The land that makes up Leopold’s Preserve has a rich history, spanning from the prehistoric period up to modern day. Archaeologic and historic research have revealed unique information about the people who traversed, settled, lived and died here.
American Indians traveled through this area from as early as 10,500 years ago. Stone tools recovered from archeological sites on the property reflect how people adapted to their changing climate and resources. The discovery of one Early Woodland Period projectile point suggests that Indian peoples continued utilizing this landscape until at least 2,500 years ago.
By 1731, Prince William County had been established. In 1724 Robert “King” Carter, a wealthy and prominent Virginian, obtained 90,000 acres in land grants across much of Virginia. What is now the Preserve was included in the over 12,000-acre Broad Run Tract, which was divided around 1743 among Carter’s heirs into 4,000-acre tracts.
Edward Carter, Carter’s grandson, established his 4,000-acre Cloverland Farm by 1797. And Edward Carter’s son, John Hill Carter, inherited 2,039 acres from that tract on which he established Falkland Farm by 1823. The vast majority of Leopold’s Preserve is contained within the former Falkland Farm. John Hill Carter, like his forefathers, profited from the ownership of enslaved people who grew wheat and raised sheep for wool. Over time, Carter sold several sections of Falkland. The Manassas Gap Railroad Company took some of his land in 1851 for their planned track between Alexandria and Staunton. Carter and his neighbors likely profited from the increased demand for goods prior to the American Civil War.
Several significant Civil War battles were fought within Prince William County, including the First Battle of Manassas (July 18-July 21, 1861), the Potomac River Blockade (October 1861- March 1862), and the Second Battle of Manassas (August 28-30, 1862). The Preserve is surrounded by a network of roads that served
as “Avenues of Approach” to the areas where major military actions occurred during the Battle of Buckland Mills, the Battle of Thoroughfare Gap, and the Manassas Station Operations. Today, lives lost during the Civil War are commemorated through the Preserve's Living Legacy Landscape along Route 15. To read more about the Preserve's involvement in the Living Legacy project, click here.
Following the Civil War, the area experienced growth. Roads were constructed and the railroad continued to pass through the Preserve. The nearby Village of Thoroughfare had been established in 1828, populated largely by free African Americans who worked at Chapman’s Mill. Newly freed African Americans settled in the area, forming new communities with schools, churches and cemeteries. The Thoroughfare Colored/ North Fork School was opened in 1885 and was one of the first public schools for Prince William County’s African American children. It stood just inside the northwest corner of today’s Leopold’s Preserve. The school operated until 1936, when Thoroughfare’s African American children were bussed to nearby Antioch-Northfork Elementary School.
By 1900, most of the interior of the Preserve was being cultivated for corn, oats, wheat and hay, and some land owners operated dairy or poultry farms. Only a few stands of trees remained of what was originally an entirely wooded area, according to a Civil War era map, and much of that was likely managed for timber. Most of the wooded areas that can be seen today in Leopold’s Preserve are young forests.
As the population increased along the Route 15 and Route 55 corridors in the Haymarket area, farmers sold their property. New residential communities including The Villages of Piedmont emerged, bringing new residents and activities to this historic landscape.
Robert "King" Carter, 1663-1732. Unidentified artist. Oil on canvas, c.1720.
A northern mockingbird perches among the vibrant red plants of the Living Legacy Landscape at Leopold's Preserve.
Teachers and students pose outside the Thoroughfare Colored/North Fork School in 1909.
This text has been adapted from historian Heather Hembrey’s Villages of Piedmont at Leopold’s Preserve, Stories of the Past. To read the full history of the Preserve and the surrounding area, click here.