How Downtown Manassas changed empty buildings into a regional entertainment destination

Hopkins Candy Factory under revitalization.
Fairfax Windows & Doors Before
The farmers market at Harris Pavilion in Downtown Manassas.
Changes in Downtown Manassas.
Changes in Downtown Manassas.

When people visit the farmer’s market at the Harris Pavilion or navigate the crowds during First Fridays, they are surrounded by a beautiful historic downtown, thriving businesses, and lots of friends and neighbors. It is hard to believe that just 30 years ago, the streets of historic Manassas were desolate, buildings were in disrepair, and almost half of the storefronts were empty and boarded up.

How did downtown turn around?

In 1985, a group of business owners, residents, and City leaders rallied. Determined to revive the heart of Manassas, they needed to lure businesses and customers back from the sprawling strip malls and shopping malls. A series of community meetings explored both problems and opportunities before crafting a vision for a vibrant, walkable downtown filled with restaurants, shops, arts, and a city square

To realize this vision, the City embraced the Main Street Four-Point Approach that was designed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to revive struggling historic downtowns. At this time, Historic Manassas Inc. (HMI) was born.

In 2003, HMI was nationally recognized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation for revitalization excellence. Downtown Manassas was held up as a model when it won a Great American Main Street Award for rehabbing 54 buildings, dropping the vacancy rate to zero, creating 350 new jobs, and spurring $12

million in private investment.

These successes are attributed to HMI’s strong public-private partnerships, committed vision, and volunteer support. Main Street programs like HMI rely on dedicated community members who volunteer on committees and the board of directors to help carry out its work together with staff.  

The Main Street Approach is also unique in that it tackles multiple problems throughout the community at once. Instead of relying on a single “white knight,such as a stadium or a company to save a community, Main Street rebuilds a downtown by leveraging its local assets like heritage, historic buildings, independent businesses, walkable streets, and events. Community projects and improvements are done incrementally

Gradual successes over time have made Manassas a place where people want to spend time and money again.

Downtown’s revitalization got a jump start in the 1990s when Virginia Railway Express started commuter service and the museum was built, which created an attraction for new visitors. Businessman Loy E. Harris sustained the momentum by restoring three historic buildings, including the 1906 Opera House. 

This motivated others to fix up their buildings, too, and new businesses began opening. Later, the community was given a place to gather when a vacant half-acre lot in the heart of downtown was transformed into the city square and an all-season pavilion, which was named after Harris.

HMI isn’t resting on its laurels; it continues to work in partnership with the City and local businesses to strengthen the downtown. It hosts a full calendar of events all year long and supports those produced by others

In September alone, the Historic Downtown Manassas Bridal Showcase will show off the local businesses that make Manassas a perfect wedding destination, while Bands, Brews & Barbecue turn the City into a regional entertainment destination. Manassasgrowing cluster of restaurants was made even stronger when the Battle Street enhancements created space for outdoor dining. And, excitement continues to grow with each new piece of public art, arts-oriented venue, and gallery.

Friends of the Occoquan to use $10,000 grant for rain barrels

The Friends of the Occoquan environmental group received a $10,0000 donation to educate the community about rain barrels.

The barrels are used to collect rain water and to help conserve water.

Deborah Johnson from Dominion Virginia Power presented a $10,000 check to Friends of the Occoquan President German (pronounced Herman) Venegas on Tuesday at the Prince William County Government Center.

Friends of the Occoquan (FOTO) provided more information about the rain barrels project, and how the organization will use the funds:

FOTO will utilize the funds requested for the continuation of our Rain Barrel Workshops and to introduce local groups and organizations within the Prince William and Fairfax Counties to the benefits of establishing food gardens.

Our target for this project will be the Prince William County Schools, civic associations, senior retirement centers and Spanish speaking organizations. Funds will also go to preparing videos and literature that will advertise, educate and inform the public on these two projects.

To date FOTO has had several Rain Barrel Workshops that have included the Prince William County School System. When FOTO does a school workshop the barrels we work on are donated to the school for their use.

Our first goal with this project is to continue to educate the public on the multiple benefits of using rain barrels for both gardening and redirecting water run off to promote water conservation and prevent erosion. Secondly, to encourage the establishment of home/community food based gardening that has a foundation as a water-conserving garden. By establishing these gardens community members can grow their own local food and have a healthier diet. 

