Stafford, Virginia

Chatham Manor

Few houses in America have witnessed as many important events and hosted as many famous people as Chatham. Built between the years 1768 and 1771 by William Fitzhugh, this grand Georgian-style house overlooking the Rappahannock River was for many years the center of a large, thriving plantation


Native American Indians roamed and settled in the area known as Virginia centuries before the first documented Indian settlement in Stafford, Virginia. Indians lived here as early as 1,000 B.C., hundreds of years before Indian Princess Pocahontas and English Captain John Smith visited these shores. In 1647, the Brent family migrated to this area from Maryland to establish the first permanent English settlement. Stafford was officially organized in 1664.

By the early 1700s, Stafford had experienced a growth of farms, small plantations, gristmills and sawmills. Mining and quarrying became important industries. Iron works furnished arms for the American Revolution. Aquia sandstone, quarried in abundance, provided stone for the White House, the U. S. Capitol and trim for other public buildings and private homes. After the destruction of federal buildings in Washington by the British during the War of 1812, quarries were reopened for a short time to aid reconstruction. Gold mining became a leading industry in the southwestern section of Stafford in the 1830s.

With the arrival of the Richmond, Fredericksburg and the Potomac Railroad to Aquia Creek in 1842, Stafford became vulnerable to troop movements during the Civil War. Although Stafford was not the site of any major battles during the war, more than 100,000 troops occupied the area for several years, stripping the locality of its livelihood, farmland and vegetation. Families endured the loss of churches and private homes as they were used as impromptu hospitals. Valuable public and private records were

also lost.

Prosperity did not return until World War I, when the U. S. Marine Corps came to Quantico. At that time, Stafford was primarily agricultural, with the exception of fishing industries situated along the Potomac River. In World War II, the wide expansion of the Marine Corps base created new employment opportunities. A Civilian Conservation Corps (C.C.C.) camp was located in southern Stafford during this time.

In 1896, Professor Samuel Pierpont Langley launched a steam-powered airplane from a houseboat in the Potomac River off Widewater’s shore. These launches were the first instances of flight by a mechanical, heavier-than-air machine. Professor Alexander Graham Bell witnessed and certified the experiments with photographs and written documents.

Stafford County is very proud of its unique heritage and elected officials, staff and members of the community work hard to raise awareness of its many historical and natural resources. In July 2008, archaeologists working at the site of George Washington's childhood home at Ferry Farm in Stafford; announced that they had located and excavated the remains of the long-sought house where Washington was raised. Washington moved to Ferry Farm at the age of six, and lived there until the age of 19. The site is the setting of some of the best-known stories related to his youth, including the tales of a young Washington chopping down a cherry tree and throwing a stone across the Rappahannock River. The Stafford Tourism Office sponsors many events throughout the year to educate visitors and residents alike about Stafford County’s history. For more information, please visit the Tourism Office online at or call (540) 658-8681.


If you would like to know more about Stafford’s rich history, plan to attend the meetings of the Stafford Historical Society, which are held on the third Thursday of each month at the County Administration Center. Visitors are always welcome.