Ordinarily, I like to avoid cities while I’m riding. Sometimes, there is a nice network of bike paths and trails which make the experience pleasant. Such is not the case with Manassas, a good-sized town about 15 miles from my house. I’ve cycled about 4,500 miles in the past 18 months, much of it in Prince William County, yet I have studiously avoided Manassas. The main reason for this is my aversion to being hit by large rolling metallic objects driven by people only vaguely aware of my existence. That and the fact that riding in cities can be tiresome, what with the constant stopping and starting at intersections.
Manassas is probably best known for being the site of the first major battle of the Civil War in 1861 and a second battle in 1862. The Union, as was their custom, named the battle after a nearby creek – Bull Run. The Confederates, following their tradition, went with the name of the nearest town – Manassas. Truth be told, there wasn’t much of a town here in 1861 – just a strategically important railroad intersection. The place was known as Manassas Junction until it became a town in 1873. Nowadays, it is part of the vast network of urban sprawl emanating from Washington, DC. It’s residents are primarily commuters who work in the city or nearby in Arlington, Crystal City, or the Pentagon. Fun Fact: John and Lorena Bobbit were from Prince William County and their trials took place in Manassas.
I was more interested in the Civil War history than the Bobbit trials, so I aimed for “Old Town,” a small strip near the railroad which still runs through the city. Nearby is a Confederate Cemetery, which I was interested in taking in as well.
I entered the city via Fairview Avenue and was pleased to see my strategy of timing my ride with a Washington Redskins game was paying off. Traffic was light and there was ample space for motorists to get by me without incident. I quickly made my way through a residential section and made it to the famed railroad line. I crossed the tracks and turned onto Quarry Drive, which would lead me to “Old Town.” All cities in this area have a historic district which is usually labeled “Old Town.” Here, city planners attempt to refurbish older areas which have fallen into an unsavory condition by trading off the historic nature of the place. Restaurants, souvenir shops, parks, etc… greet people who come to soak up the local ambiance. Old Town Alexandria is probably the most famous of these places. I quickly discovered Old Town Manassas has some work to do.
I was hoping to see some historic buildings, perhaps an old church (Quarry Road gave way to the encouragingly named Church Street) but nothing terribly exciting caught my eye. I was reminded of the fact that this was merely a railroad junction in the Civil War and no doubt life was hard on the people who lived in this war-torn part of the world for many years afterward. Constructing grand and (someday) historic buildings was probably not on their agenda. I did note with satisfaction that the streets were wide and nicely paved – a bonus when traveling in downtown areas.
On the western end of town lies the Confederate Cemetery, which I ducked into for a quick inspection. The land for the original cemetery was only an acre donated by a local resident. It has since grown to accommodate more recent burials, but the overall size is not imposing. USA flags at the civilian portion of the cemetery gradually give way to Confederate Stars and Bars, until one finds oneself standing beneath a 20 foot tall monument with a Confederate Soldier atop of it. About 250 Confederate soldiers killed in 1861-1862 are buried here. Surrounding burial plots with cast iron fences must have been the fashion at the time because there is a maze of these in this section of the cemetery. They and the aged grave markers definitely give the area a historic feel.
I made my way back via Center Street and crossed the railroad tracks again. A train station did double-duty as the city’s visitor’s center, which is only appropriate given the importance of the railroad junction to the town’s history. I pedaled past the Manassas Museum, which was a large building on nice grounds, and soon found myself where I began on Fairview Avenue. I noticed the Reformed Presbyterian Church and thought the architecture to be interesting. Later research has informed me that the building dates from 1879, when it was consecrated as the Catholic All Saints Church.
The ride home was a very pleasant fall ride, although as the sun dropped below the treeline the cooling temperatures made me glad to pull into my driveway. I managed to get by with a long sleeve base layer and some full finger gloves. I don’t think that will be sufficient for much longer. Winter riding is upon us. Here’s hoping for just a few more pleasant days before the onslaught begins in earnest.