With both these projects we hope to increase a sense of community ownership and stewardship to both our watersheds and rivers as well as the foods we eat.
FOTO will evaluate their success by:

1. Conducting at least 3 workshops
2. Installing at least 10 rain barrels
3. Establishing at least 2 home/community food-producing gardens
4. Making at least one video and broadcast it in local TV stations.

Woodbridge man faces pro chefs on NBC’s ‘Food Fighters’


Will Spencer is ready for a ‘food fight’.

Spencer, a Woodbridge resident and father of four, will be featured on NBC’s new cooking challenge show ‘Food Fighters’ on NBC on August 27 at 8 p.m.

“I’ve been cooking since I was about 14 – it’s been a passion throughout my life. In my family I’ve been the designated cook and barbecuer for a long time. Growing up in the area, I went away to college to play football and I came back and have been working in the area ever since, but I’ve never really given up that passion for food,” said Spencer.

The show pits Spencer against several well-known chefs in five rounds. If he can win all five rounds, he’ll receive $100,000.

“This show is really about that one dish that your friend or family member makes, that you truly believe is better than what anyone else can do. It’s taking the best home cooks, and their signature family recipes or signature dishing, and pitting them against professional chefs,” said Spencer.

According to Spencer, his cooking style is a fusion of soul food and Latin cuisine.

“I do classic soul food things like shrimp and grits, and smothered chicken and all of the slow cooked sides, but I also do a lot of fresh Latin food with plantains and mangoes and papaya. I like to work with seafood and right now I’m really trying to fuse those two culinary tastes together,” Spencer said.

While Spencer currently works as a personal trainer, he said that the show has pushed him to begin his culinary career.

“This Food Fighters opportunity has really kind of jumpstarted my passion…I’ve been working in fitness and doing meal prep. So my culinary background has been preparing meals for people to get in shape…I’ve been doing with the personal training and now I’m looking at expanding that,” said Spencer.

Midtown Men coming to Hylton Center Sept. 19

From the bright lights of Broadway, The Midtown Men bring the swinging sounds of the Sixties from Manhattan to Manassas. Featuring four debonair and supremely talented showmen from the original cast of Broadway’s Tony Award-winning musical, “Jersey Boys,” The Midtown Men appear at the Hylton Performing Arts Center for the first time on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015 at 8 p.m.

In this spectacular concert, Tony Award winner Christian Hoff, Michael Longoria, Daniel Reichard and Tony Award nominee J. Robert Spencer share their musical magic performing chart-toppers by The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Motown artists and, of course, The Four Seasons. These charismatic charmers shared the Broadway stage for more than a thousand performances and now you can see their energetic choreography, hear their impeccable harmonies and experience their legendary chemistry in this celebration of the music that defined a decade. “Authenticity is the core of this musical brotherhood … The Midtown Men sound as crisp as their Rat Pack-inspired suits!” (New York Daily News)

Following their historic three-year run on Broadway in “Jersey Boys,” these four gifted entertainers began their next chapter as The Midtown Men, becoming the first vocal group ever formed by the principal cast of a high-profile Broadway show. They have since rocked performing arts centers and symphony halls from coast to coast, and delighted television audiences with appearances on “The Today Show” and “The Late Show with David Letterman,” as well as their recent live concert special on PBS filmed at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. The group’s self-titled debut album, “The Midtown Men: Sixties Hits” and recent live album and companion DVD, “The Midtown Men: Live in Concert!” were met with critical acclaim. The Midtown Men also had the opportunity to collaborate with legendary producer, musician, actor and Sirius-XM Radio host Steven Van Zandt on the group’s first radio single, a new arrangement of the holiday classic “All Alone on Christmas” featuring members of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band; all proceeds went to the American Red Cross following the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.

Ticket Information: Tickets for The Midtown Men are $54, $46 and $32 per person. Family Friendly: performance suitable for families with children. Tickets are half price for children and youth through grade 12. Tickets available at the Hylton Performing Arts Center ticket office, by phone at 888-945-2468, or online at The Hylton Performing Arts Center is located on George Mason University’s Prince William Campus at 10960 George Mason Circle, Manassas, Va., 20110. Ticket office hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Free parking is available in the lot next to the Hylton Center. The Midtown Men is not a performance of, not affiliated with the show “Jersey Boys.”

