Most people zooming across the Occoquan River on Route 123 or driving south on interstate 95 aren't thinking about the history of our area. Yet hidden among all of the mega subdivisions and marinas on the Occoquan River in Prince William County is the historic Town of Occoquan.
The town's history can be traced back to the indigenous Native American Dogue Indians who inhabited much of the Occoquan River area. The Town of Occoquan growth as a settlement began in the 18th century as a mill town. It was prospering by 1765 with a grist mill, tobacco warehouses and foundry. As one of the high water points of the Occoquan River at the time, Occoquan became not only a successful commercial area it also attracted weekend tourists from DC who came to stay at the Rockledge Hotel.
The town was officially established in 1804 and the streets and neighborhood lots were officially laid out. By the mid 1850's there were 50 homes and business, including the first commercial ice storage warehouse. By the beginning of the 20th century the town was in its heyday. With hotels, theater, shops and a wharf where ships could dock the town was a social center for the area.
Tragedy struck in 1919 when much of the town burned down. By then the river had begun to develop a layer of silt that made it impossible for larger ships to get to the wharf. As with many of the small towns in Virginia a new railroad bridge and road construction moved the Town of Occoquan off the direct path of traffic. With the flooding from Hurricane Agnes in 1972 the town could have been wiped completely off the map.
However the town came back and today is a great place to visit historic buildings, eat and shop. Last fall the Washington Business Journal put the Town of Occoquan on its list of places to watch. Twice a year thousands of people flock to the town for the Occoquan Arts and Crafts Fair. An active merchants association helps business in town and the Mayor of Occoquan, Ernie Portia sends out regular newsletter updates about events in the town.
One thing that the Town of Occoquan offers that you won't find in any of the neighboring communities in Prince William County is GHOSTS! As you can imagine a historic town is bound to have a few residents who like it so much that just never want to leave. The town offers ghost tours throughout the year. If you are looking for a break from the usual malls and madness in Prince William County then make sure you stop and enjoy the historic Town of Occoquan.
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