Leesylvania State Park, Woodbridge

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By John Cowgill

Leesylvania State Park, one of Virginia’s state parks, is in Woodbridge right at the southeast end of Prince William County.

Like many of the state parks in Virginia, Leesylvania has much history behind it.  Before it was a state park, it was the home of the Lee family.  Henry Lee II and Henry Lee III, famously known as ‘Light Horse Harry’, lived there.  One of the trails is the Lee’s Woods Historic Trail, which leads to the different ruins.

The Fairfax House

This was the plantation home of the Fairfax family that featured a house and a barn.  In 1825, Alfred purchased the land from the Lee family.  The family lived here through the Civil War; John Walter Fairfax was a Confederate soldier who served under General James Longstreet.  He was the final resident of the house, and the home and barn were destroyed shortly after his death.  Only the foundation and the chimney remain.

The Lee Home Site

It was here where the original home overlooked the Potomac River.  Henry Lee II lived here until his death in 1787.  Years later, the house was destroyed with only the foundation remaining.  A road was built over the foundation in the 1950s, and only the trough for the road remains today.

The Lee-Fairfax Cemetery

The headstones are gone, but the remains of Henry Lee II, his wife Lucy, Captain Henry Fairfax and his third wife, Elizabeth, remain in the enclosed area.

Freestone Point Fort

A cannon at the Freestone Point earthworks

The area on the south side of where the Neabsco Creek emptied into the Potomac River is known as Freestone Point.  During the Civil War, the Confederate army built an earthen fort to fight Union naval ships heading up the Potomac River to defend Washington.  Being high up, the army was able to attack ships as far as the Maryland coastline, and on Sept. 25, 1861, the Battle at Freestone Point took place between the fort and the ‘Seminole’, a Union ship.

The Freestone Point Hunt Club

Today, you will see the park amphitheater with an old fireplace on the stage. The fireplace is what remains of the Wheelock Hunt Club, also known as the Freestone Point Hunt Club.  The club was named after Gordon Wheelock, the man who purchased the property from New York businessmen who established the club. There was an abundance of waterfowl on the property, making it a hotbed for hunters who traveled by train from distant cities to hunt.  In the 1940s, the waterfowl population was in decline, making the area less attractive to hunters, and the club closed in 1957.

A Resort

The hunt club was converted into a resort lodge.  The resort had a beach and a casino. They were able to have a casino even though gambling is illegal in Virginia because of the state border on the Potomac River. In most situations, the border lies in the middle of the river, but with Maryland and Virginia, the border is on the Virginia shoreline. That puts the entire river in the state of Maryland.  The casino was on a boat, and because the boat was in the Potomac River, it was in Maryland, making the casino legal.  Eventually, the resort fell into disrepair.  The owner of the resort donated the land to the state in 1978. ‘Lee’s Woods’ was named Leesylvania State Park and was opened to the public on June 17, 1989.

The State Park

Fishing pier at Leesylvania State Park

Today, Leesylvania State Park has miles of trails through ‘Lee’s Woods’.  You can bring your fishing rod to the pier for a great catch, or take a walk on the beaches. The Visitor Center features a small museum that has an old slot machine from the casino boat and an old desk and a painting of the Fairfax House.  The park is on the United States National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.

Leesylvania State Park is located at 2001 Daniel K. Ludwig Drive in Woodbridge.  It is just off U.S. 1 and Interstate 95.  Admission is required to enter the park.  Hours are available on the website.

 

John Cowgill (johnbcowgill1@gmail.com) loves to visit historic places to include lesser known sites.  He loves taking road trips, loves railroads and is a photographer who takes lots of pictures.  You can also follow him on Facebook at ‘John Cowgill: Photographic Journeys’ and John Cowgill: DC Railroad Examiner.  You can also check out ‘John Cowgill: Stories of the Railroad’ at johncowgillstoriesoftherailroad.com.

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