For more information, please visit Like the Hylton Center on Facebook at and follow on Twitter and Instagram at @Hylton_PAC.

Sudley Tower stair climb to honor 9/11 fallen firefighters


Firefighters and residents will climb the stairs of Sudley Tower to remember those who died on September 11, 2001.

The 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb will hold an event at the 9-story office tower on Sudley Road outside Manassas. Each participant in the stair climb will climb the equivalent of the 110 stories of the World Trade Center in New York City that was destroyed.

The event also pays homage to the 343 firefighters killed in the terrorist attack 14 years ago.

The event is free to attend for food and fellowship, and individual stair climbers can register for $35 each.

Check in for the event begins at 8 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. The stair climb runs from 9 a.m. to noon.

Sudley Tower is located at 7900 Sudley Road near Manassas.

Memorial stair climbs are also planned in Richmond, Roanoke, and Ocean City, Md.  

J.T., 8, rides again for free at Prince William County Fair


Eight-year-old J.T. wasn’t much into roller coasters.

He came with his mother and father to the Prince William County Fair last year and was scared of just about every ride on the midway — from the “Scrambler” the Ferris Wheel.

This year, things are different. This year, he rode everything more than once — for free — and cried when the Ferris Wheel closed for the night.

“He talked about it the whole next day saying ‘Mommy, Daddy, I ride…” said Kristin Ashmore, of Manassas, J.T.’s mother.

J.T. has suffered from a heart defect that required him to have open-heart surgery at eight-months-old. He also has Down Syndrome.

Doctors said J.T. wouldn’t enjoy some of the same activities of his peers, said Ashmore.

J.T. rode a roller coaster at the fair August 16 and loved it. Ashmore posted a photo of her son on the ride to the fair’s Facebook page.

Then, an anonymous donor bought an all-you-can-ride wristband for the family so they could come back and ride again.

On Wednesday, J.T., mom, dad and sisters Kaitlyn 5, and Destiny, 6, came back to the fair.

“We didn’t think we were going to have the money come back,” said Ashmore. “This was really nice, and we didn’t expect it.”

J.T. hugged everyone at the front gate where he picked up his wristband, and then he went to ride the attractions.

The annual Prince William County Fair ends today.

Travel Channel airing program on Manassas Battlefield tonight

[Photo: Prince William County Government]

Get ready to tune in to the Travel Channel tonight.

Tonight at 9 p.m. the Travel Channel will be airing an episode of ‘Mysteries at the Monument’, which features the Manassas National Battlefield.

Each episode looks at a location or a monument and explores the history and stories behind it, according to the show’s host Don Wildman.

“Manassas National Battlefield – site of the great battle of Bull Run, if you’re a Yankee – Manassas if you’re Southern…The story is really a question about ‘How does this happen’ so early in this war, when the Union just thought it would trounce the Confederates. How did the opposite happen at Manassas? This [episode looks at] the story behind that battle, which is so important, because it kind of launched the rest of the long war,” said Wildman.

According to Wildman, there’s a lot more to the story of what happened at the Manassas Battlefield, than a tourist visiting might hear about.

“We look at these complex stories that are behind the scenes, like what happened at Manassas Battlefield, and that’s the point behind this show. There’s always more than meets the eye,” Wildman said.

Wildman shared memories about visiting battlefields, including Manassas National Battlefield, growing up.

“I used to go to battlefields all the time as a kid, and [Manassas] was one of the big ones we went to…that’s the real value of the show for me. That families of all ages watch these stories together and it takes me back to that experience,” said Wildman.

Prince William County Fair fans love demolition derby

Demolition derby at the Prince William County Fair [Photo: Mary Davidson]
Demolition derby at the Prince William County Fair [Photo: Mary Davidson]
Demolition derby at the Prince William County Fair [Photo: Mary Davidson]
Demolition derby at the Prince William County Fair [Photo: Mary Davidson]
Demolition derby at the Prince William County Fair [Photo: Mary Davidson]
Demolition derby at the Prince William County Fair [Photo: Mary Davidson]
Demolition derby at the Prince William County Fair [Photo: Mary Davidson]
Demolition derby at the Prince William County Fair [Photo: Mary Davidson]

“Protect your front.”

