Alice were seeking a getaway for the busy executive. At 53, he had already met with considerable success with more to come. The couple came upon Fairfield while driving the back roads of Fauquier County.

It was love at first gaze. Fairfield immediately reminded Marriott of his youth in rural Utah where as a young lad he herded sheep. At  age 14, his father entrusted him to take 3,000 head of sheep via railcar to the San Francisco market. The young entrepreneur never looked back.

Until he saw Fairfield.

While the landscape of pastoral Fairfield was stunning, the historic manor house was not. It had been unoccupied for over 30 years and was in severe disrepair with a badly leaking roof and the first floor serving as a grain silo. The grande dame was slowly slipping away.

But Marriott was not wearing his executive cowboy hat when he purchased the 4,200 acres and manor house. He called the property Marriott Ranch and for almost thirty years offered its hospitality to his many friends and associates. It was a family farm.

Marriott and his sons never attempted to turn the estate into a resort but have lovingly restored the historic home and maintained the property as a sheep and later cattle ranch. It’s been an investment of over a million dollars.

In the late 90s, the manor house was opened as a seven room bed and breakfast permitting the general public to enjoy its history and beauty.

Lanier Cate, general manager of the ranch says, “Fairfield is a working cattle farm and a historic home that J. Willard saved from decay and destruction.” Another owner could well have subdivided the land and razed the old home. But stewardship prevailed.

Today, Fairfield is a legacy of the Marriott family, a gift to Fauquier County and a treasure for the Nation.

Fairfield Manor House

Fairfield Manor House


Published in the Fall 2014 edition of inFauquier magazine.


Categories : HAGARTY TALES