In the past, there were three types of taverns.
There were the truck stops, called wagon stands, which catered to teamsters.
Then there were the I-25 rest stops of the day – the stage coach taverns about a dozen or so miles apart — where a fresh relay of six-team horses would be available, maybe two or four teams at each tavern. Imagine riding from Fairfax to Kings Dominion and stopping every 12 miles to change engines and have a brew.
Finally, there were the stage coach centers that stabled 40 to 80 horses. The when-are-we-going-to-get-there, Mom-I-have-to-go-to-the-bathroom places. Fredericksburg on the Washington-to-Kings Dominion run.
Dranesville Tavern was the first type, a wagon stand. The truck drivers of the day who weaved supply wagons through the Piedmont region of Northern Virginia would frequent it. In the early 1800s, western Virginia was evolving from frontier woods into farmland. Turnpikes, heavily promoted by the federal government during the War of 1812, connected eastern cities to those farms and brought supplies to the settlers. Georgetown and Alexandria were centers of commerce shipping supplies west and providing ports for the products returning from the Shenandoah Valley. Dranesville Tavern was superbly located along the route from those cities to Leesburg and points west.
The building itself is a good example of three distinct 19th century building periods. It was originally a two-story log house joined to a one-story log kitchen. There were more alterations around 1850 when the building was enlarged and modernized, notably with the addition of a second floor above the kitchen and porches. Sometime around 1893 the rear porch was enclosed, and the front porch was enlivened with turned posts and scroll-work brackets.
Dranesville’s start as a notable Fairfax County commercial and social center began sometime in the early 19th century. Archaeological investigation indicates the tavern was probably built around 1823-1830 and, most likely, by Sanford Cockerille, who had previously purchased the land. In 1852, the tavern and 12 acres of land around it were transferred to George W. Jackson, and the place was called The Jackson Hotel. Indications are it did quite well as a business until the railroads arrived. That same federal support of transportation on turnpikes during the War of 1812 evolved into support for transportation on rail, and by 1836 trains were beginning to carry people and goods on a line to Harper’s Ferry. It was a preview of what happened again in the mid-20th century. The Jackson Hotel found itself isolated on a two-lane highway watching cars zip past nearby on a new interstate highway. Still, there was enough business for the Jenkins family, which owned the tavern from 1881 to 1968. A railroad through Herndon led to the economic decline of Dranesville.
Dranesville Tavern’s nomination for the National Register of Historic Places says, “During George Jackson’s ownership at the time of the War Between the States, the tavern witnessed the flow of military activity which travelled the turnpike in support of the nearby battles. First and Second Manassas, the Battle of Ox Hill and the Battle of Dranesville all took place not far from the tavern.”
Jackson died shortly after the war, in 1868, and the tavern passed through a couple of other owners before being acquired by the Park Authority to prevent its destruction during a widening of the Leesburg Pike, Route 7. The tavern today does not sit on its original location. To preserve it, the building was moved about 100 feet south. Following its placement in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, Dranesville Tavern was restored. It opened to the public as a historic site in 1978.
The Fairfax County Park Authority acquired Dranesville Tavern in 1968 and restored it. It is located at 11919 Leesburg Turnpike in Herndon. More information is on the Dranesville Tavern website.
Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Resource Management Division.