It’s the one phrase nearly every demolition derby driver will tell you here at the Prince William County Fair.
It was “4-cylinder” night at the fair — a chance for bold and the brave drivers to get into their stripped down small sedans, get out into the mud in front of the fair’s grandstand, and start slamming their cars into others.

The goal for these demolition derby drivers: stay in the heat as long as possible. Sometimes, that’s easier said than done.

“I try to last the whole time. But sometimes you can get hit in 30 seconds, and you can be out,” said J.R. Martin, of Manassas Park.

Martin drove a 2001 Toyota Corolla in derby. The car’s interior was stripped of nearly everything except for a steering wheel.

Erik Skiff mounted several “GoPro” video cameras inside the car to capture Martin behind the during the heat. Skiff wanted to broadcast the video live to the web during the event, but the technology isn’t quite there yet. He’ll edit the video and put it online to share with others.

The 211 car in the derby was 2000 Chevrolet Cavalier driven by David Carr, of Spotsylvania. It was his first time.
“I’m doing this because it’s a new experience, and for the adrenaline rush,” he said.

Once the derby got underway in front of hundreds cheering fans, it was hard to keep track of who was hitting who. Dust flies up and partially blocked the view of some cars, while others were pushed together in a mound of twisted metal.

When it was all over, most cars were picked up and carried out of the arena by forklift. Other cars– some missing a single wheel — were backed out of the ring under their own power.

J.R. Martin took home the win in the derby.

Drivers said they have some bumps and bruises the next morning. But its the fun of the experience that keeps them coming back for more.

“The first hit is scary, but after that you’re good to go from there,” said Eric Jenkins, of Woodbridge.

Art society on exhibit at Manassas City Hall

The Prince William Art Society is exhibiting art work at Manassas City Hall.

The exhibition will run from August 17 to September 28, according to a city release.

More from a Manassas release.

The Prince William Art Society is a non-profit organization that offers its members an online gallery, shows, workshops, field trips and other art related activity. They support the development of artistic talent with an annual arts competition and scholarship program. More information about the Prince William Art Society and their programs is available

Exhibits in The Hall rotate on a monthly basis and include different forms of visual art. Visiting The Hall is free and open to the public from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and later when evening meetings are held in the building.

‘Little Bits’ of art appear in Downtown Manassas

Art pops up in Downtown Manassas.
Art pops up in Downtown Manassas.
Art pops up in Downtown Manassas.

Little Bits of art are popping up all over Historic Downtown Manassas.

There’s a stylized snake coiled around electrical conduit painted by local artist Michelle Frantz near the newly opened Center Street Gourmet Wine and Cheese store on the corner of West and Center Streets.

A steel door on the rear of City Hall was painted in Trompe-L’oeil style to represent a lion head fountain by commission artist Stephen Morales and adjacent individual bricks have been painted by local artists including gallery owner Mary Reilly.

In front of Downtown favorite Okra’s restaurant is a fire hydrant stylistically rendered as a Dalmatian from Manassas Fire Company 501 by artist and gallery owner Mike Flynn.

Near CutRate Barbershop, a veteran owned business across Center Street from Carmello’s and Monza’s, is a sidewalk bench converted into an American Flag by City Economic Development Director Patrick Small and Michelle Frantz.

These are a just few of the completed and in-progress projects that are laying the groundwork for the City to attract artists from across the region to express their creativity using public infrastructure and private buildings as their canvass.

Manassas is seeking local artists who have an interest in contributing to the work going on Downtown. A local ad hoc committee comprised of City officials, artists and citizens has plenty of ideas about potential projects. These include painting utility boxes, light poles and tree grates.

“But we are really looking for artists to propose projects to us” says Manassas Economic Development Director Patrick Small. “Creativity and inspiration are some of the unique traits artists possess. I want people interested in participating to walk around Historic Downtown and develop their own ideas.”

Proposals must be submitted as a rendering or in descriptive enough a manner that the committee can visualize the project and the artist must identify the piece of infrastructure and the types of materials that will be used.  

Initially the committee has focused on small projects (#LittleBits) but hopes to expand into promoting murals and sculpture soon. Because Downtown is officially designated as an historic district, painting murals on buildings requires specific standards and a more official review process.

