Following a five-year restoration project, the Brentsville Jail and Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre is now open.
Located at 12229 Bristow Road, the site stands where the Town of Brentsville was formerly located and includes five buildings – a one-room schoolhouse, a church, the courthouse, a cabin and the jail.
“We believe, not just for the education of our county school kids, but also for economic development and tourism, that this site has so much to offer,” stated Prince William County Historic Preservation Division Chief Brendon Hanafin in a release.
More on the history of the building and the restoration, from a release:
From the time they were built, between 1820 and 1822, the Brentsville Courthouse and jail served a number of purposes. The courthouse was Prince William County’s fourth county seat until 1893 when it moved to Manassas. The courthouse then served as a college for teachers while the jail served as their dormitory until the early 1900s. The jail served as a private residence into the 1970s when the Prince William County Park Authority acquired the property for office space in 1975.
Supervisor Jeanine Lawson, vice chair of the Board of County Supervisors, spoke about the importance of preserving history at the grand opening ceremony for the jail. “This little community of Brentsville tells a story of almost 200 years ago. Our county is full of rich history, and it’s important that we treasure it, we learn from it. And the Board of County Supervisors is dedicated to doing just that.”
Lawson also thanked the people who had a hand in restoring the building, including staff and the Prince William Historic Preservation Foundation. “It’s so great to see … everyone who has put so much heart and work into this project for the last five years to restore Brentsville and restore it to a site that people can come and visit… This is a day of celebration.”
The restoration of the jail included flooring from wood aged five years and milled onsite to duplicate the original oak planks that secured the four cells. Wall framing and a stairwell typical of the period has restored the jail to its 19th Century appearance.
While the jail restoration is complete, some exhibits will still need to go in, said Historic Site Manager Bill Backus. “Half of the rooms are going to be modern exhibits that explore the history of the building and the Town of Brentsville. There will be two historically furnished rooms downstairs. One is going to be the jailer’s office, focusing on about the 1850s. The other room across the hall is going to be the downstairs cell, and that’s going to portray 1872 when an inmate was actually shot and killed in there. Upstairs we’re going to have the debtors’ cell from the 1820s, and then we’ll have a dormitory room that’s showing 1905.”
Benjamin Falkofske came to the grand opening with his father, Dwight Folkofske. Benjamin is a member of Boy Scout Troop 226 out of Bristow, which gave a donation box to the jail. He liked seeing the completed jail. “The history of the jail is pretty interesting – all of the stuff and how people lived in there.”
Dwight looks forward to a time when exhibits furnish the museum. “I like the idea that they’re going to take the different rooms and make different things from the different eras. It’ll be interesting to see those all built out in the future.”
Jennie Couch and her husband, Kevin Couch, attended the opening and ribbon cutting ceremony. Jennie said she’s had a connection to the historic centre for some time and she’s glad to see that the jail has been restored. “I lead wildflower walks and talks here. I’ve been a part of this little spot for a few years, so it’s just a joy to see the culmination of so much hard work for so many people.”
Kevin Couch is a history buff, so visiting the complex is right up his alley. “I like the history. It just speaks to me. It’s amazing.”
Local Historian Morgan Breeden spoke at the ceremony and said seeing the museum open was a “dream come true.” Breeden lived in the building as a child when it served as a private residence, and led efforts to restore the jail. “It’s been amazing to watch. It’s been amazing to be around this staff, to work with them, to talk with them; and I have just been so lucky to be here.”