This week I thought I’d share some historical information on a small town in Virginia that my sister and I visited called Occoquan. Today it is made up of quaint shops, residences and restaurants, but it has a long history.
The area was settled by the Dogue Indians who named it “Occoquan” meaning ‘at the head of the water’ or “at the end of the water.” Early in the 1600’s Capt. John Smith sailed and explored the Occoquan River.
By 1755 Occoquan was already noted as a major industrial town with forges, tolling mills, bake houses, saw mills, store houses, and dwellings.
Then in 1759 The Merchants’ Mill was built, which was one of the first fully automated grist mills in America. An iron works foundry was also in full operation, and it is thought that cannon balls and cannon were produced from this forge for the American Revolution.
|Dock on the Occoquan River|
1795 The Virginia General Assembly authorized a toll bridge to be built across the Occoquan River which became the main thoroughfare between Richmond and Washington D.C.
During the Civil War, Alexandria and Washington were blockaded and Occoquan was one of the last post offices in which mail could be sent between the north and south.
From the years 1850-60 Occoquan had the first commercial ice storage house in this area. River ice was harvested and stored for shipment in the summer to Washington D.C. (in 1917 reports indicate that ice on the Occoquan River was 26″ thick).
|Old Hammill Hotel
used as headquarters.
During the Civil War, the toll bridge and the cotton mill were burned by Union troops, and in 1861-62, General Wade Hampton of the Confederacy established winter quarters in the Hammill Hotel.
In the 1890’s, excursion boats brought Washington residents to Occoquan to enjoy the natural beauty of the river town. Traveling shows and circuses set up at the public wharf located at the end of Washington Street.
|Hammill Hotel is an apartment
Then in 1916, a major fire swept Occoquan and destroyed much of the town including the town jail, stables, Methodist Church and Alton Hotel. The nearest fire department in Alexandria took 43 minutes to arrive.
In 1972 another disaster hit. Hurricane Agnes flooded the town, destroying many of the buildings along the river’s edge.
Today Occoquan has been rebuilt and is full of great little shops and art galleries. It’s a perfect place to spend the day strolling, shopping and eating!
Later this week I’ll write about our visit to George Washington and Robert E. Lee’s church in Old Towne Alexandria and our trip to Mount Vernon.