Manassas has an architectural review board that will consider ways to allow building owners to do this. While they can be complicated to produce, murals are really just paintings and do not affect the historic integrity of the structures.

This type of art is considerably more involved from a time and materials perspective so while there may be some artists willing to undertake a project using their own resources, generally murals are commissioned works. The committee hopes to identify businesses, building owners and donors willing to commission these works.  

Visit or contact Patrick Small at to learn how to participate.

Dinosaurs take over Prince William County Fair


Children and adults can take a step back into pre-historic times at the Prince William County Fair.

“Jurassic Kingdom” is a new stage show at the fair this year. It tells the story of three baby dinosaurs — a Pterodactyl, a Triceratops, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex — and how the reptiles lived in their time on earth.
The show has a mixture of childrens’ and adult humor. Children are also invited to come up and touch fossils during the show.

“We’ve always been fascinated with dinosaurs and pre-historic times…” said Kala Colonia, who is part of the stage show. “There are so many dinosaurs, and so many ages: ice age, pre historic era, the ocean had many, many dinosaurs, the land had many, many dinosaurs, so there’s just a lot to see and do.”

The dinosaurs are all operated by people, so there’s no animatronics here. Having a human inside the dinosaur makes it come to life.

Also appearing on stage during the show is a caveman on a trampoline and a comedy acrobat routine, added Colonia.

There are two “Jurassic Kingdom” shows each night at the fair: one at 5:30 p.m. and the next at 7:30 p.m. The show is free with gate admission.

“Jurassic Kingdom” is performed at fairs and venues between Florida and Virginia between February and November each year. This year marks its first appearance at the Prince William County Fair.

Animals to adopt at Stafford County SPCA

Trinity and Bitsy

Roscoe is a 1 year old, lovable beagle mix who loves playing with other dogs and spending time with people, both indoors and out. Roscoe is looking for a new forever home because his former owners had to give him up when a serious illness struck their family. He is house-trained, crate-trained, neutered, microchipped, and UTD on vaccines. He is currently in a foster home, waiting for his forever family to come along!
Trinity is a 2 year old, black Bombay mix kitty that arrived at our shelter with 7 kittens. Bitsy is the last of Trinity’s litter, is approximately 13 weeks old, and is a “mini-me” of her mother. They both have heartbreakingly sweet personalities, and we would love to see them go home together! Trinity is UTD on all vaccines, spayed, and microchipped. Bitsy is UTD on all kitten vaccines.

-Information provided by the Stafford SPCA. Contact them for more information on any of the animals shown above. 

Get your goat at the Prince William County Fair

Animals at the Prince William County Fair
Animals at the Prince William County Fair
Animals at the Prince William County Fair
Animals at the Prince William County Fair

Livestock goes hand in hand with county fair.

Farmers from around the region bring their animals to the Prince William County Fair to be judged. Everything from beef and dairy cattle, chickens, hogs, and dairy goats just to name a few are a part of the open agriculture contest at the fair.

The animals are housed in the stables, which allow fairgoers to walk up and view them. Some come to the fair to look at these animals for the first time.

“Their pupils are like rectangles,” said Darius, 13.

Standing at the goat stables, he was admiring the calm animals.

“Do they bite?” he asked. “I thought they would be more aggressive.

Alongside him was his 17-year-old friend Aqui.

“I’ve never been around animals like these before. I”m also going to see some pigs while I’m here, and that will be my first time doing that,” said the Manassas Park teenager.

There are several kinds of goats at this year’s fair. Nubian goats with their large ears and noses. There are also goats with no ears, and Nigerian-breed goats that are as about as tall as an adult’s knee cap.

“I’m around goats all the time,” said Amanda Lohr, of Rhodesville, Va.

Lohr and her husband have about 70 goats at this year’s fair. The feed them twice a day with a mixture of grains, corn, and proteins.
Milk from these goats is used in everything from soaps to foods.

“I have eczema really bad, but I use soap made from goat’s milk and it clears right up,” said Lohr.

Goat milk is also a popular alternative for people who cannot drink milk from cows.

“A lot of people cannot digest cow milk,” said Lohr. “Sure [goat milk] has got a lot of butter fat in it, but it is easier for some people to digest.”

