Leesylvania

Woodbridge Travel Blog

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Neabsco Creek and marina

Susan had heard on the radio about an historical exhibit on the Underground Railroad that would take place at Leesylvania State Park over the weekend. That sounded like a made-for-Saturday mini-road trip outing. (The "Underground Railroad" was a loose system of safe houses and couriers that led escaping slaves from the Southern states  to Canada, where they could not be repatriated.)

Leesylvania State Park is located on the far side of Woodbridge, in neighboring Prince William County. It's a new park that opened in 1992. We had not been there before and, reading in advance about the history of the area, we knew it was a location we wanted to visit.

Neabsco Iron Works historical marker
Leesylvania was the name for the plantation where members of the Lee family lived in the 18th century. The Revolutionary War hero Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee was born there. The park encompasses much of the plantation along the Potomac River as well as Freestone Point.

And so, we followed Richmond Highway (U.S. Highway 1) down through Lorton, across the Occoquan River into Prince William County, and on down through Woodbridge, VA. Route 1 through Woodbridge is a crazy quilt of strip shopping centers, fast food, ethnic food (especially pupuserías), billboards, car dealerships, and auto care shops. It has its own vibrancy. Everything is in constant motion! The surroundings become more settled and suburban around Neabsco Creek.

Mill Wheel from nearby Taylor Mill
It was here that we turned down Neabsco Creek Road for the park.

The park entrance road loads across the length of the park to Powell's Creek and then doubles back to the Visitor Center and the recreation areas along the Potomac River. (It's big with boaters on the Potomac and there is a major boat launching area.) The Visitor Center was our initial focus. Inside, there was a wing of museum displays on the Leesylvania area. The exhibits traced the story of the indigenous peoples, English contact in the 16th century, the coming of the Lee family and the Leesylvania Plantation, the Civil War, and the period following the Civil War. Very interesting indeed. More local history I had not known about. OK, now where was that Underground Railroad exhibit? It was in the adjacent wing, typically used for park educational programs.

Civil War Sesquicentennial
The special exhibit was actually about the Underground Railroad Quilt Codes. The Quilt Codes are said to have been specific designs sewen into quilts to guide escaped slaves along a safe route to Canada. (The codes were secret, interpreted through oral traditions. Too, they were iconic references than could be followed by those who could not read.) The exhibit had a reproduction quilt "map" and an explanation of 15 quilt codes. Not too many escapes were noted at Leesylvania, though. Perhaps three slaves escaped between 1848 and 1861 and then more during the Civil War.

After our tour through the Visitor Center exhibits, it was time to explore more of the park. Susan and I headed aong the Potomac Trail towards Freestone Point. Saturday was very sunny and temperatures were warming up a bit! The path runs along the Potomac River shoreline.

Underground Railroad Quilt Codes exhibit
Along the path are several interpretive markers adding to the story of the Leesylvania area. Fishing was a major industry during the 19th century. The remains of fishery houses and large iron pulley wheel, used for pulling boats and nets out of the river, can be seen. At the point is a fishing pier for modern recreational fisher folk. There were several individual out for a day of fishing. We walked out on the pier. Due to a historical quirk going back to Maryland's royal charter of 1632, the whole of the Potomac River is in Maryland. (The state line is on the Virgina shoreline, not in the middle of the river.) So, technically, when you are standing on the fishing pier, you are in Maryland. There are even state line makers on the pier! The bright and clear day afforded a nice view across the river to Indian Head, Maryland, and back towards Freestone Point.
Interpretation of Quilt Codes

Susan and I then headed up to beginning of the Lee's Woods historical trail that goes up to the Freestone Point sandstone bluffs and then traces through the forest to the sites of the Lee and the later Fairfax plantation homes. We went up on the bluff to see the extant Civil War eathworks. (Following the Battle of Bull Run in July 1861, the Confederates established four gun empalcements on the bluff to try to blockade ships from reaching Washington, DC.) The 1861 earthworks are plainly visible and the site does offer a commanding view up and down the river.

We decided to save the hike to see the plantation home sites and family cemetery for another day, maybe in the spring.  We headed back to Woodbridge for an early barbeque dinner at Dixie Bones. 

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Neabsco Creek and marina
Neabsco Creek and marina
Neabsco Iron Works historical mark…
Neabsco Iron Works historical mar…
Mill Wheel from nearby Taylor Mill
Mill Wheel from nearby Taylor Mill
Civil War Sesquicentennial
Civil War Sesquicentennial
Underground Railroad Quilt Codes e…
Underground Railroad Quilt Codes …
Interpretation of Quilt Codes
Interpretation of Quilt Codes
Slave clothing worn on a plantation
Slave clothing worn on a plantation
Slave clothing worn in a townhouse
Slave clothing worn in a townhouse
Freestone Point
Freestone Point
Maryland State Line on the Freesto…
Maryland State Line on the Freest…
Virginia State Line on the Freesto…
Virginia State Line on the Freest…
View across the Potomac River to I…
View across the Potomac River to …
Potomac River from Freestone Point…
Potomac River from Freestone Poin…
Deer at Leesylvania State Park
Deer at Leesylvania State Park
Woodbridge Sights & Attractions review
History and recreation at Leesylvania State Park
Leesylvania Sate Park is a 542 acre wooded park along the Potomac River between Powells Creek and Neabsco Creek in Prince William County. The park inc… read entire review
Woodbridge
photo by: Andy99