Suburban Archaeology 2 : The Gap Line

Centreville Travel Blog

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Cub Run Stream Valley Trail
Sunday was a beautiful warm and sunny fall day with the leaves beginning to show reds, yellows, and oranges. It would be sandwiched between a rainy Saturday and a cool and overcast Columbus Day Holiday on Monday. So, it was time to get out and hit the trail with camera in hand. Destination? I thought I'd try another exercise in suburban history exploration. This time I'd follow remnants of the never completed Independent Line of the Manassas Gap Railroad in Fairfax County and Prince William County and see a bit of the Manassas National Battlefield Park while I was at it.

Background to this expedition: In the 1850's, the Manassas Gap Railroad planned to build a extension of its line to the port of Alexandria, Virginia.
Independent Line historical marker
At that time the railroad ran from the Shenandoah Valley through Thoroughfare Gap (described in my blog on Chapman's Mill) to Manassas, Virginia, where it connected with the Orange & Alexandria Railroad. However, if it built its own "Independent Line" to Alexandria, it could eliminate the middle man connection and the expense of transferring goods and railcars to the competition. However, it was not to be. Construction began, extensive railway cuts and fills were driven across 25 miles of right-of-way, and bridges were started. But, the project ran out of money and track was never laid along the right-of-way. The coming of the Civil War put a final end to it. After the war, the MGR and O&A merged and both lines operate today as part of Norfolk Southern, carrying freight and Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express passenger trains. (Even if the extension had been completed to Alexandria, I doubt it would be in operation today.
Unfinished stone bridge abutment (ca. 1857)
)

I planned to start my exploration by looking for an 1850s stone bridge abutment that I'd seen in photos. This was to have been a bridge to carry the railway line over Cub Run in western Fairfax County. I could hike along Cub Run trail to find it. Finding the trailhead was a challenge. It lay in a suburban neighborhood in Centreville, but where? [Centreville in Fairfax County, not the one displaying on the TravBuddy map!!]  I ended up using the Google Maps satellite view to locate the stone bridge in the stream valley and then calculating where I could park to pick up the trail best reach it. Getting there involved driving through many streets until I could park at the right cul-de-sac. From there it wasn't that far along the trail to the stone bridge abutment.
Cub run
There it was, sitting right in the woods! Maybe not quite like finding a Mayan temple, but a pretty cool relic, thought I! None of the other hikers, bikers, and joggers on the trail seemed to take notice of it! Across Cub Run, a parallel stone abutment could be seen on the opposite shore.

Despite the passing of 150 years and suburban development, remnants of the unfinished railway line are visible in many places in Fairfax County if one knows where to look. One such locale is in Annandale (site of my Ravensworth blog a year ago), where a park protects a visible right of way fill running through the landscape. There are trees now growing out of the railway fill, but the man-made earthen hump is noticeable when you look at it. The fill line is actually used as a trail in this park, so it is not completely overgrown.

Today, after seeing the bridge, I returned to US Highway 29 to further explore remnants of the line in Prince William County.

bkretzer says:
Good for you! Enjoyed the history lesson. Something about trains always seems to get me.
Posted on: Oct 23, 2009
sylviandavid says:
Nice blog... good job of tracking the stone abutment down... that's really interesting...
Posted on: Oct 12, 2009
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Cub Run Stream Valley Trail
Cub Run Stream Valley Trail
Independent Line historical marker
Independent Line historical marker
Unfinished stone bridge abutment (…
Unfinished stone bridge abutment …
Cub run
Cub run
Bridge abutment on the opposite sh…
Bridge abutment on the opposite s…
Unfinished stone bridge abutment (…
Unfinished stone bridge abutment …
Manassas Gap Railroad park in Anna…
Manassas Gap Railroad park in Ann…
Independent Line right-of-way visi…
Independent Line right-of-way vis…
Centreville
photo by: Zagnut66