‘Neighborhood’ coffee shop coming to downtown Manassas


There’s a new coffee shop coming, across from the train station in downtown Manassas.

Jirani Coffeehouse, located on 9423 West Street, is named after the Swahili word for neighborhood.

The goal for the owners is for Jirani to be a local hang out spot that’s much more than a coffee shop, according to store manager Connie Mosemak.

“We’re just people who really thought the community could use a coffee house that wouldn’t be just a coffee house – it would be a community center. It would be a place for people to gather, it would be for people to be comfortable and calm – where we’d have live music,” said Mosemak.

Mosemak said that they to offer band and open mic nights with their full stage, a projector screen for film screenings and a space in the middle of the shop called the ‘Bean Box’ that can be rented out for meetings and events.

“You have work that you go to all the time, you have home when you’re not at work – but this would be a ‘third’ space that you can feel comfortable in,” Mosemak said.

Jirani is getting their coffee from One Village Coffee, a company based out of Philadelphia, and their food from two local bakeries – Pies and Petals and Wow Bakery.

“It’s really important for us to try and support local businesses,” said Mosemak.

On the menu, they’re planning to offer a range of coffee beverages, breakfast foods, sandwiches, desserts and pastries. They’re also planning to incorporate gluten free items and organic ingredients into the menu, according to Mosemak.

Jirani Coffeehouse is set to open at the end of September.

Prince William County Fair opens

Prince William County Fair
Prince William County Fair
Prince William County Fair
Prince William County Fair
Prince William County Fair

The Prince William County Fair opens for its 2015 run tonight.

This is the 66th year for the county fair, which offers a little something for everyone — from carnival rides, animals, music, to demolition derby in the grandstand.

The runs Aug. 14 to 22 at the Prince William County Fairgrounds at 10624 Dumfries Road in Manassas. Everyone gets into the fair for $6 for opening night August, 14, 2015.

Here are the prices and special dates for the remainder of the fair:

General admission: $10
Child (ages5-13) and seniors (ages 60 or older) $6
Half-price day is Monday, Aug. 17, child/seniors $3 and adults $5
Tuesday is $2 admission, $2 per ride (no wristbands)
All ladies admitted free Wednesday, Aug. 19
All veterans admitted free Thursday, Aug. 20
Active duty military admitted free daily
There are several new attractions to the fair this year:

Welde’s Big Bear Show
Jeff Robbins Mountain Music
Ackmonster Chainsaw Artist
No-Joe’s Clown Circus
Jurassic Kingdom
Comedian Reggie Rice

The home arts exhibits are always popular at the Prince William County Fair. It’s where anyone can bring produce they’ve grown at home, food, and crafts into be judged. Prizes are awarded for everything from best-looking produce, best photography, best canned good, to tastiest jelly.

“The home arts department is a dying breed, especially here in Northern Virginia. It’s something that is truly unique to a county fair,” said spokeswoman Chrissy Taylor.

Some of the fair’s largest attractions — tractor pull, demolition derby, and “bulls ‘n barrels” show — will be featured in the grandstand and are free with admission.

Fair organizers listed this year’s events for the 10-day run.

Controversial Virginia family subject of Manassas Museum exhibit

UntitledManassas wants to talk about the Carter family.

In their newest exhibit, ‘New World Aristocracy: The Carters of Virginia’, which opens on August 15, the Manassas Museum wants to highlight an important family in America’s history.

According to a city release, the free exhibit is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. until December 31.

More from a Manassas release:

The Carter family was among America’s first millionaires and emancipators. They lived amid a swirl of controversy and extreme wealth worthy of reality TV. Their Virginia backyard included half a million acres in the 1700s and 1800s, but they left a lasting impact on much of Virginia.

“Everyone that lives in this area today lives on land that was once owned by a member of the Carter family,” said Manassas Museum Curator Mary Helen Dellinger.  To see exactly what land the family owned, the exhibit will feature a map of Carter properties overlaid on a modern day map of area neighborhoods.

“A lot of these Carter storylines connect present-day neighborhoods,” said Prince William County Historic Site Operations Supervisor Rob Orrison. “Most people are amazed at how much land the Carter family owned around here.”

Liberia Plantation, Ben Lomond House, and Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg are among the properties built by Carter family members.  In addition to vast land holdings, the Carter reach extended to Virginia’s cultural life.

