What is the Sully Historic Site? When it was built by Richard Bland Lee in 1794, it was known as Sully Plantation. Who is Richard Bland Lee? He was the first congressman to ever represent the U.S. state of Virginia in the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. At the time, Sully Plantation was a respite from the hustle and bustle of Washington. It was a working plantation with a house, smokehouse, and kitchen that was accessible to the Little River Turnpike. Richard Bland Lee sold the plantation in 1811, and it went through numerous owners before it was sold to the Fairfax County Park Authority in 1959. What was once a huge plantation has been reduced with the building of Dulles International Airport on the northwest side of the property and with no access to the Little River Turnpike (U.S. Route 50 today and has been renamed the Lee Jackson Memorial Highway). Today, you can visit what remains of Sully Plantation. The house is open for tours, and you can visit the kitchen, the smokehouse, one of the slave cabins, and an old schoolhouse that was brought to the property for preservation. There are also hiking trails where you can see Cain’s Branch which was the plantation’s water supply. When you visit the Sully Historic Site, you will not notice that you are in suburban Washington D.C., but you will make an assumption that you are in the 1790’s.
Some of you are saying, “I think this is amazing. The home of the very first congressman to represent Virginia was spared from being demolished by developers to build houses there. There is one very big and enormous problem. What is the very big and enormous problem? This place has no railroads here. This place has nothing to do with the railroad. This place is no where near a railroad. This place has no railroad history. Therefore, there will be no history of me visiting the Sully Historic Site.”
Well, you have a good point. There is no railroad here nor was there ever a railroad here, and none of the owners had anything to do with the railroad. The nearest railroad access was in Herndon, Virginia which was a good ways north of here and is now a rail trail. Today, the nearest active railroad is in Manassas, Virginia which is a good ways south of here. (There was also a rail line for military use during the American Civil War in nearby Centreville that was short lived.) So, you are absolutely right. The Sully Historic Site has no railroad history.
That almost was not the case.
As mentioned, the nearest active rail line is in Manassas, Virginia. It is owned by the Norfolk Southern Railway today, but the line was originally built by the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. Manassas was originally called Manassas Junction because it was established at a junction with the Manassas Gap Railroad. While the Manassas Gap Railroad ran train between Manassas Junction and to towns like Marshall and Front Royal, the Orange and Alexandria Railroad ran between the town of Orange, Virginia and the city Alexandria, Virginia. What is so significant about this? Back in the day, Alexandria, Virginia was a major port city. At once time, it was the fifth busiest port in the United States of America. Goods and products from Europe and other points from around the world was brought to the port of Alexandria. Goods were placed on the trains, and the Orange and Alexandria Railroad took them west to towns that did not have access to the ports. One of their stops was Manassas where goods where transferred to the Manassas Gap Railroad. Well, the Manassas Gap Railroad wanted some of the profits that the Orange and Alexandria Railroad was getting with the access to the ports of Alexandria. They came with the idea of building their own railroad line to Alexandria. The line would branch off in the town of Gainesville, a town west of Manassas, and it was to parallel along the Little River Turnpike all the way to the port in Alexandria. The railroad bed was built, but the Manassas Gap Railroad ran out of money. The tracks were never laid, and it became known as ‘The Unfinished Railroad’. Today, although some of the railroad bed was preserved, some of the railroad bed is now houses, townhouses, and apartments.
What does this have to do with the Sully Historic Site? As you enter the property less than a quarter mile (300 meters) from the entry gate, you will see what looks like a creek bed on your left, but this creek bed is straight. What you are seeing is what could have been the Manassas Gap Railroad running across Sully Plantation. Because the railroad ran out of money, it never happened.
Now you see how the Sully Historic Site has a history with the railroad. If you are ever in the Washington D.C. area, it is a great place to visit.
The Sully Historic Site is located at 3650 Historic Sully Way in Chantilly, Virginia. It is just of Virginia Route 28, it is one mile north of U.S. Route 50, six miles north of Interstate 66 and U.S. Route 29, and five miles south of the terminal of Dulles International Airport. The grounds are open from 9:00am to 5:00pm every day. There is no admission to walk the grounds and to see the old railroad bed of ‘The Unfinished Railroad’. The trails are mainly level but may be difficult for wheelchairs. House tours are available Thursday to Sunday. You can get more information at https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/sully-historic-site/tours.