“There’s a history here that goes back centuries, one that touches on slavery, politics, religion, trade and architecture,” Dellinger says. Robert “Councillor” Carter III, the grandfather of Liberia’s owner Harriet Weir, was a particularly colorful member of the family, best known for gradually freeing nearly 500 of his slaves, and leaving the Church of England to become an evangelical Christian.

One of the artifacts on loan from Oatlands Historic House and Gardens is a book from Carter III’s collection, The Doctrine of the New Jerusalem Concerning The Lord, which may explain his break with the Anglican Church. “This, coupled with his manumission of his slaves, paints him as somewhat of a radical running around in the Northern Neck during the late 18th century,” Dellinger says. “One wonders what his neighbors thought.”

Gathering artifacts and images for the exhibit proved to be a challenge since so few of the Carter family possessions still exist and so many of their homes no longer stand. “To visit this exhibit and see these objects and images is to try to connect to the very place in which you live, where a few families of wealth and power once dominated the social, political and business landscape and forged a beginning for the place we call home,” Dellinger explains.

Orrison and colleague Bill Backus were inspired to create the exhibit when they visited and led tours to Christ Church, the Carter family church in Virginia’s Northern Neck, where the Carter legacy is especially visible. Historic Christ Church is loaning Robert Carter III’s writing desk and bottle pieces with Carter’s seal for the exhibit.

“People who love history will enjoy so many rare things on exhibit,” Orrison says. “But even people who don’t like history will enjoy the story.”

Manassas, Prince William vie for more weddings

harris pavilion wedding

Calling all brides to Harris Pavilion.

Manassas will host its first-ever bridal show underneath the popular destination. It’s the same spot where city employee Thomas Joyce wed his sweetheart Ashley Thiesing on live TV July 31.

It’s the next move for a city that is working to market itself as a wedding destination.

“The Harris Pavilion is a great wedding venue with the trademark Virginia LOVE sign hanging behind it. The Manassas Museum Lawn is also ideal for a large outdoor wedding (when Liberia Plantation is finished with restoration, it is another option for outdoor weddings). The Center for the Arts at the Candy Factory is another unique wedding venue for a smaller, more intimate wedding,” said Historic Manassas, Inc. spokeswoman Brittany Bowman.

The show on Sunday, Sept. 6 will feature local businesses like caterers, shops with unique wedding gift ideas, wedding dress boutiques, and spas. While most bridal shows are held in spring, organizers of the Manassas show wanted to take advantage of the still-warm September weather in hopes it will help bring out brides to be.

“We are hoping to attract recently engaged women who plan on getting married in the next 18 months searching for an authentic wedding,” said Bowman.

The city hopes to make the bridal show an annual event, she added.

Prince William County is also in the wedding business, of sorts. The county’s Historic Properties Division manages some of the most historic sites in the region, like the county’s first courthouse at Bristow, to the 18th-century tobacco plantation, and the oldest house ni Prince William County, Rippon Lodge.

“Our sites give people the option of an affordable location that has a great history, scenery, and originality. All of our sites are over 100 years old and have defined this community,” said historic properties spokesman Rob Orrison.

Open flames aren’t allowed in the historic buildings, but, surprisingly, alcohol is, with the proper permits. Users may visit the county’s website to reserve a historic and read a list of freqeuntly asked questions.

Manassas a magnet for creative, performing arts

Manassas is a regional art destination
Manassas is a regional art destination

The Arts and Tourism District is in Historic Downtown Manassas.

Manassas already boasted the renowned Center for the Arts where visual and performing arts are taught, practiced and displayed as well as the highly regarded local studios and galleries, Creative Brush and ArtBeat. But local artists and community leaders wanted more.

The city council has a vision for Manassas to become known as an arts and cultural center in Northern Virginia, and beyond.

Last year the city converted the hallway on the first floor of City Hall into an art gallery aptly named “The Hall at City Hall.” The gallery has featured paintings, photographic art and works by local art students at Osborn High School and changes artwork every six weeks so there are regularly new displays.

Another example is the banner art displayed on light poles throughout Historic Downtown. The juried competition attracted artists from throughout the Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia. Sixty of the more than 130 entries were transformed into public art that is on display seasonally until winter.

Historic Manassas Inc., the city’s Virginia Main Street Program, oversaw the project and intends to repeat it annually. The top -ranked submission, as judged by a panel of professional artists, received a $1,000 cash prize and at the end of the season one artist will be awarded the “People’s Choice” prize of $500. Ballots for this are included in a brochure describing each piece and available at the City’s visitor center in the historic train station adjacent to the municipal parking garage.

But it’s not all just about the visual arts.

Manassas also boasts the second largest ballet company in Virginia. The work of the Manassas Ballet Theater is recognized in the national and international press.

This attention helps contribute to Manassas becoming known as a regional arts and tourist destination. Further, Manassas worked closely with George Mason University, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Prince William County to bring the Hylton Performing Arts Center from dream to reality. The city continues to provide support to ensure the performing arts venue remains an asset for the citizens of Manassas and the surrounding area as well as attracting visitors.

There are many other local performing and visual arts groups and businesses in the city too numerous to mention in this article; all of which exist to teach, promote or display the vibrant culture of this historic yet modern city.

Renovations underway at El Gran Charro

el gran charro

After 10 years, it’s time for a change.

El Gran Charro inside the Town Center at Aquia closed its doors to remodel on Aug. 3. Inside the eatery on Aug. 10, a team of workers worked in a dimly lit room working on the ceiling.

It’s a complete renovation for the restaurant that sits just off Route 1 in Stafford County. When it’s done, the bar will sit in the middle of the restaurant, and new tables and chairs will be positioned on both sides of the restaurant.

The bar had been located on the right side of the restaurant, and that made some customers who sat on the left side of the eatery a bit lonely.

“[When the left side began to empty out] customers thought they were the last ones in the restaurant, and that we were about to close,” said owner Jose Gallardo.

As in most cases, there were more people sitting at the bar on the other side of the restaurant, they just couldn’t see them. The new floor plan will make the eatery more open and inviting, said Gallardo.

The renovations to El Gran Charro are happening as it appears work on the surrounding town center could finally begin. A new plan announced this spring indicates new commercial buildings and apartment homes could be built at Town Center at Aquia.

Stores closed, and buildings were demolished here in 2007, and the property has remained largely untouched since then. El Gran Charro has been located inside the town center or a decade.

“The finished shopping center is going to help a lot,” said Gallardo.

El Gran Charro will reopen its doors with a few new menu items. Seafood dishes and some new appetizers are the main new additions.

The renovations should take about two weeks to complete.

“I thought [this project] was going to be a smaller thing… but it turns out we’ve made a bigger mess than we thought,” joked Gallardo.

Chuy’s Tex-Mex replaces Macaroni Grill in Woodbridge

chuys tex mex

Think of it like a Mexican diner.

Chuy’s will open in the old Romano’s Macaroni Grill on Prince William Parkway in Woodbridge. Construction crews since last week have been working on getting rid of the makings of the old Italian restaurant to make way for the new Tex-Mex eatery.

Coined from a nickname people use for Jesus, the Austin, Texas-based Chuy’s has been opening new restaurants across the east cost. They opened their first one in Austin in 1982. The company opened its first Chuy’s outside Texas in 2009 and has been expanding ever since.
The company is expanding in Northern Virginia.

“We opened two restaurants, one in Fairfax and the other in Springfield, and they’re doing very well,” said Kianne Hilburn, a company spokeswoman. “Woodbridge was the obvious next step.”

The restaurant prides itself on using fresh, never frozen ingredients. The prices are more like something you would find in a traditional diner, said Hilburn. The most expensive item on the menu is the fajitas for about $15.

Patrons will also find silverware rolls, and funky wall decorations, much like you would find in a diner, when Chuy’s opens, said Hilburn.

The new Chuy’s in Woodbridge will open next door to another already popular chain Mexican restaurant — On the Border. On many nights when Macaroni Grill was still open, the parking lot at On the Border was packed with cars while fewer cars were parked outside the Italian joint.

“We consider ourselves to be different from On the Border simply because we are authentic tex-mex,” said Hilburn.

Chuy’s gets all of its recipes from border towns along the Rio Grande River between Texas and Mexico. It’s not clear when the new eatery will open, but the company hopes to open its doors before the end of 2015, said Hilburn.

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